While writing yesterday’s post about Black History Month activities for kids, it dawned on me how most discussions center around the contributions and accomplishment of black adults. We tend to overlook the involvement of children. While this list is certainly nowhere near being comprehensive, I thought it’d be good idea to start compiling information for my kids about the children that make up black history.
- In 1955, just one week after arriving at his uncle’s house in Mississippi for the summer, 14-year-old Emmett Till‘s body was found brutally mutilated in the Talahatchie River. His crime–allegedly saying “bye, baby” or whistling at a white woman. His face and body were so unrecognizable that his own mother, Mamie Bradley, could only identify him by a ring on his finger. His mother insisted on an open casket funeral to bring attention to the lynchings and injustice suffered by black people. Her brave move helped rally popular black support and white sympathy across the U.S., as well as draw vast media coverage around the world.
- One of the most visible acts of integration of an all-white school occurred in 1957 when the Little Rock Nine– Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrance Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls–enrolled in Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. With a pro-segregation standoff led by the State’s own Governor that included blockades, taunting, and verbal abuse, it took more than 20 days and the federalization of troops before the students were allowed to enter the school. Once inside, the students faced a daily avalanche of emotional and physical abuse from teachers and fellow students.
- In 1960, Ruby Bridges became the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South. At six years old, she was the only black child assigned to her New Orleans, Louisiana school via court-ordered integration. Her courageous journey inspired Norman Rockwell’s painting, The Problem We All Live With. I can’t even begin to imagine the decision her parents faced to allow their child to go through this. Every day she walked to school, she faced constant jeering and protests to the point where President Eisenhower had to direct U.S. Marshals to walk Ms. Bridges to school. Only one teacher in the school would agree to teach her and many white parents withdrew their kids from school. Her father lost his job, and her grandparents were turned off the land they sharecropped.
- The 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama killed Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair–four black girls all 14 years old and younger. This singular act showed the world just how out of control discrimination and prejudice had gotten in the U.S. The racially motivated bombing invigorated the Civil Rights Movement and spurred on the eventual passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- While still in their teens, Venus and Serena Williams began upsetting the tennis world with their wins over higher-ranked and more experienced players. Within five years of turning pro, they were already ranked among the best in tennis with a number of major championships under their belt.
- At 19, Britney Exline graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in May 2011 to become the youngest engineer to graduate from the school and the youngest black engineer in the country. Not much of an underachiever, Ms. Exline also speaks five languages and graduated with minors in psychology, math, and classical studies.
- Gabrielle Douglas lit up the world with her showstopping performance during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Her gold medals for the individual and team all-around competitions made her the first black individual all-around champion, as well as the first U.S. gymnast to score golds in both the individual all-around and team competitions.
- In 2013, eight-year old Quvenzhané Wallis received an Oscar nomination for the Best Actress category for her role in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The nomination made her not only the youngest black to receive an Oscar nomination, but the youngest person ever to be nominated in a major category. (And if someone, say, ahem Saturday Night Live, were to ask…totally not cool to make fun of this little girl’s name.)
Read more in the Celebrating Black History Month series.
Recommended Book of the Day
Child of the Civil Rights Movement is an account of the Civil Rights Movement from the eyes of author Paula Young Shelton’s four-year old self. While she was barely in elementary school during most of the movement, she had the unique perspective of not only being the daughter of Andrew Young, a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement, but she was constantly surrounded by other stalwarts such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Cotton and Ralph Abernathy. She overheard leaders in the movement planning their next moves, witnessed her daddy being jailed and marched right along with the adults. This is a good book for showing kids how even they can make a mark on society.
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