Remember: The Journey to School Integration

Posted by on Aug 29, 2013 in Early Learning, Non-Fiction, People Smart, Range of Reading, Self Smart, Social Studies | 0 comments

Remember the Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison Yesterday was the 5oth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream”.  School starts for most Michigan students next Tuesday, and I wonder how many of those students realize that there was a time when many school doors were closed to kids who weren’t white.

Remember: The Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison is a powerful and poignant nonfiction book full of photographs that bring to life this time in American history. We see a photo of a little African-American girl with a bow in her hair, reading from her school book, and Morrison writes, “The law says I can’t go to school with white children. Are they afraid of my socks, my braids? I am seven years old. Why are they afraid of me?”

We see three white boys wearing cardboard signs that say things like “WE WON’T GO TO SCHOOL WITH NEGROES” and Morrison writes, “I don’t know. My buddies talked me into this. They said it would be fun. It’s not, but these guys are my friends and friends are more important than strangers. Even if they’re wrong. Aren’t they?”

We see a white teenage girl and an African-American teenage girl smiling at each other at a school lunch table. We see a group of students with a variety of skin colors gathered around a picture book.  Morrison includes information about Brown vs. the Board of Education, a timeline, and notes on each photo at the end of the book, but even if you just share the photos and the captions, this book will spark discussions (and hit that CCSS of Range of Reading.)

Since this is a book about something that happened before your students were born, why share it? In Morrison’s words, “Why offer memories you do not have? Remembering can be painful, even frightening. But it can also swell your heart and open your mind… the path was not entered, the gate was not opened, the road was not taken only for those brave enough to walk it. It was for you as well.”

So share this beautiful book with your students. Make time for thoughtful, respectful discussion.  There’s a free teacher’s guide on with discussion questions and research ideas. Encourage your students to put themselves in the shoes of kids who had to struggle for access to a good education. Take inspiration from the powerful photos you’ve seen. Bring a digital camera into your classroom so your students can take photos of each other and themselves and write, as Morrison did, what they think the person in the photo was thinking.  Celebrate the fact that each and every one of your students is safe and welcome in your classroom.


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