The Long Walk to Freedom: Stories of Civil Rights and Liberties

William Frantz Elementary School, New Orleans, 1960
U.S. Marshals had to escort six-year-old Ruby Bridges to and from school

By Tywanna Mickens Johnson and Perdeta Ann Long |
North Birmingham Regional Branch Library 

I know that no one stands alone against bullies, tyranny, hate, and racism. The walk or journey to freedom is one made easier when you do not have to walk alone. The hard-fought fight for equality takes many faces, such as a White mother in The Long Walk Home taking a stand for her Black nanny during the Montgomery bus boycott; a widowed White mother offering a down-on-his-luck Black drifter a job on her farm; a White teacher offering encouragement to six-year-old Ruby Bridges during a time when some not like Ruby were spewing hateful racist comments at her. In Selma, Lord, Selma, an 11-year old girl joins others in the march to Montgomery; and in Henry’s Freedom Box, Henry Brown finds a genius way to win his freedom. Billie Holiday used the song "Strange Fruit" in nightclubs from the North to the South as a protest of the lynching during her time. In conclusion, during all those struggles and journeys, we did not walk alone. 


The Long Walk Home  
Odessa Carter (Whoopi Goldberg) needs to get to work as a nanny in the home of the affluent Miriam Thompson (Sissy Spacek), but she refuses to take the bus. Odessa is participating in the Montgomery bus boycott, protesting the inequality between Blacks and Whites, so Miriam decides to offer Odessa a ride to work every day.

Places in the Heart 
A young mother (Sally Field), whose sheriff-husband is accidentally killed, is left to care for their two small children and their rundown farmhouse. When the bank threatens to foreclose, she enlists the aid of a Black drifter (Danny Glover) and races against time and the forces of nature to harvest a cotton crop that will save her from financial ruin.

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
The story of a Black woman (Cicely Tyson) in the South who was born into slavery in the 1850s and lives to become a part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Her walk in the movie is a turning point in the movie and for the times.

Ruby Bridges
The true story of Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African American girl who in 1960 helps integrate the all-white schools of New Orleans. Ruby is the only Black girl to attend the school she is sent to, and the only student in the classroom until the following year (all the White mothers pulled their children out of class). Although she faces a crowd of angry White citizens every day, she is encouraged by her White teacher from the North named Barbara Henry (Penelope Ann Miller) and her mother, Lucielle (Lela Rochon), and with her own quiet strength she eventually breaks down a century-old barrier forever, a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. 
(For further viewing: movies similar to Ruby Bridges.)

Selma, Lord, Selma
In 1965 Alabama, an 11-year-old girl (Jurnee Smollett) is touched by a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Clifton Powell) and becomes a devout follower. But her resolution is tested when she joins others in the famed march from Selma to Montgomery.  

The Butler 
Lee Daniels tells the story of a White House butler (Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker) who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man's life, his wife (Academy Award-nominated Oprah Winfrey), and the rest of his family.

Juvenile Books 

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
Fannie Lou Hamer was born into a family of twenty children. Because of the family's situation, she had to quit school in the 6th grade and get a job. Fannie Lou became a cotton picker for a man in their city. An avid voice for voter registration, one day she decided to register to vote. However, once her employer found out, he told her to take her voter’s registration back because he did not need that kind of negativity around his home. She was later beaten for registering to vote, lost her job, and was jailed.  

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio
This book is about the life that Billie Holiday had as a singer. She was the lead singer for several groups; however, she was not allowed the same privileges of her band. While the band could go through the front door of clubs, she was made to enter through the back door. She was not allowed to sleep in certain hotels or even be around the customers. Until one day she started singing in a Black club and things began to change for her. The owner of the club happened to be a songwriter and when he heard her singing, he wrote a song called "Strange Fruit" and asked her to sing it for him. The first time she sang it the crowd was extremely quiet during the performance. When she finished and walked off the stage, they erupted into applause. After that moment "Strange Fruit" became her signature song no matter what club she sang at.

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
This poignant book looks at a host of issues as they concern the thoughtful, intelligent 13-year-old Genesis. Genesis is concerned that her skin is “too dark.” She believes her family and society value lighter brown skin over hers to the point that she attempts harmful actions to try and lighten her skin with lemons or bleach. But Genesis has started a new school in a “better neighborhood” and meets new friends and teachers who help her learn to value herself. Highly recommended! (For further reading: "Middle Grade Books that Address Racial Injustice") 

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Six diverse kids are put together in a room at school as a place where they can talk about the issues they are facing in their lives. Their burdens are as diverse as their backgrounds—incarceration, racial profiling, and possible deportation are just a few of the subjects the middle schoolers need and want to talk about with each other. Woodson’s prose is gorgeous, almost poetic, and the reader will come to care for all the teens as they tell their stories.

Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
This book is about a little boy named Henry Brown who is born into slavery. Henry works for a man along with his brothers, sisters, and mother. He dreams of having freedom, but is instead traded by his master to the master's son. While with his new master, Henry meets a young lady in the town square. Even though the two of them work for different people, they are able to get married and start a family. One day his wife and children are taken from him, and he comes up a genius way to win his freedom.