The Teachers March!: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History was one of the outstanding picture books of 2020 that kept popping up everywhere. Thanks to authors Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace, we have this dynamic telling of an overlooked event. Here, the authors share how meeting the right person at the right time made all the difference.
Also – Thank you to Sandra and Rich for offering a copy oof The Teachers March as a GIVEAWAY! Just leave a comment after the post to enter the drawing. (US addresses only, please)
“The Urgency of Oral History” by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace
We often talk about “the urgency of oral history”—a key element in all of our nonfiction books. It played an especially important role in our research for The Teachers March!: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History.
We strive to conduct in-person interviews with the main participants in the events we write about. For some of our books, of course, there are no living participants left, so we rely on journals, newspaper reports, and previous interview transcripts to discern a subject’s personality and drive. For others, the unstoppable passage of time increases the urgency of interviewing key subjects while they’re still alive.
Several years ago, we were in Selma speaking to voting rights activists about their experiences in 1965. That was for another book (Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and his Sacrifice for Civil Rights). It was during one of those interviews that we learned of the teachers’ march—a vital event that had been long overshadowed by Bloody Sunday (when John Lewis and others were beaten on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge while marching for their voting rights); the successful march from Selma to Montgomery led by Martin Luther King Jr.; and other moments from that tumultuous year. The teachers’ march preceded those events and led directly to them.
We knew immediately that the teachers’ march would be our next research project. We returned home to work on Blood Brother and quickly made plans to return to Selma (without a book contract), where we interviewed teachers who’d marched and others who were affected.
Reverend F.D. Reese, who organized and led the march, invited us to interview him in the office of the church where he was the long-time pastor. We followed up with several phone calls with him over the next year or two as we wrote the manuscript. His recollections and his passion made the book possible. He provided facts and insights that no one else could have given us.
Reese, a science teacher, urged his colleagues to get involved in the movement “and let the community know that the teachers were not only taking the lead in the classroom, but also in the voting rights movement. The community looked up to the teachers. We were considered to be the finest professional group in town.”
Our previous research showed us that there were unconfirmed and conflicting details surrounding the march, so interviewing Reverend Reese was an opportunity we took seriously. Through those interviews we determined how he came up with the idea of the march, Dr. King’s role of inspiration, and most importantly, how the day unfolded—in Reese’s words and his voice. This not only provided factual and sensory information but amplified the emotion and courage of the moment, grounding us in the time period, the magnitude, and the danger of the march. “We always expected to be jailed,” said Reese, who had led many previous demonstrations in Selma. “We were always prepared to go to jail when we organized a march.”
Reverend Reese died in 2018. If we hadn’t proceeded with “urgency” when we first learned of the march, a great opportunity would have been missed.
Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of THE TEACHERS MARCH! (US addresses only, please)
Investigative journalists Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace are award-winning writers of nonfiction titles including First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants and Refugees Who Make America Great and Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights, which won the International Literacy Association’s Social Justice Award. Sandra’s picture-book biography Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery earned the National Council of Teachers of English 2019 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction. The Teachers March! garnered four starred reviews and was named an Orbis Pictus Honor book.
The Wallaces recently founded a nonprofit organization called the Daily Good, which addresses inclusion, food insecurity, literacy, and health and wellness in Keene, NH, and the surrounding area. Visit them at http://www.SandraNeilWallace.com, http://www.RichWallaceBooks.com, and http://www.DailyGoodNH.org.