Free at last? History tells us that at the end of the Civil War, slaves throughout the United States were liberated by the Emancipation Proclamation. Many books gloss over the period of time directly following this landmark event, but during those years, a dark and critical era in the development of America was unfolding. In truth, for many African Americans, the time of newly found "freedom" following the war was desperately bleak, as families became separated, children were stolen, segregation programs were put into place, and lynchings became rampant.
In her new book, Free At Last! Stories and Songs of Emancipation, author Doreen Rappaport explores this tenuous and crucial period, the years between emancipation and the start of the civil rights movement. The second title in a trilogy intended to trace the experience of black Americans from the kidnappings in Africa to the start of voting rights in the United States, Free At Last! is the follow-up to the much-praised volume No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance.
Rappaport, a former music teacher in one of the Freedom Schools of the 1960s, has long been interested in history and its effects on individuals and groups, especially children. "History is as exciting as fiction," she says, "and it can open a child's eyes to the drama in their own lives as well as the lives of their ancestors."
As the daughter of first generation Jewish-Americans, Rappaport says she understands the struggles that many new Americans experienced in this country. Her parents—one, a singer; the other, a music arranger—were both profoundly influenced by the culture and music coming out of Harlem in the 1940s and 1950s. Much of her childhood was spent in highly artistic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious social circles—a far cry from the segregated communities of the South.
Perhaps because of her own diverse background, Rappaport has always had a certain knack for helping children learn how they fit into history and into the world in general. "History doesn't happen overnight," she says. "It is a progression of descent and conflict, of people resisting and making a difference. Kids need to see for themselves that others have come before them, and that they can make a difference, too."
According to Rappaport, facts don't always provide a deep understanding of history, which is one reason she chose to write Free At Last! as a series of true accounts, a group of vignettes and songs that portray the struggles and the bravery of black Americans. Rappaport spent years researching actual songs, poems, memoirs, letters, court testimonies and other documents in order to put together her new book.
As a result, she has succeeded in interweaving unique, individual African-American voices into her text. We sing along with a church choir proclaiming freedom through a gospel hymn. We share the horror of a black family as the Ku Klux Klan attempts to lynch a community leader. We share Langston Hughes' pride through his poem, "I, Too, Sing America." We bask in the cultural beauty of Harlem in the 1920s. And we cheer when Jackie Robinson scores the first African-American home run in major league baseball. Through her heart-wrenching and heartwarming depictions, Rappaport displays her profound understanding of the era, demonstrating the progression of black achievement in an easy-to-understand, eye-opening manner.
Her text is not the only element that makes this book so unforgettable. Shane W. Evans' astounding illustrations bring the stories and songs in the volume to life. Charged with the difficult task of depicting a dark time in American history, Evans has created illustrations that capture all the dignity and integrity of the African-American people.
Released just in time for Black History Month, Free At Last!, a work of profound understanding, perception and pride, will surely capture the interest—and the soul—of any young reader who peruses its pages.
Heidi Henneman writes from New York City. Copyright 2004 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2004 Fall
In a companion volume to [cf2]No More!: Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance[cf1], Rappaport samples the African-American experience from 1863 (Emancipation) to 1954 ([cf2]Brown v. Board of Education[cf1]). Included are historical vignettes, brief historical summaries, and poems and songs. Chronology, websites. Bib., ind. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2004 #3
In a companion volume to No More!: Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance (rev. 3/02), Rappaport samples the African-American experience from 1863 (Emancipation) to 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education). Again, she includes historical vignettes (newly emancipated Jane Kemper rescues her kidnapped children; Ida B. Wells successfully sues the railroad that had forcibly removed her from first class); and brief historical summaries (lynchings; chain gangs as a new form of slave labor). Turning from the "inventive defiance and resistance" of the early years, she presents notable figures such as Booker T. Washington and his critics, figures of the Harlem Renaissance, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall. Poems and songs from the African-American canon are sprinkled throughout. The strengths here are the compelling theme--progress made with courage and grace, despite cruelty and injustice--and Evans's powerful, page-filling paintings of stalwart figures of serious mien, lending drama to the simply described events. Frustratingly, Rappaport scatters source citations, which appear variously in an introduction, acknowledgments, permissions, and "selected sources." Why not just list full references in the order the material appears in the book? Not only would it be more convenient for scholars, it would also be a much better model for young readers developing a sense of historical accuracy. Included are a chronology, a list of additional reading and related websites, and an index. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Magazine Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2003 December #2
