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Monday, April 27, 2015

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama. Written by Hester Bass and illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2015. $19.00 ages 9 and up

"These students know they will be asked to leave. Know that if they don't, they'll go to jail. But they sit at these lunch counters, day after day. It's called a sit-in, a non-violent gesture against "just the way it is." The seeds of freedom are planted in Huntsville. What will it take to make them grow?"

This is another book to add to your list of books meant to help us understand the struggle for civil rights. In Seeds of Freedom, Hester Bass shares the story of the people of Huntsville,  Alabama.

In 1962, Huntsville is known as the "Space Center of the Universe". Beside its cotton fields, engineers and scientists are working to build the rockets that will transport astronauts to the moon. While life may seem rosy from the outside, not everyone is happy. While there is no evident violence toward black people, many are treated as they always have been. Segregation is a word often heard; it is time for people to stand up and act.

Black students are allowed to sit at the lunch counter in stores; they are not allowed to eat lunch or use the washrooms. They know that when they sit down. They sit anyway, wanting to bring attention to the need for change. People are ready to protest, to stand up for their rights, and suffer the consequences for their actions. They need to bring attention to the issues. A pregnant doctor's wife, a college student, and a dentist's wife with a baby in her arms are part of a group refusing to leave a lunch counter and go home. They are arrested. That is big news for everyone in their city.

Rather than spend money on expensive clothing for Easter, a Blue Jean Sunday is organized that creates a great loss of revenue for local store owners. Parks are visited by black families on Mother's Day despite the fact that they are to be used only by whites. There is no outcry. When George Wallace states that black and white should be separated forever, black residents dot the sky with balloons of every color.

Within six months things begin to change. People are coming together; the one exception is with the schools.

" ... schools for black children have no library, no cafeteria, and no buses while the schools for white children seem to have everything. Are the seeds of freedom wilting?"

Then it is 1963, a time when things in Huntsville are mostly peaceful. That is not true in other parts of Alabama. This time, though, attention is given to the struggle on television. The beginning of another year of school is close at hand. A judge's ruling on school integration does not ensure attendance.

"Governor George Wallace has closed all Alabama public schools planning to admit black students."

Huntsville is the first Alabama city to allow integration in a formerly all-white school, something for all citizens to proclaim with great pride. Ms. Bass has shared a story of how one community did make a difference. The people of Huntsville proved willing to work together, without violence, to integrate the schools and make their city a better place for everyone. Of course there were challenges; residents proved that they could be overcome with support from all.

E.B. Lewis worked in watercolors to create the powerful and telling images of this struggle for civil rights. His emotional artwork helps readers realize the strength that comes when people work together to make things better. The poignancy and power of his images evoke hope and understanding, while never moving away from the struggles faced.

An author's note, two telling photographs and a list of books for further reading ensure that those who want to know more will not be disappointed.                                               

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