#BelovedCommunity Rep. John Lewis

“You never become bitter,” Rep. John Lewis said. “You never become hostile. You never try to demean your opposition.” National Public Radio

A baton is aimed at young John Lewis, on ground, foreground right during a peaceful demonstration. His skull was fractured. March 7, 1965./Associated Press photograph  

Recent monumental pandemic news stepped into background noise for me as I listened transfixed to the heartfelt, emotional and proud commemorations, funeral moments and memorial for the famed #GoodTrouble #BelovedCommunity creator, Rep. John Lewis. I learned that Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, spoke to his courage and strength in sticking to his pledge to always conduct himself nonviolently, even under torture, in events that could lead to death:

IN the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

According to an interview with his sister, she remembered in child days that her big brother John recited Invictus, walking from room to room in their house. They lived in segregated Pike County, Alabama, where the local library denied her book-loving, voracious reader brother, a library card to the whites-only, tax-supported facility. The boy once denied a library card, became a member of the United States Congress in 1987, and later was honored as a book author, at the Library of Congress, on more than one occasion.

Rep. Lewis’ peaceable human rights actions, for what he thought of as #BelovedCommunity, were in keeping with his earliest studies, to become an ordained minister.  His degree from Fisk University was in philosophy and religion. As a boy he thoroughly read the Bible at home, his sister remembered. He also liked learning, from the newspaper, that the already-admired civil rights activist Rosa Parks and a new person on the Alabama scene, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., called for peaceful protest. And, she said, he liked comic books, for their Justice League heroes, who righted wrongs.

So, so fitting, that his National Book Award winning triology MARCH, is told as a graphic novel, as illustrated below by Nate Powell, all rights reserved. See The Horn Book Q/A with the Congressman.

from the John Lewis triology, with Andrew Aydin, illustrations copyright Nate Powell, all rights reserved

As I find poems about Rep. Lewis, I will link them here. “John Lewis” is a tribute poem I recommend to you from  my talented Poetry Friday colleague ,Michelle Kogan.

Appreciations to a group that means much to me #BigBendPoetsandWriters @BigPoets for sharing this poem about US Rep. John Lewis, by Avis Veronica Simmonds 

We are one

“We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.” – BAYARD RUSTIN quoted in WE ARE ONE, an illustrated biography for young readers, by Larry Dane Brimner

In my crowd, I am often late to knowledge.

Clarity about the meaning of the everyday term for where I live in the cosmos – the universe – ONE SONG – only arrived when I became a mother. This  left me giddy.  ‘One song, one song, one song,” I remember lilting to my baby girl as we danced around the room.  And then I thought of the Beatles: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together..”

WE ARE ONE is the perfect title for an illustrated biography of one of the most famous men of the Civil Rights Movement you have yet to hear of.  I am late, very late, to know about him. I feel privileged that Larry Dane Brimner is the person who brings him to me.

With recent events in the country of pharaohs,  watching the expression of oneness in Cairo,  it’s a good time to examine WE ARE ONE, The  Story of Bayard Rustin. Without this book, black history months such as this one is, would come and go with nary a mention of Rustin.

I hope this title earned  a shelf of awards.

The author has tackled  a key person in U.S. Civil Rights history who is under-represented on children’s bookshelves, as far as I can tell, from skimming the titles out there.

Secondly, Rustin was gay and a member of the  Communist Party in the United States. To his great credit, Larry Dane Brimner presents these topics with more than a cover-the-bases sentence for each of these area of Rustin’s complex life.

Finally, he knocks the socks off the reader by uncovering one outstanding fact after another of this unsung hero.

For example –

Who convinced the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not to carry a gun and not to keep an armed guard at his house in Montgomery during the tense days of the civil rights protests of 1955 & 1956?  It was the peaceful protest that Dr. King became synonymous with.

Who repeatedly tested the color barriers on public buses & also the response of Southern bus drivers & riders, in 1942 long before Rosa Parks (1955) , and was hauled off the bus and arrested?

Whose arrest for sitting in a “white” seat while living his peaceful life as a black man, resulted in his working on THE CHAIN GANG in North Carolina?

After getting off the chain gang (think COOL HAND LUKE, there is a movie in Bayard Rustin’s life ) whose article about that chain gang labor, in The New York Post, helped bring about an end to the North Carolina chain gangs?

Who was a Quaker?

Who credited his peaceful protest guidance of the Civil Rights movement to his grandmother?

