recess radio program

5/17/04
Linda Brown You Are Not Alone
    by John Cech

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which legally ended segregation in the public schools of Topeka, Kansas, as well as the rest of the United States. Of course, it would take decades before individual state, and in some cases individual county courts ordered the bussing of school children in order to begin to honor, in reality, the spirit of that decision. And, as we all know, the process of integration is still going on in many of our towns and cities, where color lines have continued to be drawn, sometimes invisibly, but drawn none-the-less, and where districts have actually allowed resegration to occur once mandatory bussing stopped.

In Linda Brown, You Are Not Alone, the Correta-Scott-King-Award-winning author, Joyce Carol Thomas, has collected for young readers a group of essays, reflections, and poems about this historical turning point from ten writers, all of whom were children at the timeof the court decision. The group includes poets like Eloise Greenfield and Ishmael Reed; and well-known novelists like Jerry Spinelli, Lois Lowry, Jean Craighead George, and Katherine Paterson.

It's surprising that half of the contributors to this volume are white, but perhaps it's also fitting, since desegregation certainly affected white America, too. Jerry Spinelli recounts a friendship that developed between him and an African-American boy named Reyburn who had moved onto their street -- a fact that Spinelli's mother remained in denial about for the whole summer, pretending that the boy and his family didn't exist. Katherine Paterson, who was the target of racial prejudice as an anglo child in China in the late 1940s, writes about hearing, in 1956, then twenty-six-year-old Dr. Martin Luther King give a speech at Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee. She never forgot Dr. King's words that evening when he told his audience: "Only love is powerful enough to conquer evil."

It was not an easy process -- for the historical Linda Brown, whose father first brought the case against the Topeka School Board, or for any of the countless children who were forced to run the gauntlet each morning from their busses to the schoolhouse door, as Eloise Greenfield, reminds us in her poem, "Desegregation," which begins:

We walk the long path
Lined with shouting
nightmare faces,
nighmare voices. . . .
The grown-ups have said
we must be brave,
that only the children
can save the country
now.

Copyright 2004 John Cech

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