Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Two of my Heroes

March 17 - Today's post contributed by Elizabeth Partridge

Two of my heroes

I've always loved writing about people who are committed to changing their world: musicians and artists being my favorites. But when I became interested in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery and flew to Selma, in November, 2008, I met two courageous sisters who instantly became my heroes. Or, as they would say, my sheroes.

Lynda Blackmon Lowery and her sister Joanne Blackmon Bland grew up in Selma. Their mother died when she was denied medical care at the nearby whites-only hospital. A delay in care getting to the hospital that treated African-Americans meant she didn't survive. Their grandmother stepped in to help raise them. She was a strong, no-nonsense woman.

When Lynda was fourteen and Joanne was ten, their grandmother took them to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. speak at Brown Chapel on January 2, 1965. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had been working for several years leading a voting registration campaign, and Dr. King had determined the time was right to bring national publicity to the effort.

Setting off on the Selma to Montgomery March, 1965. Library of Congress

Lynda and Joanne became two of the children who protested, marched, and were jailed repeatedly as part of the attempt to allow African Americans to register to vote. On March 7, 1965, marchers set out across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, headed for Montgomery. Lynda and Joanne were among the protest marchers. The mounted troopers ran straight into the marchers with tear gas and billy clubs. Joanne fainted when a horse and deputy bore down on her. Lynda was hit twice in the head with a billy club, requiring many stitches.

Hundreds of children, singing Freedom Songs march towards a detention compound after being arrested. February 6, 1965. Library of Congress

You'd think that would have stopped these two, but on Sunday, March 21, they joined the marchers leaving Selma, once again headed for Montgomery. Joanne walked the first day, and Lynda was one of 300 people allowed to go on the full, five day march all the way to the state capital. Her biggest obstacle had been her father, who was afraid for her. But she was determined. She was also mad. She wanted to show Governor Wallace the stitches still dangling from the back of her head and her forehead. "I was not brave," Lynda told me. "I was not courageous. I was determined. That's how I got to Montgomery."

I'd have to disagree. To me, courage is a core strength and a powerful moral compass, triggered in a person by harrowing circumstances. These two sisters embody it. Brava!

With the release of the movie Selma and the 50th anniversary bridge crossing with President Obama, there's been a groundswell of interest this historic event. Some people have criticized Selma for its "inaccuracies." I disagree. It's a great way to explore the difference between fiction and non-fiction, Hollywood films and documentaries.

I've posted some teaching ideas here: http://www.slj.com/2015/01/standards/selma-accurate-enough-questions-about-the-films-historical-accuracy-present-a-teachable-moment/#_

To read more about Lynda and Joanne:

Working on the layout for Marching for Freedom. Catherine Frank, editor, Elizabeth Partridge, author, and Jim Hoover, designer. 2009.
Elizabeth Partridge is the author of numerous books for children and young adults. She is a National Book Award finalist, and has received the Michael Printz award and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award. She teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

1 comment:

  1. I hope someone writes a book about these two sisters! There are so many about the men of the Civil Rights movement but very little on the women; just maybe Rosa Parks and a tiny bit on Ruby Bridges. That's not enough!