Remember: The Journey To School Integration is a beautiful oversize book of sepia toned photographs, covering the period of American history between the 1950s and 1960s, and concentrating on the racial tensions at that time. The text is by Toni Morrison, the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with Beloved, in 1988, and she brings her unique perceptive commentary to these fifty photographs. In 2004 Toni Morrison wrote this, her first nonfiction book for young people. Board of Education Trial Supreme Court decision to end legal school segregation. Only then, do we read Toni Morrisons insightful commentary. I was at school during this time and the images I see here fill me with emotion. The book begins with three pages of text giving an overview of the American Civil Rights struggle, bordered by details from the photos which are to come. Each section begins with Toni Morrisons short information paragraph, to provide a context for the following pictures: A long time ago, some people thought that black people and white people should not be friends. In some places, black people were not allowed to live in the same neighborhoods as white people. In some places, black people were not allowed to eat in the same restaurants as white people. And in some places, black children and white children could not go to the same schools. This first section is entitled The Narrow Path, and the first photograph we see shows black children in a segregated school, as laid down in law in 1896, to be separate but equal. This is a typical school for black children: To the forefront of another picture a little girl stands and reads out loud. The text reads: The law says I cant go to school with white children. Another photograph shows the poignant image of a young black girl playing with her large white doll, Shes mine and I call her Jasmine. Five lawsuits challenged the concept of segregated schools in the United States, and a child development expert was asked to present studies done on childrens play with dolls. This expert testified that the results had shown that black children preferred dolls with white skin, viewing these as of a higher status. One was an old-fashioned large pot doll, white with long black hair. I was very young, but I do not remember thinking these dolls were any different from each other, in any important way. But Toni Morrisons introductory paragraph explains that many people resisted the Supreme Court ruling. Straight after this photograph, and guiding us through us the changing individual perceptions following the ruling, we have the intriguing photograph which features on the books cover: There are two little girls in the foreground. One is black and one is white, and each sits at the head of a row of children. One photograph shows three white teenage boys holding anti-integration placards. We see a few faces in a jeering white crowd, haranguing black students. On the left hand side we see an integrated group of school children running out to play. Two boys one black and one white are smiling and laughing together at the front of the group. Then our eyes drift across to the opposite page, where we see a group of white teenagers trying to overturn a car driven by a black man. One image shows a group of black children and adults, accompanied by Toni Morrisons comment, No, no they said. This school is for white children. My favourite photograph in the whole journal is this one: This is a photograph of two girls one black and one white smiling at each other. On the page facing we see two girls, again one black, one white, each standing separately before a bathroom mirror. We see acts both of black protest and white counter-protest, which were part of the Civil Rights movement. Although in the main the book finishes with the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the final photograph is from later. There are more images of black and white children playing together, and another of a small group of children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Another photograph shows two little boys one black and one white talking together shyly, the shot being almost a mirror image of the two little girls from earlier: Things are moving forward. There was an earlier book, in 1937, by Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Bourke-Whites called You Have Seen Their Faces. The text was written by Erskine Caldwell, to show the imaginary thoughts of the poor people, both black and white sharecroppers. Although their intentions were good, the book was quite controversial, and Toni Morrison is aware that her own use of such a device might make some people uneasy. We do not know with certainly what people are thinking, and this is true not only of a photographic image, but also when you are face to face with someone in real life. This is from Toni Morrisons introduction: The demand to integrate public schools grew into a nationwide civil rights movement to eliminate all racist law: to have the right to vote, the right to choose the neighborhood you wanted to live in, to sit in any vacant seat in a public place. And one day a bomb was thrown into a church, killing four little girls attending Sunday school.
This book walks the reader down history's hallway-- back to the day's of school integration.
I would use this picture book as a read aloud or small group activity in upper elementary or secondary classrooms for various purposes.
Maybe it's the expressions on the faces, but somehow instead of being distracted by old cars and kids wearing ties to school, this book really brought home how important and timeless the issue of school integration is.
Morrison has created a tender narrative to explain school segregation to children with honesty, poise, and an ever present sense of hope.