John Lewis in the Lead
A Story of the Civil Rights Movement
Publication Date: October 2006
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In His Own Words...
"I was born in Dentopolis, Alabama and spent my childhood in a household with lots of children, a household where I felt a great need for privacy. One of the places I found privacy was in books. I could be anywhere at all, but if I was reading it book I was by in myself. Sometimes it was hard for me to get books. In the 1950s, when I was a child, the South was rigidly segregated. The Demopolis Public library was for whites; I black child could not go there. My mother arranged for a white friend to get books from the library for me. Many years later, I returned to Demopolis and gave some of the books I had written to the library I could never enter as a child. Some Years after that, I was invited to give an important speech it that same library.
"I attended high school in Boston, Massachuetts, and college in a variety of places, the first of which was Alabama State University in Montgomery. It Was the time of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which began after a black woman named osa Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus to a white man. Inspired by her action and led by a young minister Martin Luther King, Jr., black people boycotted the buses for more than a year until the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation on public buses was unconstitutional. I helped hand out leaflets urging black people to stay off the buses and Was expelled front the college for doing so. Georgetown University In Washington, D.C., then offered me a scholarship, and I enrolled there.
"After graduating from college, I moved to New York, where I sold newspaper advertising space and worked as a stock trader on Wall Street before I decided to become a teacher. I taught music and special education classes in Harlem; My first book, Diary Of a Schoolteacher, was a result of my experiences.
"It was the 1960s, and college and high school Students were demonstrating against the war in Vietnam and for the civil rights of black people. My students were aware of those events and wanted to know more about them. But there were no books written on their level. So I started writing books for young people about the various movements--antiwar, civil rights, black power. After that I began writing biographies of black people, because young people black and white--like to read about how successful people grew up and overcame the barriers of poverty and racial discrinination.
"Since the early 1970s, I have taught on the collage level, and I have continued to write books. I have published more than 125 on many subjects for children, young adults, and adults. In 1994, the Washington Post Children's Book Guild honored me for my body of work in nonfiction for children.
"I have learned a lot from writing books. I have also met many important people, including Mrs. Rosa Parks herself, because I helped her write her autobiographies for young adults, Rosa Park: My Story; and for children, I Am Rosa Parks. When I think about that, I am amazed that the woman who was so important to my experiences as a young college student--not to mention the whole civil rights movement--now my friend.
"Books were once--and still are--a way to find my own private world. But they have also introduced me to a world far larger than I would otherwise have experienced. I love books, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to share this love With so many People."
Kathleen Benson is the author of several picture books, many of which she co-authored with her late husband, Jim Haskins, including John Lewis in the Lead, which won the NCSS Carter G. Woodson Award for the most distinguished social science book for young readers that depicts ethnicity in the United States. Kathy is currently a Project Director at the Museum of the City of New York. She lives in Manhattan.
Benny Andrews was a groundbreaking artist, author, teacher, and activist who is widely considered to be one of the finest African American painters of the twentieth century. His work is included in museum collections around the world. He illustrated many children's books, including Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad, for which he was posthumously awarded the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award; John Lewis in the Lead by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, which won the NCSS Carter G. Woodson Award; and The Hickory Chair by Lisa Rowe Faustino, an ALA Notable book.