This afternoon I sat in on a wonderful event at the NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. It was a talk by Philip Hoose, author of the superb nonfiction book, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, and Claudette Colvin herself. The event was for the Junior Scholars Program so the room was full of attentive teens as well as a few adults. For me, listening to Phillip and then Claudette speak to this particular audience made what they said all the more moving.
Philip began telling how he first learned of Claudette when researching his book We Were There Too, how he then wanted to tell her story, how he tracked down a reporter who was in touch with Claudette, and then how he was quietly persistent, checking in with his contact every few months until one day Claudette was ready to speak to him. He spoke of how he was able to “drag an important story from under the carpet of history.” He then gave an overview of the book, of the teenager Claudette refusing to move months before Rosa Parks, of her being jailed, of her courage when she later became part of a law suit against Montgomery that eventually overturned bus segregation in Montgomery, and much more. There was at least one audible gasp from the young people in the audience when he presented a particular harsh story before he turned things over to Claudette.
And boy was she impressive. She vividly recalled for us the memory of the click of the key when she was thrown into jail. She spoke of the way her teachers had filled her up so on that day she felt history glued her to that bus seat. She reminded me of something I’d not thought of till then — that I had been in Montgomery at that time, barely three years old and my sister still a baby. My parents were involved too, driving people during the boycott. But this isn’t about us, it is about Claudette. And let me tell you, after reading the book, I was profoundly moved by seeing her and hearing her, especially in that venue and with those young people. I thank @editorgurl for alerting me to this event.
And I highly, highly, highly recommend the book. Hoose’s research is remarkable, but it is the way he seamlessly interweaves Claudette’s own memories with his third person account (sprinkled with other quotes) that makes this book so outstanding. Hoose does a beautiful job bringing in Jim Crow, the players, the situations, the trials, the arrests, and so much more while keeping Claudette’s own words front and center. I think this book does an extraordinary job helping young readers today get a sense of that time through Claudette’s words and experiences.
The questions from the teens today were moving and interesting, reflective of their distance from a totally different time. One asked if Claudette had been angry all the time. But she had not. Another asked about her heroes and she spoke of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
Today I heard and saw history right smack in front of me.