Karen Parker is a Telephone Specialist in ISD 192 Technology Department and Ed MN Local 7313 president in Farmington, Minnesota. She is also a student in the MPAL (Masters in Advocacy and Political Leadership) program at Metro State, and, this semester, an intern at ESFL.
The Children’s Collection of the East Side Freedom Library
Tucked in a corner of the East Side Freedom Library (ESFL) are two book bins and a short shelf full of children’s books. One might wonder what children’s books are doing in a non-circulating library whose collections focus on labor and immigration. The answer might be that the seeds for social justice must be planted early and this collection is packed full of social justice stories. Often books will help children understand a complex problem more clearly, set the stage for exploring new ideas, or raise questions about the world around them. Browsing the collection one can find a number of books that explain the history of the Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement and how important it is to acknowledge America’s history, good and bad.
Ruth and The Green Book written by Calvin Alexander Ramsey is one such book. The story is written from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl from Chicago traveling to Alabama in 1952 to visit her grandmother. In the story, Ruth experiences firsthand what it was like to travel in America at a time of when Jim Crow laws were openly tolerated. After the humiliating refusals of the use of a gas station restroom and a night’s lodging at a motel, a friendly attendant at an Esso gas station shows the family “The Green Book” which lists places that would welcome black travelers. Through illustrations of the family’s experiences, readers learn how Jim Crow laws affected black travelers and the necessity for The Negro Traveler’s Green Book. Written by Victor Green, a mail carrier from Harlem, “The Green Book” had listings for each state of tourist homes where black families could safely sleep, Esso gas stations where they could fill up their tanks with gasoline, use the restroom and buy refreshments. Green compiled information sent to him from Black mail carriers from around the country. The guide was published from 1936-1964. It was an absolute necessity for safe travel during those times before the Civil Rights laws were put into effect in 1964.
Ruth’s family must travel 100 miles out of their way to stay in a “tourist home” in Tennessee. The family knocks on the door and mentions the Green Book. They are invited in to eat, sleep, and enjoy the company of the host’s family. With the “Green Book” in hand, the rest of the trip was smooth sailing to Grandma’s house.
This book is a valuable tool to use with children to bring up racism and discrimination. It accurately depicts what life was like during the time of segregation. The book even uses the term of the time, “Negroes” which can bring about talking points with children on the power of the names we use to categorize groups of people. The last page of the book gives the history of The Green Book.
Another excellent book in the ESFL children’s collection is Langston Hughes: Poetry for Young People. Written by Hughes and illustrated by Benny Andrews, the book brings to life the poetry of Langston Hughes, a famous American poet, social activist, playwright, and novelist. He was part of the Harlem Renaissance of New York City. The book’s four-page introduction shares a brief history of Hughes’ life and accomplishments. Born in 1902, he published his first poem in 1921 at the age of nineteen. In his writings, he tackled social and political issues, including Jim Crow laws. One poem titled “Merry-Go-Round” highlights the confusion a young Black person might have experienced during Jim Crow times.
Colored Child at Carnival
Where is the Jim Crow section
On this merry-go-round,
Mister, cause I want to ride?
Down South where I come from
White and colored
Can’t sit side by side.
Down South on the train
There’s a Jim Crow car.
On the bus we’re put in the back—
But there ain’t no back
To a merry-go-round!
Where’s the horse
For a kid that’s black?
In addition to all the wonderful books in the ESFL Children’s Collection, the library hosts the Kids Rising Story Hour four times a year. The story hour focuses “on stories with social justice messages and are intentionally inclusive of writers and themes from diverse and under-represented communities.” The next Kids Rising Story Hour will be held on Saturday, April 7 at 10:30 AM. For more information, contact the ESFL at //eastsidefreedomlibrary.org/.