‘Lillian’s Right to Vote’: Picture book about the history of voting rights


Rating: 5 stars

“Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965” by Jonah Winter and Shana W. Evans is much more than its title indicates. It is a picture book that is, in fact, a powerful metaphor for the unimaginable struggle of African-Americans to achieve the vote, equality in the eyes of the law, the respect due all human beings, and the absolute right to pursue justice without fear.

This book is a sort of one-woman-show, a fictional view of a one-hundred-year-old black woman struggling to climb a mountain — the mountain that represents the steep and tortuous path to full civil rights — as she slowly makes her way to the top of that mountain. There stands a voting place, the place where she can exercise her God-given right to cast her vote without facing the threats and obstacles that historically have blocked African-Americans that freedom to select their own government.

As she climbs that mountain/ladder, she again sees in her mind’s eye at each “rung” the pictures of prejudice and bigotry that from our country’s conception have plagued her family and the families of all African-Americans: her great-grandparents being sold as slaves at an auction while standing in front of the store in Alabama where only rich white men are allowed to vote; and so the years of torture creep by, the Civil War, which should have ended in a state of freedom, but did not; the failed reconstruction poll taxes which no black person had the means to pay in order to vote; Jim Crow; segregation; hangings of innocents; violent, murderous reactions to the stubborn and courageous black quest for freedom. And finally, the 1965 Voting Rights Act which once-and-for-all demanded that no person could be denied the right to vote based on his or her color or race.

And Lillian votes. But there is a terrible and tragic irony at the end of Lillian’s story. The unspeakably sad truth is that the top of the mountain is still far, far away. Millions of Americans and their representatives in government will, to this very day, go to any lengths to keep African-Americans from full suffrage — no early voting for working people; voter ID laws enacted with the lame and phony excuse of “preventing voter fraud.” There will be justice in America — someday — but Lillian’s brave journey will continue. It must.

This is a picture book for older readers. “Lillian’s Right to Vote” is the kind of picture book that is perfect for the intermediate classroom. It would be a great book to introduce the history of voting rights to students about to engage in projects about this topic. It’s a great addition to any classroom library.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover picture book provided by Schwartz & Wade Books for review purposes.