If grade-schoolers are truly equipped to comprehend a past of poll taxes, lynching and institutional hatred in the place of...

SHE WOULD NOT BE MOVED

HOW WE TELL THE STORY OF ROSA PARKS AND THE MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT

Everything you know about Rosa Parks is wrong—unless you’ve been studying with education-reform activist Kohl (A Grain of Poetry, 1999, etc.).

The canonical version of the Parks story is ably represented by an elementary-school textbook published 15 years ago: “One day Rosa was tired. She sat in the front. The bus driver told her to move. She did not. He called the police. Rosa was put in jail.” The account misses one other well-worn trope—that Parks was a poor seamstress. That this is the story schoolchildren—white, black, Asian, Hispanic—know displeases Kohl, who sternly observes (after noting the presumptuousness of calling Mrs. Parks by her first name) that the Montgomery bus boycott that began in December 1955 was the work of African-Americans alone. This is not strictly correct, and Kohl later enlarges the view to include white sympathizers; still, his point that the resistance came from within oppressed communities and grew to embrace others stands. There are many other useful points throughout this reconstruction of events: The author notes, for instance, that Parks was not alone and not even the first to be arrested for resisting the law by which African-Americans had to sit in the “colored-only” (i.e., back) section of Montgomery buses—and then cede those seats to whites should the white section fill up. He adds, too, that Parks was no accidental convert to the cause, moved by tiredness to rebel; in fact, she had long been involved in civil-rights issues and was secretary of the local brach of the NAACP. Kohl proposes a similarly useful alternative narrative, one that does not disguise or whitewash the facts of organized racism.

If grade-schoolers are truly equipped to comprehend a past of poll taxes, lynching and institutional hatred in the place of the current pieties, then Kohl’s lesson plan will serve them well.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-59558-020-4

Page Count: 144

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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