Elem. – The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne

Cline-Ransome, Lesa. The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne. Simon and Schuster, 2020. 978-1-481-46289-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 1-4.

The life of Ethel L. Payne, the “First Lady of the Black Press”, is depicted in this picture biography. Born in Chicago in 1911, Ethel loved listening to her grandparents’ stories of the cotton fields in Kentucky and her parents’ own sharecropping tales. Ethel developed a love of writing and after high school fought against racism in her community. After World War II, she left for Japan and collected stories from black American soldiers on the base, noting the unfair treatment they received from the Army. Soon Ethel’s stories from Japan were sent to American newspapers. On her return, Payne took a job as a features editor with the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper.  Her stories progressed from local events to covering the Democratic National Convention. Eventually, Ethel moved to Washington DC and became one of three African American reporters with a White House pass. For the rest of her life, she wrote stories that focused on civil rights and the issues facing African Americans.  There is an author’s note that gives more details on Ethel L. Payne’s life. John Parra has used acrylic paint to create illustrations that feature other well-known African Americans. Readers will enjoy poring over the drawings to search for the small objects found throughout the text, including the clocks that move forward in time by the end of the story.

THOUGHTS: This text is a worthwhile addition to elementary collections. Readers will learn about the life of this famous African American woman and her important contribution to the civil rights movement.

921 Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
070.92 Journalism and Publishing

The Freedom Summer Murders


Mitchell, Don.  The Freedom Summer Murders.  New York: Scholastic, 2014.  978-0-545-47725-3. 250p.  $18.99.  Gr. 6-9.

The Freedom Summer Murders was published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the murder of three civil rights activists by local politicians and the KKK in Mississippi.  In June 1964, Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney traveled to Neshoba County, Mississippi, to facilitate black voter registration.  What happened to them was unthinkable.  The story opens with a discussion of the State’s entrenched racism and a recounting of the events that led to the murders of the three men.  Each man’s life is described in a separate chapter; something that helps the reader appreciate how devoted each was to racial equality. The book then describes the investigation of the murders and the long road to achieving justice for the three civil rights workers (Edgar Ray Killen, who came up with the plot, wasn’t convicted until 2005).

Clearly, many activists were killed during the Civil Rights movement.  Mitchell argues that the murders of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney captured the Country’s attention because Schwerner and Goodman were white.  Most Americans at the time didn’t pay close attention to the deaths of black activists.  One of the reasons this book is significant is that Mitchell implies that we still don’t place as much value on a black life as a white life.  The question of whether or not racism is still as institutionalized today as it was in the 1960’s is a relevant one.

The amount of research that went into this book is impressive.  Mitchell interviewed most of the living witnesses to the events in Neshoba County.  He also utilized a number of primary sources of information and obtained relevant photographs.  One especially disturbing photograph shows the bodies of Shwerner, Goodman, and Chaney after their shallow grave was unearthed.  The book contains an “Author’s Note on Sources”, which provides web addresses for a number of very interesting sites including the Andrew Goodman and James Earl Chaney Foundations, telephone recordings of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s conversations regarding the murders, and televised coverage of Edgar Ray Killen’s 2005 trial on C-SPAN.  These resources, and others mentioned in the author’s note, will appeal to today’s technology savvy student.

This book is a necessary inclusion in any secondary school library.  It compels students to consider race relations in the United States and it also encourages them to contemplate their role in promoting a better society for all.

Politics/Government (323)   Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School