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'My Selma' tells kids what it was like to grow up Black in 1960's South

When Selma, Alabama, was recently torn apart by that tornado, it was hard not to think of another time when it was rent asunder by racism.

On March 7, 1965 — a day known as Bloody Sunday — Black nonviolent protesters attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge to walk to Montgomery to confront racist Gov. George Wallace over voting rights. John Lewis and other organizers were beaten by white men, deputized for the day by the county Sheriff Jim Clark.

Two days later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led more than 2,000 marchers over the bridge and then turned them around, obeying a court order that became Turn Around Tuesday. Marchers eventually made it to Montgomery and helped pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But before that, King made earlier visits to Selma, where for months, Black residents had been protesting Jim Crow laws that denied them the ballot. Some had been killed.

What was it like to be a child at that time? Writer Willie Mae Brown was 12 when King first came to town and visited her church. In her new book for young adults, “My Selma: True Stories of a Southern Childhood at the Height of the Civil Rights Movement,” she portrays how children looked for guidance in the news on brand-new TV sets and in the worried faces of their parents.

“It was a moment that only you could feel,” Brown says. “We knew that there was some sort of disturbance that was dangerous to all of us outside of our home. Our lives went on but we had that tension. It was always tension in there. At times, you just didn’t know what was going to happen.”

“My Selma” book cover. (Courtesy of Macmillan)

Book excerpt: “My Selma: True Stories of a Southern Childhood at the Height of the Civil Rights Movement”

By Willie Mae Brown

Excerpted from “My Selma: True Stories of a Southern Childhood at the Height of the Civil Rights Movement” by Willie Mae Brown, published on Jan. 3, 2023 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Willie Mae Brown at a book launch event for "My Selma." (Luana Maria Şeu)
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Willie Mae Brown at a book launch event for "My Selma." (Luana Maria Şeu)