Children's Books to Celebrate the 1963 March on Washington
The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom called on the United States to hold to its promise of freedom and justice for all, not just for the few. Though we have come far, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of freedom and equality, proclaimed that day, remains to be fully realized. The books below are a good place for preschoolers and other young children to begin learning about the March on Washington, MLK, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement.
The power of children’s books lies in that they can express the deepest of truths using but a few words and images. We March is among the best examples of this. Shane W. Evans uses brief text and simple images to illustrate the hope, sacrifice, anticipation, and preparation of one family as they participate in the March on Washington. This book gave me goosebumps when I first read it. It is that moving. If you are looking for a book to introduce even the youngest reader to the Civil Rights Movement, this is the perfect text.
I Have a Dream presents the climactic portion of Dr. King’s speech in an accessible yet profound picture book format. The oversize book gives Kadir Nelson’s gorgeous paintings the space they deserve. His paintings are not fussy, yet they are realistic in detail. Nelson’s art illustrates the text in the very best sense of the word; they are the pictures Dr. King himself painted with his words. I found the multipanel renditions of his stirring description of freedom ringing throughout our country particularly moving:
“So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
The speech is reprinted in its entirety at the end of the book; you can also listen to the speech, which is recorded on a CD that comes with the book.
While not specifically about the March on Washington, Coretta Scott features the event prominently in its text. Written by renowned poet and playwright Ntozake Shange, this biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s widow Coretta Scott King pairs poetry with again-masterful artwork by Kadir Nelson. From early Southern mornings spent walking “all of five miles / to the nearest colored school / in the darkness”, to her marriage, to the Montgomery Bus Boycott (“just the beginning / of a long journey”) and finally, the March on Washington, Shange portrays how Mrs. King’s deep faith bolstered her work in the Civil Rights Movement. The poetry is accessible to the beginning reader, but is layered with meaning. Readers of any age will find much to reflect on.
The gains made by the March on Washington must not be forgotten or forgone. The Civil Rights Collection at Nashville Public Library is a must-see for older children. Photographs and film footage from the times are on display, as well as a sculptural lunch counter which documents the history of the struggle for civil rights in Nashville.