We Shall Overcome: With the help of great books and movies that help us remember history

Last night I saw Lee Daniel’s The Butler and it was a privilege.

The story takes on a sweeping scope of civil rights history from the point of view of Cecil Gaines, a White House butler, from his cotton field origins in 1926 to the present day. You can see the timeline here. The film is an amazing juxtaposition of Cecil’s life and the life of his son Louis. Louis, leaves for college and joins the Freedom Riders. He sits at the all white counters of Woolworths.

Teachers interested in this time period should look at Andrea Davis Pinkney’s, SIT IN.

Louis’s activism lands him in prison with Dr. King, and leads him to the Black Panthers.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail is available in book form and on the internet.
Do not miss Rita Williams-Garcia’s, ONE CRAZY SUMMER.

The whole time, his father is serving white presidents and their guests, excelling at a profession that requires him to be invisible. The fabulous editing of this film allows the viewer to see the “subversive, not subservient” (a line from Dr. King in the movie) contribution of the butler on the path to equality. While many in the African-American movie have been concerned about the constant characterization of Blacks as maids and butlers, I found the back and forth between Cecil and his son balancing.

Kadir Nelson’s fabulous illustrations are always awe inspiring.

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The timing of the film release, so close to the 50th Anniversary of The March on Washington, could not have been accidental, and while I wish that my 12 and 14 year olds had been in the theater with me (They wanted to see Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters and came out hating it. “Nothing like the book.”) I’m even more pleased to see that THE WATSON’S GO TO BIRMINGHAM has been made into a Hallmark movie to air on September 20th.


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Mr. Sharp and Mr. Schu have an amazing post and giveaway at Watch. Connect. Read. about the movie. They post a link to teacher resources and a great collection of video interviews with Christopher Paul Curtis, the cast, and other folks involved in the making of the movie. I hope you’ll check it out. The most moving moment in the trailer is this quote from Bryce Clyde Jenkins, the young actor who plays Kenny Watson.

“The thing that I like most about this story is that it’s a real historical event. This allows people to get a perspective of what people went through so people like me could be where they are now. It’s a really life changing lesson. It makes you feel grateful for what you have.”

Go see Lee Daniel’s The Butler. Then, on Friday, September 20th is a Friday make a date with your children, or have a house party and invite the neighborhood to see and discuss The Watson’s Go to Birmingham. You won’t be sorry.

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