Thursday, 5 May 2011

BOOK REVIEWS ~ "I Am Rosa Parks" ~ By: Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins

A little while ago, Alisdair was learning about Rosa Parks and her role in the Civil Rights Movement.  While searching the library catalogue for additional books on the topic, I came across an "Easy-to-Read Book For Young Readers." 

"I Am Rosa Parks," is a 48-page book, at the perfect level for reading to a child of Isobel's age.  The story begins with a chapter called "I Get Arrested."  Here, Parks explains the concept of segregation. Readers are told about separate schools, restaurants and water fountains.  Then she writes:  "When we rode a bus, we could only sit in the back seats.  The front seats were just for white people.  If all the front seats were filled with white people, we black people had to give up our seats to the next white people who got on the bus.  That's the way we rode the buses in the South when I was younger.  I rode the buses and obeyed the laws that kept me apart from white people.  But I did not think they were right" (Pages 6 - 8). 

The chapter goes on to detail the now legendary events of the fateful day when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat.  Parks writes:  "The policemen took me to jail.  They took my picture.  They put my fingers on a pad of ink and rolled my fingers onto white cards.  That way, they had my fingerprints.  Then they put me in a jail cell.  I did not have to spend the night in jail.  My husband came to get me.  A friend paid my bail money.  That meant I could go free for now.  The police told me to come to court in three days.  I went to court.  The judge said I was guilty of breaking the law.  I was fined ten dollars, plus four dollars in court costs.  I never paid it.  I did not feel I had broken the law.  I thought black people should not have to give up their seats on the bus to white people.  I thought the law should treat black people and white people just the same way.  I always wanted rules to be fair, even when I was small" (Pages 12 - 15).

The second chapter is titled, "How I Grew Up" and it gives biographical information on this interesting woman, who was born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913.  She was named after her grandmother and grew up in Pine Level, Alabama. Parks tells the reader about her parents and grandparents and about the farm where she was raised.  As a young girl, she liked to go fishing.

This section of the book also gives details about what schools for black children were like.  Parks recalls, "Sylvester [her little brother], and I went to a school for black children.  It had only one room.  White children went to a bigger school.  There was a school bus for the white children.  There was no school bus for us.  Sometimes when we walked to school, the bus would go by carrying the white children.  They would laugh at us and throw trash out the window.  There was no way to stop them.  One day a white boy named Franklin tried to hit me.  I picked up a brick, and I dared him to hit me.  He went away.  My grandma was angry.  She told me not to talk back to white folks.  I thought I was right to talk back" (Pages 22 - 24). 

Next Rosa tells about her marriage, in 1932, to Raymond Parks.  He was a barber and lived in Montgomery, Alabama.  She writes:  "I was proud of my husband because he worked to help black people.  He helped get lawyers for people who had been arrested.  I began to work to help black people too.  I wrote down their stories when they were hurt by whites.  I asked young black people to try to use the white library.  It was very hard work.  It was also very sad work, because nothing we did really helped make our lives better.  Then came that day on the bus when I would not give up my seat to a white person.  I was tired of black people being pushed around.  Some people think I kept my seat because I'd had a hard day, but that is not true.  I was just tired of giving in" (Pages 26-28).

The third chapter is titled, "We Stay Off The Buses."  It outlines the events of the bus boycott, that began on December 1, 1955 and concluded on December 20, 1956.  The boycott began, thanks to the footwork of Jo Ann Robinson, who "passed out leaflets asking all black people in the city of Montgomery to stay off the buses for one day" (Page 30).  "The day of the boycott came.  The buses were almost empty.  Very few black people were on them.  A man named E. D. Nixon called a big meeting of black people.  The meeting was held in a church.  A young minister named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., told all the black people to keep off the buses.  Everyone at the meeting cheered, and the boycott went on.  We walked to work or took taxis.  We got rides from our friends.  But we did not ride the buses.  Christmas passed.  It was very cold, but we did not ride the buses.  White people were very angry.  They wanted us to ride the buses again.  Some black people even lost their jobs because they would not ride the buses.  Some black people were arrested.  Some were beaten up.  I got telephone calls from people who would not give their names.  They said they wanted to hurt me.  Spring came.  Now it was nice weather for walking.  All the black churches had station wagons to drive the people who could not walk.  Summer came.  The buses had stopped running.  There were not enough riders without the black people" (Pages 31 - 38). 

Eventually there was a ruling by The Supreme Court, "that the segregation laws were wrong.  Black people should not have to give up their bus seats to white people.  Our boycott worked, and we had won.  We went back to the buses at last.  We did not have to give up our seats anymore.  We had stayed off the buses for a whole year" (Pages 39 and 40).

The final chapter, of the book, is titled, "Since the Boycott."  Due to worries about their safety, Rosa, her husband and mother, soon moved North to Detroit, Michigan.  The reader is then told about Martin Luther King, Jr. It says, "He led black people in the fight to vote and to eat in restaurants, just as white people did.  He was fighting for their rights.  This fight was called the civil rights movement.  Some white people joined the fight.  Most went down South from the North.  But some white people in the South joined the civil rights movement too " (Page 42 - 44).  Parks made speeches, telling of her personal experience, when she was arrested.  "I went down South for some of the big marches for black people's rights.  The civil rights movement won many rights for black people.  New laws for equal rights were passed.  The old segregation laws were over" (Page 44).

Parks is quick to downplay her role in the fight against segregation.  She writes, "Some people say I started the whole civil rights movement because I would not give up my seat on the bus.  I know that many people started the civil rights movement.  And many people worked very hard to win the rights that black people have today.  But I am glad I did my part" (Pages 45 - 47).

The book concludes with a challenge.  It states, "There is still much work to be done.  The laws that kept black and white people apart have been changed.  But there are still many people who have not changed their hearts.  I hope that children today will grow up without hate.  I hope they will learn to respect one another, no matter what colour they are" (Page 47 - 48).

I, for one, hope so too!

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