This Promise of Change

Finished This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In 1956, one year before federal troops escorted the Little Rock 9 into Central High School, fourteen year old Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve African-American students who broke the color barrier and integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee. At first things went smoothly for the Clinton 12, but then outside agitators interfered, pitting the townspeople against one another. Uneasiness turned into anger, and even the Clinton Twelve themselves wondered if the easier thing to do would be to go back to their old school. Jo Ann–clear-eyed, practical, tolerant, and popular among both black and white students—found herself called on as the spokesperson of the group. But what about just being a regular teen? This is the heartbreaking and relatable story of her four months thrust into the national spotlight and as a trailblazer in history. Based on original research and interviews and featuring backmatter with archival materials and notes from the authors on the co-writing process.”

Schools being desegregated feels like centuries ago, at least to me. It’s not that far, though. My mom was in high school when her school was integrated (in Delaware), and while she doesn’t remember any problems, I’d be very curious what her new classmates felt and if they would agree.

This is an astonishing book full of incredibly brave people. Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve people in her Tennessee high school to go to the formerly all white school. There were protesters outside and there were mean people inside, but some were nice. I can’t even imagine the courage it took to walk to school every day, with people yelling (on good days) and throwing things (on bad ones). But they kept going. Sometimes they were accompanied by police and once by a white preacher, but they kept going. If school was open, they were there.

There are also snippets of newspaper articles and pictures of Jo Ann and the others, and there are pictures of some of the protesters. I sometimes wonder how they feel about the fact that they’re on record as being racist. Does that bother them? I hope so.

This is an amazing story, and I hope I would have even a tenth of Jo Ann’s bravery in her situation.

Highly recommended.

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