In Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary
, American author Elizabeth Partridge offers young-adult readers an up-close-and-personal glimpse of the brave young men and women who marched for civil rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March of 1965. This volume combines photography and narrative essays to create an intimate portrait of the dedication and passion, the chaos and the violence, and the unbounded courage it took to make the historic walk—a walk that would forever alter the civil rights landscape of America. Viking Books for Young Readers published Marching for Freedom
in 2009, and it would go on to win several high-profile accolades, including The Boston Globe-
Horn Book Award, the Los Angeles Times
Book Prize for Young Adult Literature, and the Jane Addams Children's Book Award.
The first chapter opens with the story of two teenage girls, Joanne and Lynda Blackmon. Their grandmother, Sylvia Johnson, is a tireless advocate for voting rights. Joanne accompanies Sylvia when Sylvia goes to the courthouse to vote, fully knowing she can't because of the color of her skin. The day ends with Joanne's first arrest, but it wouldn't be her last; following in Sylvia's footsteps, she and her sister, Lynda, join the growing throngs of young people who would propel the burgeoning civil rights movement forward into the future. This chapter highlights the struggles thousands face in registering to vote in the Jim Crow South, setting the stage for the events that would follow.
From here, Partridge presents a day-by-day account of the Selma to Montgomery marches, starting with the preliminaries. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., arrives on January 2, months before the marches, and preaches to a full church about the importance of peaceful protest, marching, nonviolent resistance, and civil disobedience. He rouses the congregation, and Partridge profiles some of the young members present who heed Dr. King's call and join the cause.
Then, readers get a peek at the violence that became known as Bloody Sunday. On March 7, six hundred marchers attempt to traverse the route between Selma and Montgomery. However, they only get as far as the Edmund Pettis Bridge—a mere six blocks from downtown Selma. There, police meet them with billy clubs, tear gas, and brutality. A series of photos show the progression of violence. In one, there is a standoff between march participants and police. In the next, police teargas and attack the nonviolent marchers. Then, photos of the bloodied and beaten bodies of the marchers line the streets of Selma. Eventually, the police force all members of the assembled group back into town.
However, not even bigoted law enforcement will stop progress. Two days after Bloody Sunday, 2,500 marchers take to the streets once more, setting forth on the road between Selma and Montgomery. Known as Turnaround Tuesday, a temporary restraining stops them in their tracks.
Once again, the law is powerless in the face of passionate determination and the power of the greater good. Over the next five chapters, Partridge chronicles the five days of the march, which ultimately had its successful start on Sunday, March 21. It increases steadily in number, with some marchers as young as ten years old, and soon more and more allied white folks join in, too. By the time the marchers reach their destination, some 300,000 people pack the streets of Montgomery. Event organizers assemble an A-list group of performers to entertain the crowd; Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Nina Simone are among the singers who take the stage.
The following day, March 25, marchers complete their journey at the steps of the state capitol building, where they listen to speeches by civil rights pioneers such as Rosa Parks. Dr. King gives his now-famous "How Long, Not Long" speech and the crowd swells with love, with peace, with brother- and sisterhood. After his speech, Dr. King and the assembled marchers approach the door of Governor George Wallace's office. Dr. King holds a petition that demands freedom, the right to vote, and an end to police brutality. Law enforcement blocks the door to the office until one of the governor's secretaries comes out and accepts the petition.
In the book's final chapter, Partridge covers the signing of the Voting Rights Act a few months later, on August 6. President Lyndon Johnson puts his signature on the historic legislation, and black folks from around the nation line up to vote for the first time.Marching for Freedom
contains a large collection of photographs as well as essays culled from interviews with people who participated in the march. Source notes, a bibliography of further reading, and an index round out the text.
At one point in the book, Joanne Blackmon shares her thoughts about the march and the civil rights movement as a whole. Her words are just as true today as they were when she took to the streets, "The [Civil Rights] Movement was not a black movement—it was a people movement. And the future has to be a people movement, until injustice is stamped out in any form."