If someone asked you to name one of the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, chances are good you'd mention Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks. Perhaps John Lewis or Medgar Evers or Fannie Lou Hamer would come to mind. All of these adults made important contributions in the fight for equality.
Not all who struggled for equal rights were adults. Countless children joined their parents, teachers, and religious leaders to stand up against discrimination. Today I want to focus on some of those young heroes. Below, you'll find my recommendations for kid-friendly books you can use to help the children in your lives better understand the courage of these young freedom fighters. You can find many of these books at your local library; I've also included affiliate links throughout this post if you prefer to purchase the books.
I'm going to start with one of the most famous young heroes: Elizabeth Eckford. When she was 15, Eckford was part of the Little Rock Nine who integrated Central High School in 1957. Her story is told in her outstanding book, The Worst First Day: Bullied While Desegregating Central High. Not only is the story powerful, but the illustrations are as well.
The book Why Did Grandpa Cry? is about Central High School student Ken Reinhardt. Reinhardt, who was white, stood up for Elizabeth Eckford and the Little Rock Nine. This book makes an excellent companion to Eckford's and reinforces the importance of being Upstanders.
Ruby Bridges is another brave child who, at six, integrated her previously all-white elementary school in Louisiana. Her book I Am Ruby Bridges is a best-seller. I highly recommend it.
Have you heard of Susie Clark? Her story of integrating Iowa schools in 1868 is told in verse in Susie Clark: The Bravest Girl You've Ever Seen. I was sent a promotional copy for Black History Month. I'm so glad for the introduction to this unsung hero, who fought for equal rights long before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's.
Of course, integrating schools was not the only way children made a difference in the Civil Rights Movement. Over a thousand Black children in Birmingham, Alabama volunteered to march for their rights in the Children's Crusade in 1963. You can read about their story in Let the Children March.
Learn the fascinating story of Audrey Faye Hendricks in The Youngest Marcher. At age 9, Hendricks was the youngest known person to be arrested for a civil rights protest.
The Greensboro Four were teenage college freshmen when they chose to engage in peaceful protest by sitting at the 'whites only' lunch counter at Woolworth's. I'm a fan of Andrea and Brian Pinkney and Sit-In is fantastic.
Teenager Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in 1955 and was arrested... nine months before Rosa Park's famous arrest for the same reason. Read about her fascinating story in Because Claudette.
I could go on and on, but I'm going to wrap up this post with another Upstander. Joan Trumpauer Mulholland was a white teenager who was one of the Freedom Riders in 1961. Two years later, as an adult, she was the first white person to join in the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins in Jackson, Mississippi. Learn more in She Stood for Freedom.
While these books are great to share with kids during Black History Month, they're just as important during the other 11 months of the year. Black lives matter. Black kids matter. Black history matters. All year long.