Another book for Black History Month.
Title: the First Step, How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial
Written by: Susan E. Goodman
illustrated by: E. B. Lewis
Published by: Bloomsbury, 2015
Genre: historical fiction, 40 pages
Themes: segregation, discrimination in education, Boston, Sarah C Roberts, African Americans
Sarah Roberts was four years old when she started school in April 1847. Even though it was spring, icy winds still wailed off Boston Harbor near Sarah’s home. She was lucky her school was so close by.
In 1847, a young African American girl named Sarah Roberts was attending a school in Boston. Then one day a policeman came to tell her she didn’t belong and could never come back. The Otis School was for white children only.
Sarah and her family knew she deserved an equal education and they stood up for the right to go the school in her neighborhood rather than be forced to go many blocks away to the “school for black children”. The Roberts family decided to fight for change. They made history. It was the first time an African American lawyer argued in a supreme court. Her family went to court and LOST. It was 1849. After a lot of brave families and businessmen and lawyers came forward 5 years later that law was changed, at least in Massachusetts. It took another hundred years for the laws for equality in schools to take effect federally, at least on paper!
These first steps small steps set in motion changes that ultimately led to equality under the law in the United States. Sarah’s cause was won when both black and white citizens of Boston campaigned together for equality.
Why I like this book:
The First Step is a lengthy, detailed flowing narrrative of the first lawsuit to demand desegregation–long before the American Civil Rights movement, even before the Civil War. While they lost their case, their courage and the united black and white voices that take their plea for equality forward pave the way for equality. Roberts v. Boston is a completely new piece of pre Civil War history for me and it is great to see this little girl’s story beautifully brought to life and hopefully to many classrooms through E B White’s evocative period water color illustrations.
We need many more of these courageous stories in order to teach a complete history of the US, and not just for Black History Month! The research, as can be seen from the back matter was very thorough for this picture book.
Comprehensive back matter includes: integration timeline, biographies on key people in the book, list of resources, and author’s note.
Students could compare and contrast the similar story of Ruby Bridges over 100 years later and contrast with similar segregation stories from other minorities. Suggested picture books: THE STORY OF RUBY BRIDGES by Robert Coles and SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL by Duncan Tonatiuh.
Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.