Writing Books on the American Experience since 1991
Note to My Readers: A Special Statement on the Death of George Floyd
The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer has enraged the world, and rightly so. Abuse of black Americans by law enforcement is not new, however. It is entrenched. And it is unacceptable. That is not to say that all American police officers are guilty of mistreating black citizens. I believe that a small percentage are capable of carrying out racist violence. They must be held accountable. Even better, we need to prevent them from becoming officers of the law. More common than outright violence, probably, is the subconscious bias that infects many white Americans, including some of the police. As someone who has studied American history, including black history, in depth, I believe that there is a lack of understanding among white persons of the extent of institutionalized racism. When my white ancestors came to America, they were able to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps," but make no mistake, this would have been all but impossible had they been black. The black experience through most of American history is entirely different. Jim Crow laws blocked any attempts at progress by black Americans. The fact is, no one can pull themselves up by their bootstraps when the path has been blocked every step of the way. It is unreasonable. It is unfair. Again, referring to my own ancestors, upon their arrival in America, they were in a position, as white people, to make rapid progress. That is not to say it was easy. They worked extremely hard, saved, and sacrificed. But they were free to try. Being white means being given the benefit of the doubt. It means getting that loan, buying a house in a neighborhood with good schools for your kids. It means having access to opportunity. White people have an advantage, and the first thing we need to do is recognize that. Simply put, we need to put ourselves in others' shoes. One has to be motivated to do that, and have the ability to feel empathy. That is why progress has been so slow. However, the fact that prejudice is taught should give us hope for the future. We can educate ourselves. We can listen. It is our duty to do so.
I'm delighted to announce that my tenth book, Streetcar to Justice: How Elizabeth Jennings Won the Right to Ride in New York, won the inaugural Septima Clark Book Award from the National Council for the Social Studies. The award is given to "the most distinguished young reader non-fiction books depicting women's issues globally."
NCSS is the same national organization that administers the long-standing Carter G. Woodson Awards with which many of us are familiar.
Streetcar to Justice, published Jan. 2, 2018 by HarperCollins/Greenwillow, earned starred reviews from both Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus. The book is an American Library Association Notable Book 2019 as well as a CCBC Choice, the annual best-of-the-year list of the Cooperative Children's Book Center of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
This is my first book for middle-grade (and up) readers. It is the first biography of Elizabeth Jennings (Graham), the Rosa Parks of Old New York who was all-but-forgotten by time. I located and studied original sources including stories published in long-defunct newspapers from the 1830s. My research is the first time her full story was confirmed and documented.
I didn't set out to write a book about Elizabeth Jennings. I had been researching her story as a hobby of sorts for more than twenty years. (Yes, historical research is one of my hobbies.) Eventually, a writer-friend told me I had a responsibility to take the boxes of research down from the attic, dig through them, and share what I had learned with the world. I chose to write the book for a broad age-range of readers, starting at age 8, the age at which most American children first study the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and are introduced to the iconic historical figure, Rosa Parks.
I'm thrilled that my work has brought long-overdue attention to Elizabeth Jennings. Streetcar to Justice even played a part in the selection, in March 2019, of Elizabeth Jennings by the City of New York as one of four new statues of women.