Who organized  every detail of the Aug. 28, 1963 rally for equality on the National Mall – from details about what kind of box lunch each bus rider should bring for themselves, to how to get 100,000 mainly poor black folks, safely from their small home towns to the nation’s Capitol?

From the author we learn the answer to each of these questions is: Bayard Rustin.

Before reading this book, my answer to a lot of these questions would have been something like,  “Well, somehow I thought King had done that.”

Rustin is the fella who created the crowd for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , at the Washington Monument that August 28 of 1963. Rustin brought people with no means to travel, with the challenges of  travel & lodging for black folks, to fill up  the long Mall in Washington, D.C. He did this without e-mail, cell phones, tweeting, Facebook, MySpace, ATMs &, well you know the ways of today.

This is a fabulous biography. I enjoyed everything, especially I liked reading about his West Chester, Pennsylvania family, where the grandmother, was a Quaker and therefore a pacifist. Grandma Julia married a man who had been born into slavery, Janifer Rustin. Not only that, he was a slave in the North, so when Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, it didn’t “free” Janifer Rustin. That happened a year after, when the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by the U.S. Congress.  We begin to see the kinds of stories the young Bayard learned, growing up with Mr. and Mrs. Rustin. Bayard Rustin was born in 1912 and passed on in 1987.

Faced with this wealth of material, I’m not sure how I would have crafted the story. I might have been tempted to just keep the Bayard Rustin file open, indefinitely, seeking subjects easier to translate to teachers and those they tutor in civics and Civil Rights topics.

We are all fortunate, every one, that Larry Dane Brimner chose to delve into the topic and emerge with a lively and enlightening story.

Unlike many of the authors whose books I choose to write about here, I don’t know Brimner as a pal. I liked  chatting with him at a book-signing table last year as he met teacher fans, but it was a brief contact & I got no sense of who he was, other than another writer sitting on a high chair before a table with a stack of books my his side & a smile on his face for each person who presented a crisp hardbound illustrated book toward him to sign.

I apologize to the school intended to be gifted the copy that I had Brimner sign.  I have kept it far too long since November when I bought it. But with this post going up in mid-February, I will take it there next visit.  And I am grateful to my pal

Joan Broerman for her early recommendation of this title.

For more on Mr. Rustin, in addition to Larry Dane Brimner’s valuable book, there is an excellent resource I found from the material in the back copy of WE ARE ONE, at Columbia University’s oral history project.  You may also want to see Mr. Rustin on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1963. Those were the days we received not only LIFE but LOOK, every week at home. So that means he was in my living room & likely, I saw this same cover on our coffee table, but being a little kid, it didn’t sink in.  I am thankful for this chance to understand, through the teachings of Mr. Rustin that WE ARE ONE.

Obama’s poet

A Poet and a Secretary

THE book I just devoured in celebration of Obama’s elevation to the Presidency of the United States is for children.

And it’s not one of the several handy bios of him for young readers.

It’s a picture book of  poems in several voices, by his poet, Elizabeth Alexander, of Yale, and her equally distinguished colleague, Marilyn Nelson, a much-honored creator of children’s literature.

http://www.wordsongpoetry.com or

http://www.wordsongpoetry.com/another_starred_review_for_mis.html

Elizabeth Alexander’s presence on the platform at this historic event shouts out that this president lauds the arts & art creators.

Already sensing that, Quincy Jones asks for support to imbed the arts in the White House with a Cabinet level secretary post. See

http://www.petitionsonline.com/esnyc/petition.html

and reach it by typing in US Secretary of Arts

Meanwhile, Poet Elizabeth Alexander will receive a wider audience because of her Jan. 20th role on the world stage.

I want you to know she is already beloved by librarians, teachers, students & many others for  MISS CRANDALL’s SCHOOL for YOUNG LADIES & LITTLE MISSES of COLOR.

This book, with illustrations by Floyd Cooper (winner of three Coretta Scott King Honor Awards) is an unforgettable visit to the true story of a Quaker woman’s dedication to her black students in New England in the 1830s.

Her determination to stand tall against local terrorists affiliated with churches, the town council & local business community makes me, “ache with caring,” to borrow a phrase of Mem Fox, about seeing this history presented to a wider audience.

If you are more interested in the present day than in history,  notes in the book mention more recent updates, including how the 1984 dedication of the Prudence Crandall Museum, was also marked in an undistinguished way by the  Connecticut KKK.

Enjoy. Weep. Share. Rejoice in the presidency of Barack Obama.

(And a palette of color to Janeen Mason

http://www.janeenmason.com,   for the petition tip.