Module 5: Remember: The Journey to School Integration

I read Toni Morrison’s “Remember: The Journey to School Integration”, a Coretta Scott King Winner book. I have to preface this brief review by stating that Toni Morrison, in my opinion, is one of America’s living treasures. I have read all of her adult books (The Bluest Eye, Sula, Beloved, Song of Solomon), and her simplest phrases are like poetry. She is fiercely supportive of the black American and the struggles endured by her people, and can at times seem angry at white people. This can be difficult, as a white reader, to feel that someone is fed up with you or even disgusted with you for something you didn’t do. This anger, however, is sadly understandable. This book contains photos of unimaginable hatred and ignorance and the pictures are not that old! It is absolutely shocking to see how African Americans were treated in this country in many of our lifetimes.

I have seen the iconic image of the African American and white child regarding each other warily across the aisle in the Virginia school on the first day of integration. I have seen the disturbing images of the ‘white’ and ‘colored’ water fountain. While a bad story, it was one I thought I already knew.  Nothing, however, could prepare me for the emotional wallop packed by this book. There is little text, but the photos selected tell the story all too well. The black childrens’ school without desks, books or chalkboards still has pupils with their heads bent over their books, eager to learn. These brave girls who went to school when the whole school didn’t seem to want them, were obviously dressed with love and care, lovely dresses, hair bows, and new shoes that must have meant an incredible sacrifice for their family. Imagining the parents thoughts as they did their best to present their children to a crowd of angry children and adults was almost too much to bear. Ms. Morrison doesn’t even need to say anything for the reader to feel revolted on behalf of Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, as she is on her way to school being followed by ignorant, angry and ugly people shouting at her. She seems serene in her neat hair, stylish dress and sunglasses, but what must have been going on in her head and her heart at that time? The photos selected and the captions written by Ms. Morrison from the point of view of the subjects are powerful, poignant and upsetting.

I would recommend that this book be used for display purposes during a week which was themed for Civil Rights, Influential African Americans or Photography. The book needs to be picked up and looked through individually, as some people will react strongly to certain images and want to linger there while others might be more interested in another part of the book. Reading this book is a very private and emotional experience.

Toni Morrison

Morrison, Toni Remember (2004) New York, Houghton Mifflin.

Review One

Toni Morrison is a master storyteller. Her groundbreaking novel Beloved won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. In 1993 she became the first black woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature. Toni Morrison is currently the Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities at Princeton University. Remember is her first historical work for young people.

Part history, part current events, and part imagination, Toni Morrison’s look at school desegregation in the 1950s and the civil rights movement that followed is all about people: those who put themselves on the line to correct unfairness, to challenge accepted values, and to change the way things were, as well as all of us who benefit from those changes today. The photographs and spare text invite us to put ourselves into this era of change and understand how it felt. They challenge us to ask ourselves how it still feels. And they remind us to remember.

Remember: The Journey to School Integration introduces a period of recent American history to upper elementary and middle school students, and this guide provides you with ideas for exploring the period through discussion, research, “trial experiences,” examination of primary source material, and written and oral projects. Remember is also a wonderful way to introduce your class to the work of a Nobel Prize–winning writer.
[Review of the book Remember: The Journey to School Integration]. Houghton Mifflin. Retrieved from
http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/readers_guides/morrison_remember.shtml
Review Two
My six year old daughter and I make a date for just us two to go to the library at least twice every month. On our most recent outing we checked out Toni Morrison’s, Remember: The Journey to School Integration. The whole family looked with wonder as we turned the pages of vivid images of very turbulent American times. We saw little black girls needing soldiers with guns to protect them as they made a frightful entry into a newly integrated school. We saw pictures of white and black children playing together on some pages, while on other pages angry demonstrations took place against integration.Ms. Morrison uses her imagination to match words with these already powerful images, and the book is one that is crafted with thought for people of all races. In the introduction of the book, Toni Morrison writes to her audience, children, “Why offer memories you do not have? Remembering can be painful, even frightening. But it can also swell your heart and open your mind.” And she did what she intended. As my daughter looked at the images and read the print, she asked questions about why black and white people couldn’t go to school together, and I gently explained that the freedoms we have now were not easily won. I remind her to take pride in her education and do her best because children her age many years back, but not so long ago were mocked, threatened, and even physically beaten to have the opportunities she has today. What she calls rights today were only hopes then. The friends she has now of all races would not have been her friends if not for the brave people who looked adversity in the face, stepped on the long road to equality, and through the fear and pain, built the ladder to what we call the present.Next to a picture of Rosa Parks on a bus Ms. Morrison writes, “…because if I ever feel helpless or lonely I just have to remember that sometimes all it takes is one person.” Then on the next page under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in front of a sea of people at the Lincoln Memorial, “Then the loneliness melts away.” The loneliness does melt away. And perhaps my daughter believes that she can be that one. Maybe my sons will know that they can change the world. Because they can. Because I believe they will. As I sit with my family, able to go to school, able to be married, able to have children that are not born into either slavery or segregation, I am thankful for the bravery of the people that shed blood and gave life for me to enjoy these freedoms. I vow to continue to live my life so that their efforts were not in vain and teach my children to do the same. I thank Toni Morrison for writing such an important book and God for the opportunity to read it and share it with my family. We look through the book with sadness, anger, pride, awe, love, understanding, and we remember. And we are changed.
Logan, S. (2006) [Review of the book Remember: The Journey to School Integration]. Yahoo Voices. Retrieved from
http://voices.yahoo.com/a-review-toni-morrisons-book-remember-journey-118715.html?cat=9
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