166 years ago today, Elizabeth Jennings boarded a streetcar in New York City. She was in a hurry to get to church. But, when the conductor ejected her because of her race, too-late-for-church took a backseat to too-late-for-equality.
Seven months later, the young school teacher sat in a Brooklyn courtroom, waiting for the white judge and jury to return the verdict on her case against segregation on transportation. Segregation was a tradition, not a law. And her case would depend upon the jury seeing past differences and connecting to her humanity.
Lizzie Demands a Seat: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights was released in January, and since then I was fortunate to be able to share the book with many classes before the pandemic closed schools. Students listened wide-eyed and asked important questions. Young and old were surprised to hear of this civil rights heroine that fought for the right to ride a full century before Rosa Parks. The road to justice is long, indeed.
As we witness changes brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement and hearken back to our painful history, please remember this remarkable woman, powered by grit and grace, and the others she inspired to continue the fight for social justice. Though many consider the Civil Rights Movement something that happened in the 1960s, it’s been going on since slavery began. Too many voices have been ignored and overshadowed for too long. Too many unjust “traditions” and behaviors have been carried on long after laws were changed.
In recent years, the world of children’s literature has blossomed with diverse and untold stories. My hope is that all children read all kinds of stories – stories that reflect them, and stories of those who look different, speak different languages, live in different cultures. No matter how different we are, we are all connected.
I’ve started a tradition to show a small bit of my immense gratitude to my local library for the services they offer the community and the research support they provide as I dig into new stories. For each book released, I purchase a fundraising brick to honor the story. Here is Lizzie’s brick, recently installed at the Loveland Public Library.