‘Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom’ by Lynda Blackmon Lowery: memoir about Selma

turning 15

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March” by Lynda Blackmon Lowery is a riveting story about a teenager during the Civil Rights Movement and more specifically during the march From Selma, Alabama to Montgomery.

It was a time of unrest and civil disobedience, and young readers of this story will learn that blacks in the South who wanted to register to vote might be fired from their jobs and then have no way of supporting their families. The price to vote was just too high for most people. Unlike white people, who just registered, black individuals were forced to answer ridiculous questions to “prove” they should be able to vote. “How deep is the Alabama River” or “How many jelly beans are in this gallon jar?”

So even though Lynda Blackmon was only 14 when the rallies and protests were being organized, she wanted to participate. She tells about how the kids arranged to miss school so they could take part. She describes being incarcerated over and over again because of her participation. She describes her fears — very real fears.

At the end of the book is a listing of those who died during the protests. Policemen punished the protestors with tear gas and beatings. Some were shot. But in the end, the Voting Rights Act was passed. Many had sacrificed their lives for that.

Photographs and illustrations help to make the story more real and immediate to young readers. This nonfiction book should be a part of any study about the African-American struggle for Civil Rights and the discrimination and unashamed but shameful hatred that characterized — defined — the attitudes and behaviors of white bigots.

A good classroom teacher will also point out, as does the book, that parts of the Voting Rights Act were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. The Court held that discrimination is no longer an issue. Those who are not allowed to vote unless they have a government photo identification card (which costs money) might disagree with that decision. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissenting opinion in the case that the decision was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” The struggle for equality and Civil Rights, it seems, continues — unabated.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Dial, for review purposes.