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Friday, November 21, 2014

Voices From the March on Washington, poems by J. Patrick Lewis & George Ella Lyon. Wordsong, Raincoast. 2014. $19.95 ages 12 and up

"I was old enough to go.
I was in college.
I wasn't there
because I didn't
see a problem.
Being from Georgia,
what they called
separate but equal
was working fine for me.
Everybody has their place
was what I was taught."

I have mentioned in previous posts that I was astonished with the learning I did this summer and fall, thanks to the publication of a number of books about the civil rights movement. In their new book, J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon (poets extraordinaire), give voice to some of those people who may have been present at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. A pivotal event in the history of civil rights in the United States, it drew hundreds of thousands of people to march for jobs and freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. made his 'I Have a Dream' speech and shared the program with other civil rights leaders and artists. The March played a huge role in making the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act realities in following years.

Here, the poets use mostly first-person 'voices' to share the spirit of those who were there. There are 70 poems, in voices young and old. They represent the myriad of attendees who marched together for a better life, a better home, a better country. They are compelling and worthy of your attention.

"FOR ALL, 1963 

If you contend the noblest end
of all is human rights, amend
the laws: The beauty of the sun
is that it shines on everyone."  p. 4


I came hungry
into the world,
and for that,
look no further
than my Pa.
A history buff
and a small-p
poet, he built
so many book-
shelves, our house
became the local
lending library.
At least to those few
who knew a book
to be a friend."  p. 21


...When he says he has a dream,
I have one too, my dream
blinking off and on like neon
in windows on Georgia Avenue.
My tightrope-wire nerves jolt
and jangle, ripple and trip, and
I know I will no longer look
back at who it was I was, but
keep my eyes fixed ahead
on who I am becoming."  p. 81

Powerful? Indeed!

Included in back matter are an authors' note as guide to the voices, a list of historical voices, other notables whose names appear in the book, imagined voices, a bibliography, relevant websites, further reading and an index by title, and then by voice.

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