Lillian’s Right to Vote
By Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans
Schwartz & Wade Books/Penguin Random House (ages 5-9)
In Lillian’s Right to Vote we learn about the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is the 50th Anniversary of that federal law on August 6, 2015.
A law protecting us all from abuses that could rob us of our rights as U.S. citizens. It passed thanks to strong support from President Lyndon B. Johnson, to his own peril politically.
Poll taxes, literacy tests and crazy, crazy quizzes were once used right at the polls to deny voters their rights.
“How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”
“Name all sixty-seven judges in the state of Alabama.”
This picture book depicts 100 year old Lillian walking alone up a steep, steep hill in order to vote. The hill is “a metaphor for the uphill climb faced by African Americans in the struggle for voting rights.” Along the way she recalls personal and family anecdotes that remind us of the milestones of the movement.
Lillian has seen and learned much over her long life. Her thoughts personalize the civil rights movement for all of us, beginning with “her great-grandpa Edmund…owned by another man.” He had no rights as all until after the Civil War. Thanks to the Fifteenth Amendment he votes for the first time.
Next we learn of her grandpa, unable to come up with the required poll tax. Then its 1920 and a law has just passed finally allowing women the vote (the 19th Amendment). Lillian herself heads to the polls, but is “chased away by an angry mob.” That is a vivid image, and it’s followed by another—a burning cross on her family’s lawn.
Lillian continues up the hill cane in hand. I greatly appreciate that the authors depict Lillian, a centenarian, as determined and independent-minded.
“Are you going to vote?” she asks a young man who passes her on her route.
‘Yes ma’am,’ he answers.
‘You better,’ she says, and she means it.”
An authors’ note reminds us that when our nation was new, very few had the right to vote. “Generally, the only citizens who were allowed to cast their ballots were white men who owned property.” Reminding kids of this fact may help them take this in on a more personal level.
I’m ashamed to tell you that I was largely unaware of the significance of this law, and as a naturalized citizen I don’t take my right to vote lightly. In fact, yesterday I was one of only 10% of registered voters in my small city who voted in the primary election.
But I was not aware that legislation was needed to ensure that people, primarily African Americans, are not denied that right.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided for oversight of elections in the South, to ensure that African Americans were treated fairly.
Some may be aware that in 2013 the Supreme Court struck down that part of the law. Now many states are requiring state-issued photo ID when voting—a hardship for older and poorer citizens. We are reminded that “the right to vote still needs protection.”
Be sure and tell young readers that Lillian is based on a real woman born the grand-daughter of a slave.
“In 2008, at age one hundred, not only did she vote for the first African American president, Barack Obama, she also campaigned door to door in her hilly neighborhood.” This is a valuable book and a tremendous example for all generations.
Thanks to Schwartz & Wade for review copy and copyrighted cover image. Thanks to Sue Nichols for “I voted” image and Paul McDivitt for flag image.
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