Reviewed by Deborah Menkart
Did you know that one year before the Little Rock Nine, in Clinton, Tennessee, 12 Black students desegregated their high school?
Their dramatic story is told by one of the 12 students — Jo Ann Allen Boyce — in collaboration with children’s book author Debbie Levy. They use free verse interspersed with quotes from newspapers, white supremacist protest signs, preachers’ sermons, and other primary documents from the time. Through the voice of Jo Ann, the reader learns of the strength of the Black community and how much is sacrificed and risked by the Black students to go to the previously all-white high school.
The white community riots, which leads to the National Guard being sent to Clinton for the month of September. The Klan also has a strong presence. One entry from the book reads,
“Wednesday September 26, When word comes the Ku Klux Klan is driving up the Hill, my father gets his gun. We live here. He won’t run. . . . When word comes my dad’s in jail ― my dad! And not the bombers! His crime? There’s only one: A black man with a gun.”
Highly recommended for grades 7+.
This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce, Debbie Levy
Published by Bloomsbury USA on January 8, 2019
Genres: Activism, Biography and Autobiography, Civil Rights Movement, Girls and Women, Racism
Reading Level: Grades 6-8
Review Source: Teaching for Change
A never-before-told firsthand account of a trailblazer in American history, for fans of Brown Girl Dreaming and Warriors Don't Cry.In 1956, a year before the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, 14 year old Jo Ann Allen made history when she and 11 other black students in Clinton, Tennessee integrated a public high school. As outside protesters arrived, tensions rose and neighbor turned against neighbor. Soon even the students themselves wondered if they should just return to their old school. Jo Ann wanted everything a girl her age should be able to have: friendships, an education, and time to daydream about her crush - but instead, she was thrust into national spotlight as a spokesperson for the cause. This nonfiction in verse, the first children's book about a forgotten moment in history, is based on Jo Ann's experience as well as extensive primary research and features archival materials and notes from the authors.