Rappaport and Evans reprise the passion and power that informed their 2002 collaboration No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance, shining their spotlight on the progress and struggles of African-Americans from 1863 to 1954. Vigorous prose is punctuated by poems, songs, and excerpts from primary sources, all of which serve to illuminate the peculiar experiences of a people freed and still not free. Vignettes from the lives of several individuals, both famous (Booker T. Washington, Jackie Robinson) and less so (a woman stealing her children back from her former master, an "Exoduster" making a new life in Kansas) add to the power and specificity of the text; the foreword carefully informs readers that "dialogue and descriptions . . . come directly from their first-person accounts." Glowing, almost monumental oils convey the pent-up anger and sadness of those depicted, both anonymous and historical, and a striking design integrates the illustrations with the text, each spread responding to its own internal need. Extensive back matter includes an illustrator's note, acknowledgments, bibliography, further reading, Web sites, and an index. (Nonfiction. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2004 October
This book will appeal to teachers and library media specialists who are interested in teaching United States history from a different perspective. It will also captivate children who are interested in learning more about the people who fought for emancipation and equality. Doreen Rappaport masterfully blends stories, songs, and poetry in a chronological presentation. The author weaves true stories with the emotions of struggle, conflict, and pride of the people who lived this experience. Shane Evans' illustrations are a beautiful complement to the text. The images capture the sorrow, pride, pain, and joy throughout. The illustration of Ida B. Wells was particularly captivating. I feel like she could walk out of her portrait at any moment. The illustration of the feet hanging above the heads of the townspeople is a powerful reminder of the struggle for true emancipation and equality. Important dates are included, with a short description of each event. A list of books to read for further information, Web sites to explore, and a glossary are also included. Rappaport has captured the essence of the struggle for emancipation with her choice selections. This collection will reach out to many students of all backgrounds and give them a greater understanding of this time after the Civil War through 1954. Highly Recommended. Ruie Chehak, Library Media Specialist, Sallie Jones Elementary School, Punta Gorda, Florida Â© 2004 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2003 December #4
The creators of No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance here chronicle the African-American experience from the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 to the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation. Rappaport labels this era "one of the most shameful periods in American history" and proceeds to demonstrate the ways in which the promise of Emancipation failed to deliver. The author includes among reports of widespread discrimination, vigilante campaigns (such as Ku Klux Klan members' "night rides"), and legislation that was intended to protect blacks but frequently failed to do so, as well as the occasional bright spots in the arduous struggle for equality. Curiously, given the emotional intensity of the many tragic events of the period, the historical account seems at times dry or vague (e.g., "After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, hundreds of thousands of white men were hired to build weapons for our allies. Black leaders insisted that some of these jobs go to their people. Nothing was done"). Because of the episodic presentation, the ideas are not as integrated as in Harlem Stomp! (reviewed below). The volume is most involving when utilizing primary sources, such as poetry, songs and brief anecdotal stories about such influential individuals as Ida B. Wells, Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall. Evans, on the other hand, creates a strong visual counterpart, with portraits of famous individuals every bit as strong as dramatic scenes-from a haunting image of a lynching (only the victim's feet show) and joyful paintings of theater and dance. Ages 9-12. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2004 February
Gr 3-7-In this companion to No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance (Candlewick, 2002), stories, poems, and songs about events from the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 through the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954 are perfectly matched with vibrant oil paintings. The result is a glorious tribute to the lives of African-American heroes and heroines. Familiar figures, such as Booker T. Washington and Jackie Robinson, are mentioned, along with unsung individuals, such as John Solomon Lewis and Harriet Postle. Rappaport offers tidbits of information, such as the history surrounding "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," the Negro National Anthem, and even tosses in a little of the oral tradition with the legend of John Henry. These selections have a magnetic impact, encouraging readers to dig deeper to discover more about the rich heritage of African Americans. Evans successfully interprets each subject with his rich, thought-provoking paintings that leap from the pages. A well-researched, handsome title.-Tracy Bell, Durham Public Schools, NC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.