This review is a first for me, which is befitting since the subject of this book was also a first, although infinitely more courageous and important act. This book, Little Rock Girl 1957: How a Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration, meant for readers ages eight through about 14. That makes this the first “Juvenile” book I have reviewed here. That said, I know an awful lot of adults who could benefit from a refresher course in American History.
On September 4, 1957, less than two weeks from today, in Little Rock, Arkansas nine African American students defied their governor and started the fight to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. Now known as The Little Rock Nine, those children faced both physical, verbal and emotional abuse few of us will ever face. And, with few exceptions, could not and would not find protection or support in adults, teachers, their fellow students or the community. The fight was not won that day, and it wasn’t won even that year or necessarily for years to come. Perhaps that fight still hasn’t come to an end.
First, the book. The author, Shelley Marie Tougas set out to write a contemporary history aimed at an audience of fifth through eighth graders depicting an era that is every bit as important as many other milestones in American History. I think she achieved both goals exceedingly well. She researched the book thoroughly, finding many photographs and interviews that haven’t seen the light of day in decades. The interviews and recollections of the children who were on the front line that day and in days to come, are especially poignant. Further, Ms. Tougas did not color the narrative with her own feelings and emotions. This is well documented history an eight year old could easily digest and an adult could profit from as well.
It is a straightforward history, 64 pages long, containing many historical photographs of the events started that day, and continuing through that school year. There are also many photographs and recollections from the recent past that put a very human face to these events. Many of the Little Rock Nine, the photographers and journalists, parents, supporters in the black community and nationally, contribute and tell a broader story.
The stage was set for the events in Little Rock in 1954 when the United States Supreme Court ruled in the landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which allowed state-sponsored segregation.