You may remember me writing about Audrey Faye Hendricks several years ago. She was nine-years-old, when arrested and sent to jail during a civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.
I'm excited to tell you about a new book about Audrey, a picture book for primary grade children about an incredibly brave third grader.
The Youngest Marcher, by Cynthia Levinson tells the story of the Birmingham Children's March through the eyes of one little girl.
Audrey's family was friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, and she was inspired by his talk about justice.
Dr. King considered Birmingham the most violently racist city in the country, and he spoke in churches there urging blacks to march in protest of segregation, even though they'd be arrested.
"Fill the jails!" said Dr. King.
The plan seemed risky to adults, who feared they'd lose their jobs, be assaulted or possibly killed. Few stepped up.
When Civil Rights Leader Reverend James Bevel, suggested school children should march and go to jail, Audrey was one of the first to volunteer.
Some four-thousand young people marched, and kept marching until Birmingham's jails were filled to capacity. Audrey spent seven days in custody, the youngest known child arrested.
The Children's March was powerful, helping gain momentum for civil rights across America. Two and a half months later, Birmingham rescinded its segregation laws, and a year later Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Cynthia Levinson's earlier book We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March tells Audrey's story in more detail, as well as the stories of three other young marchers.
In my 2014 post, here's what Cynthia had to say about the courage of those young civil rights activists:
When I tell school children today about the brave youngsters in Birmingham, they want to know if I would march, too. Would I sing and pray? Would I face dogs, hoses, and jail? The reason that I know, unfortunately, that I would not is that I did not.
In May 1963, I was an eighteen-year-old high school senior in Columbus, Ohio. In fairness, not a single white person joined the black children during their protests in Birmingham so it’s not completely surprising that I didn’t fly down there. (Some white clergymen and the folk singer Joan Baez did, however.
Nevertheless, to the extent that I paid attention to the news, I was bewildered by what was happening down there. Worse, I hardly paid attention at all. In fact, although I knew about the dogs and the hoses, I didn’t know that it was children who took responsibility for desegregating their city until decades later. Furthermore, although later I did participate in a few protests about political issues I cared about, I chose tame ones where no one was going to get hurt.
Because we know how events in the past have turned out, history in hindsight looks inevitable. Young people today could believe that the children of Birmingham weren’t in any real danger. Beforehand, however, Dr. King was so worried that someone might get hurt or killed that he opposed their actions. Sharing my own embarrassing past with them, I think, makes the threats more real. These were truly dangerous times.
Courage, I hope they learn, does not entail ignoring the dangers but, rather, paying attention to them—and then making a decision about whether or not to proceed. Courage, I’ve learned, is not casual. Courage requires a cause. And, courage draws strength from cooperation.
Thank you, Cynthia! So well said. Learn more about Cynthia and her books here...
I also want you to meet the very talented illustrator of The Youngest Marcher, Vanessa
Brantley Newton. (at left)
She says "The beauty of the book is that little children will walk away with- 'I can do something, no matter how small I am, there is something I can do.' That's empowering."
Vanessa demonstrates how she illustrated the book in a live video interview here.... It's amazing to watch her draw! She's fun to listen to, too.
Vanessa is a prolific illustrator. Check out more of her work here...
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories of history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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