Tuesday, 29 March 2011

BOOK REVIEWS ~ "Coretta Scott" ~ By: Ntozake Shange

During our studies of the "Civil Rights Movement" we came upon the picture book, "Coretta Scott," which is a collaborative effort between the poet, Ntozake Shange and the artist, Kadir Nelson.  It was printed in 2009 by Harper Collins Publishers.

Although it is a thin book, each two-page spread gives a powerful punch.  The first two pages set the mood with the moon rising above the silhouetted trees.  On the next set of drawings we find out that "Coretta and her siblings walked all of the five miles to the nearest colored school in the darkness with the dew dampening their feet." As Coretta walks, with her family, a "white school bus left a funnel of dust on their faces but songs and birds of all colours and rich soil where slaves sought freedom steadied them in the face of danger."

She grows into the beautiful young lady (seen on the cover) and "over years learning and freedom took hold of Coretta's soul til she knew in her being that the Good Lord intended freedom for the Negro."

Then Coretta meets "Martin Luther King Jr. a young preacher" who "prayed for freedom.  Coretta prayed. Two minds attracted in prayer, yes... they could do something among the many who thought moral power would overturn Jim Crow.  They prayed together, found joy and were married."

The next double page spread is my favourite of the book.  Martin Luther King, Jr. is preaching in the pulpit and Coretta is sitting on a chair on the stage, while parishioners look on and the choir waits to sing.

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama
Shange tells the reader, "according to Gandhi, the humility of millions could free more than just one people.  It could free the world ... and the world for Coretta and Martin was the south and they went to Montgomery to their new parish."

The next set of pages shows an empty bus and people of all ages walking in the rain.  The text says, "... and the Montgomery bus boycott ... just the beginning of a long journey."

Four unhappy, despondent Black men adorn the next set of pages.  It talks of "more boycotts and sit-ins for many many Negro students [who] felt bound to do something.  There were hundreds and thousands left behind.  Negros in shacks and cotton fields, living in fear for their lives while they dreamed about the north."

And then we learn about the various marches ~ "hundreds then thousands, white and black, marched in Alabama, Carolina, Georgia and Chicago."

The next spread was Alisdair's favourite.  It brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye as I read of "a quarter of a million at the March on Washington, peacefully singing 'we shall overcome' and listening to the words that would inspire a nation."

On August 28, 1963 ~ 250,000 people ~ both Black and White
gathered at the site of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C.
Then there is a painting of a harvest moon, over the trees, with the words, "Things nature never intended a child to see, haunted them, tragedy accompanies growth, no matter who we are, and the Negroes are no different."

Black silhouettes, of a wide variety of people, march across the next two pages.  They carry a banner and two American flags, with the caption:  "But fervor for the coming vote and equality pushed Coretta to a peace and wonderment of the Lord, 'ain't gonna let nobody turn me round, turn me round.' "

As the reader turns the page, the people are now in colour, and we have close-ups of their faces.  The song continues:  "ain't gonna let nobody turn me round, gonna keep on a-walkin', keep on a-talkin,' walkin' up to freedom land."

The next-to-last page shows Coretta and Martin, voices raised in song, with the words, "singin' always singin."

The final page provides a brief summary of some of the biographical details about Coretta Scott King's life.  These include five short sentences about the assassination of her husband on April 4, 1968.  It also speaks of her own passing on January 30, 2006.  As Ntozake Shage says, Coretta Scott King's "courage and vision are an inspiration to us all." 

While this book doesn't provide great in-depth details about Coretta Scott King, it is well worth reading for the "monumental artwork" of Kadir Nelson and the depth of sentiment in Shange's poetry.  It's obvious Mrs. King was a woman of character, and worthy of admiration.

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