Middle Grade Civil Rights Nonfiction

Even as the United States condemned Hitler and the Holocaust, political leaders in the south held fast to the idea that black people were inferior to white people. Policemen, the KKK, and most white people in the south ignored U.S. integration laws and continued to demoralize black people, sometimes beating them or killing them without penalty. This list captures the major resistance events of the 50s and 60s: bus integration, school integration, freedom marches, sit-ins, Freedom Riders and the Freedom Summer. For a general book about these events, try Freedom’s Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories or my personal favorite Chasing King’s Killer.

Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimner

A short, but detailed, account of the historic journey of the Freedom Riders in May 1961. Thirteen people, both black and white, were selectively chosen to ride a bus from Washington, DC to New Orleans. Knowing the US Supreme Court had ruled bus segregation unconstitutional, they planned to ignore all segregation signs in the south. They were beaten and their bus set on fire.

March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine by Melba Pattillo Beals

Melba Pattillo Beals is best known for being one of the nine students who integrated Central High in Little Rock Arkansas in 1957. She describes her feelings about being judged as inferior for her skin color and her determination to attend the brand-new, all-white high school even though she would be bullied for doing so. 

Attucks!: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team that Awakened a City by Phillip Hoose

In the 40s and 50s, black kids in Indianapolis attended a segregated high school called Crispus Attucks. The basketball team wasn’t allowed to play public schools. When the Board of Education finally agreed to allow Attucks to play public schools, the city of Indianapolis witnessed a champion team in the making. The all-white high schools suddenly wanted black players on their basketball teams.

Chasing King’s Killer by James L. Swanson

This book is a must for readers of crime thrillers. Swanson tells the story of Martin Luther King’s assassination as if it’s fiction. He provides all the minute details that make a story interesting. He cuts back and forth between King and his assassin, James Earl Ray, moment by moment to that fateful moment when King stands on a hotel balcony and Ray aims his rifle.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom by Lynda Blackmon Lowery

As a teen, Lynda Blackmon and her black classmates were given liberty by their teachers and administrators to skip school to participate in peaceful demonstrations. Eventually she got used to being hauled off to jail. In one such demonstration, state troopers attacked Blackmon and other children as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, a day that came to be called “Bloody Sunday.”

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

Claudette Colvin was 15-years-old when she refused to give up her seat to a white person on a bus. She knew the U.S. government had outlawed bus segregation, but Alabama ignored the law. The police came, dragged her off the bus, and threw her in jail. Her case went to trial and she was found guilty.

Freedom’s Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories by Ellen Levine

This book gives short eyewitness accounts of all the major events of the Civil Rights movement from the perspective of the kids who lived it. Kids describe how they felt about the general segregation practices, bus boycotts, school segregation, freedom marches, Freedom Summer, and Freedom Rides. Some kids were participants.

Freedom Summer by Susan Goldman Rubin

Freedom Summer is the term used to describe the voter registration initiative in Mississippi in the summer of 1964. At the time, black people had to pass difficult tests to vote. Pro-integration volunteers felt voting was the way for black people to legally bring about change, which enraged racist policemen and the KKK. In a typical cover-up, they murdered three volunteers, setting off the largest civil rights investigation in history.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly (Young Readers’ Edition)

During the employment shortage of World War II, four mathematically talented black women took advantage of the situation and landed jobs at Langley Air Force Base. Though they proved themselves equal to men in their capabilities, they still had to deal with the segregation laws in effect at the time. With the space race on after WWII, these women remained employed and contributed to U.S. success.

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