Civil Rights in America by Rick Beard. (America’s National Parks Press Series)
America’s National Parks Press, Eastern National, Fort Washington, PA, 2016.
High school informative non-fiction, 24 pages.
This is a short little book, almost a pamphlet, giving an overview of the Civil Rights Movement from the Declaration of Independence to the 2008 election of Barack Obama.
Before we get into the review, let me explain how I came across this book. Teachers will already be well aware of the wonders of Dollar Tree. Some time ago I came across a nifty little book about Black Soldiers in the Civil War there, and ever since I’ve been looking out for more diverse titles in the National Parks Service series.
Today I picked up another gem. First let me clarify that this is NOT a general history of civil rights in America, as the title might seem to claim. It is solely focused on black history, and doesn’t cover Elizabeth Peratrovich, Deaf President Now!, Japanese internment, etc. I didn’t expect those things to be covered in this slim volume, just mentioning that the title could have been more accurate.
The short length and the contemporary portraits and photography make these books resemble a picture book although the reading level and content is aimed at more of a teen or adult audience. The vocabulary and sentence complexity combined with the base knowledge of history required bump this book’s level, but a particularly motivated or high reading level middle school student could read it. I will warn that death, injustice, and discrimination are present. Lynching, race riots, and the brutality against the Freedom Riders are all covered, although not in great detail due to the limited space.
The previous volume was a bit different – it had sidebars and colorful illustrations. This is one long essay – which flowed well but does require more of a sit-down commitment to reading. But it summarizes complex information quickly and gives a comprehensive overview of the major points of the Civil Rights Movement.
Another difference is the illustrations. This book mainly takes place after the era of photography had begun, so it is dominated by pictures rather than paintings. Readers who have studied this era will find many of the photographs familiar as this collects the many iconic images of the Civil Rights Movement. However, most of the primary source photos are in black and white, so that could be more of a challenge for students. Please also be aware that some of the illustrations and photographs also depict a slave auction, lynchings, and violence.
The final pages include a listing of National Park Service Sites that are related to the Civil Rights Movement, with a brief description of each. This list included many that are familiar as well as several new to me. I’ve since ordered a book called Guidebook to African American History in the National Parks and am looking forward to learning even more and finding new places to visit.
I considered this short volume an excellent overview and would recommend it to educators in particular. If you can find it at your local dollar store, the price can’t be beat! This would also be a good book to buy in bulk for a whole-class read. It’s not particularly sturdy but inexpensive enough that I could imagine giving it away to a history class.