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7 January 2024 FIGHTING WITH LOVE: THE LEGACY OF JOHN LEWIS by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome, ill., Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, January 2024, 48p., ISBN: 978-1-5344-9662-0


“Think about it, there must be a higher love

Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above

Without it, life is wasted time

Look inside your heart, and I'll look inside mine

Things look so bad everywhere

In this whole world, what is fair?

We walk the line and try to see

Falling behind in what could be”

– Steve Winwood, “Higher Love” (1986)


“‘You can get hurt.’ his mother worried. ‘You can get killed.’

‘When you see something that’s not right…you have to do something,’ he told her.”


As a Black child raised in a large, loving family that farmed outside Troy, Alabama, future Civil Rights icon John Lewis experienced full-bore segregation and racism. As a teenager, listening to Dr. King on the radio, John Lewis was inspired to be like MLK. He soon enrolled in the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville. There, he washed dishes to pay for tuition, studied late into the night, and joined the local chapter of the NAACP.


“United by their love of human and civil rights, John and other college students gathered at the Highlander Folk School. They planned how to end segregation through nonviolent protest, just like students were already doing with their lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina. For John, fighting with his heart was his most powerful tool. ‘Nonviolence is love in action,’ he said.

They took turns playing the part of the angry whites they would face, and acted out standing silently while being shouted and cursed at. They practiced how to curl in tight on the ground to protect themselves from kicks and punches that would beat down on them. They remembered to look into the eyes of their attackers, reminding them that a child of God was looking back.

After hearing the words and feeling the fists, some never finished their training at Highlander, leaving as fast as they’d come, asking what kind of love means you’ve got to be beaten up outside and in.

But John knew. ‘It is a love that accepts and embraces the hateful and the hurtful.’ And so, John stayed and practiced some more.

John and his group began their protest at Harvey’s Department Store in downtown Nashville. The first step was to make sure each store and movie theater in town was denying Negroes service. The next step was to make sure everyone in the country knew it. The last step would be to demand that it end.”


FIGHTING WITH LOVE recounts how John Lewis participated in successful nonviolent actions to desegregate Nashville and, in 1961, joined the Freedom Rides. Repeatedly preaching love and paying for his successes with his body, John Lewis went on to speak at the 1963 March on Washington, and was in attendance when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 


This engaging, illustrated tale of John Lewis concludes dramatically with a portrayal of Mr. Lewis and Hosea Williams leading six hundred protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, coming face to face with a wall of police officers, and Lewis pausing to pray before leading the marchers forward, nonviolently, into the fray. 


The author’s note explains what happened next and summarizes the highlights of John Lewis’s work over the next half-century, both in the Civil Rights Movement, and as a longtime, beloved Georgia congressman. 


Illustrator James E. Ransome’s wonderful illustrations take full advantage of the book’s relatively wide trim size to repeatedly depict lines of marchers and marching feet as thematic background to the narrative. 


As a child of the Sixties who dutifully watched and read the news–as elementary school teachers instructed us to do–I was quite traumatized by seeing how John Lewis suffered in order to help fix America. He became a hero of mine back then, and his fingerprints are all over important changes for the better that have taken place in my lifetime. This picture book about his beginnings is seriously awesome. 


But as a former early childhood educator, and as a champion of picture books for older readers, I do somewhat take issue with the suggested young age range. Given the length of the text, and the history and concepts involved, I recommend this one for grades two through six. There are so many ways for eight- and ten- and twelve-year-olds to thoroughly enjoy the story, mine the extensive, well-organized back matter, and utilize the library, Google, and YouTube, to better understand America’s checkered path and past. Hopefully, FIGHTING WITH LOVE will inspire some idealistic young people to one day take up the reins, keep up the pressure, and tend to America’s still-unfinished business.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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