Sarah Anderson: My Favorite Civil Rights Books

By Sarah Anderson, CEO and Superintendent

As we head into Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, I am reminded of some of my favorite books about civil rights — books that I have shared with students and my own children over the years, and ones that I have come back to many times.

Some, like The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, tell stories of friendships across lines of difference through gorgeous illustrations. The paintings in the old BVP favorite Tar Beach are by famed Black artist Faith Ringgold. When my children were very little, they wanted me to read it over and over (and over) so they could look at Cassie flying over the George Washington Bridge that her father helped build. All those readings gave me an opportunity to talk with them about the racism that meant her father wasn’t allowed to join the union.

The Other Side Book

Tar Beach Book

Others explain history in vivid ways. I’ve loved teaching Sit-In by Andrea Davis Pinkney (who also wrote the novel Bird in a Box) and The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963, and I’ve personally enjoyed reading Hidden Figures and the March graphic trilogy after students recommended them.

Sit-In Book

Hidden Figures Book

This weekend, I plan to pick up a book that has been around a long time but I just discovered: Freedom Summer. It’s a picture book about two boys the summer the Civil Rights Act is passed, and what happens when their town decides to drain the public pool rather than integrate it and let children of different races like themselves play there together. It takes up the same issues as Heather McGhee’s excellent book for adults, The Sum of Us, about how racism hurts all of us.

Freedom Summer Book

I invite you all to use some of this weekend honoring Dr. King’s legacy, whether that is through quiet reflection, volunteering, activism, or simply reading one of these books.