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Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter & Shane W. Evans

Lillian's Right to Vote by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Coretta Scott King Award winner Shane W. Evans, commemorates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The importance of this landmark piece of legislation is brought to life fo readers with in the character of Lillian, a 100-year-old black woman from Alabama and her "long haul up that steep hill" as she walks to her polling place, the courthouse.

As Lillian climbs the hill, she reminisces about her life and her family's. She sees her great-great grandparents on the auction block. She sees her great grandfather, Edmund, an infant in arms when his parents were sold, now grown and picking cotton for his master from dawn to dusk.

As she walks on, Lillian sees Edmund going to vote in 1870, thanks to the Fifteenth Amendment, sure to note that, despite this momentous addition to the U.S. Constitution, women are not allowed to vote. The hill gets steeper as Lillian sees her grandfather being charged a poll tax that he cannot pay. She recalls her Uncle Levi talking about the "tests" that he was forced to take in order to vote, like, "How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?" and, "Name all sixty-seven judges in the state of Alabama." 

It's 1920, and Lillian is "struggling to keep her balance" as she continues up the hill, remembering the Nineteenth Amendment that gave women the right to vote. Angry mobs chased Lillian and her parents away as they tried to register to vote. Lillian remembers a cross burning on her land, "something she will always see." More instances of keeping voters from the polls and the funeral for Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young man shot by a policeman for taking part in a peaceful protest in 1965. She remembers the peaceful protest march from Selma to Montgomery and the second march, ending in a prayer by the Reverend Martin Luther King. As Lillian reaches the top of the hill, she remembers the day that President Lyndon Johnson spoke to America on the television about the right of every American citizen to have the right to vote - August 6, 1965.

Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans have done a magnificent job making Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act highly readable and understandable. Lillian walking up a steep hill in order to vote is the perfect plot for weaving the history of African Americans and Civil Rights into the book. The author's note reveals that Lillian is based on Lillian Allen, born in 1908, the granddaughter of a slave. In 2008, Lillian Allen voted for the first African American president and campaigned door to door, getting out the vote. Winter adds a "sad coda," noting that, in 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a vital part of the Voting Rights Act, eliminating federal oversight of the states' election process.

Lillian's Right to Vote is a phenomenal book that I know will see lots of use, in the classroom, the library and beyond.

Source: Review Copy


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