Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass – A Review by Rose Cappelli
Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass and illustrated by E.B.Lewis is a study in contrasts. The Civil Rights Movement is full of stories of violence and hatred, many of which occurred in the state of Alabama. But in this book we learn how the citizens of Huntsville, Alabama chose courage, perseverance, and creativity over violence in their fight for equality.
The book is written in present tense, so from the beginning the reader is transported back to 1962 and placed in the mountains of Alabama. In the opening pages we experience the contrasts of German scientists working with American engineers, rockets beside cotton fields, and the good times for whites and bad times for blacks because of segregation. But in Huntsville, change is in the air. It is time to bring the people together and show how things can be different from “just the way it is.”
Slowly, the seeds of freedom are sown in nonviolent ways. Young black students sit quietly at a lunch counter being refused service until they are asked to leave. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visits Huntsville and speaks about a better time to come. Three young women and the baby of one of them are arrested for refusing to leave a restaurant. Huntsville’s black citizens refuse to buy fancy clothes for Easter, instead choosing to “stand up for freedom by dressing down” on Blue Jean Sunday, causing merchants to lose great sums of money. On Mother’s Day, black families spend time together in Big Spring Park, a place reserved for whites only. These are the seeds that grow into a tender plant when city officials finally convince business owners to integrate. Soon blacks and whites come together at lunch counters, in movie theaters, at bowling alleys, and in other places that were previously segregated in Huntsville because it was “just the way it is.”
Bass’ metaphor of seeds that need to be nurtured over time creates an image of growth that is carried throughout the book. But the young plant of freedom begins to wilt when the schools in the town refuse to integrate and the more violent acts that we know as part of the Civil Rights Movement are acted out on national television. But eventually Huntsville experiences another peaceful outcome when a young black boy becomes the first black child to attend a formerly all-white public school in Alabama. The plant is once again nurtured and we read that “through nonviolence and dignity and cooperation and courage, the black and white people of Huntsville have come together in peace, to taste the sweet fruit homegrown from the seeds of freedom.”
Hester Bass writes in a way that captures the hearts of her target audience by relating incidents that affect children and families. Her text is considerate, often explaining words and concepts that may be difficult for children nowadays to understand. E. B. Lewis’ illustrations complement her words perfectly, and the faces of young and old, and blacks and whites, offer the reader another study in contrasts.
I always appreciate books that include an Author’s Note. We can learn so much about how authors find stories and what motivates them to research and write. In Hester Bass’ author’s note we learn that the story came from two historical markers she discovered while living in Huntsville. She goes on to provide quite a bit of background on civil rights and discrimination and ends by appealing to the reader to recognize when change is needed and to be the “one person to start something good.”
Seeds of Freedom is a book that can be used in many elementary and middle school classrooms for teaching not only about the Civil Rights Movement, but also about the importance of determination in advocating for changes that will benefit a community. A detailed teachers’ guide for this book as well as Grandaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box can be found on the Candlewick website (www.candlewick.com).
Rose Cappelli is a literacy consultant, retired reading specialist, and lover of children’s literature. She is the co-author of Mentor Texts, Nonfiction Mentor Texts, and Poetry Mentor Texts, all published by Stenhouse. Rose blogs semi-regularly at www.metortextswithlynneandrose.com. She can be found on Twitter at @RoseCappelli.