Written by Chris Barton; Illustrated by Don Tate
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 2015
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
The Amazing Story of John Roy Lynch is about a man who went from a teenage field slave to U.S. Congressman in just ten years. It was quite a journey and Barton highlights Lynch's ingenuity, focus, and luck.
John Roy Lynch was born in 1847, in Louisiana. His father was Irish and his mother was enslaved. His father worked as an overseer and hoped, one day, to save enough to buy his wife and children's freedom. Unfortunately, he died and John Roy, his mother and brother were sold.
Until he was fifteen, John Roy worked as a house slave, but after insulting the woman of the house he was sent to labor in the cotton fields. When the Civil War began, Lynch worked for the Union Army until the period we call Reconstruction. From 1865-1877, the U.S. government tried to figure out how to work with those southern states that chose succession; they attempted to convince all Americans to see African Americans as citizens with rights equal to white folks. By 1870, John Roy Lynch was one of sixteen African Americans from former Confederate States who served in the U.S. Congress.
Between 1902 and 1972, there were no African Americans in the U.S. Congress. Barton states in the historical notes. Put simply, white Southerners resisted and then reversed --through legislation and violence--the extensions of freedom to their black neighbors. And as Reconstruction neared its end, the U.S. government did not keep up its efforts to protect its African American citizens in those states.
Don Tate's mixed media full-page illustrations show a determined Lynch as he moves from childhood to congressman. Tate successfully balances the cheerfulness of Lynch's accomplishments with the dark times of violence. Readers see that even while Lynch was serving his country in Washington, D.C., back in the southern states the rise of violence towards African American escalated. Back home, white terrorists burn black schools and black churches. They armed themselves on Election Day to keep blacks away. They even committed murder.
The story of John Roy Lynch begins the dialogue about the period of Reconstruction and why it is so important to our understanding of the courage and dedication needed for the Civil Rights Movement to succeed. Back matter includes a historical note, timeline, author and illustrator note, suggestions for further reading, and a map of the Reconstructed United States in 1870.
The book closes with these words from Lynch that resonates today.
When every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong arm of a generous and grateful Republic, then we can all truthfully say that this land of ours, over which the Star Spangled Banner so triumphantly waves, is, in truth and in fact, the "land of the free and the home of the brave."
For more information about this book that includes a book trailer, go here.