The Freedom Riders were a group of black and white students, who in the 1960’s decided they wanted to end segregation on buses by riding together through Alabama. In the small town of Anniston, Alabama, their bus was attacked by local residents who set the bus on fire and beat the Freedom Riders as they tried to escape. About a week later, in Birmingham, Alabama, there was a rally at the black First Baptist Church where a mob tried to burn down the building with over 1.000 people inside, including Martin Luther King, Jr.
This book takes the facts of these events and weaves a story around them. The story is told by Billie Sims, a 13 year old white girl who lives in Anniston. Billie has enjoyed a lovely childhood with her parents, younger brother, and the maid Lavender. Lavender is black. Billie has never thought much about the differences between the white folks and the black folks who live in separate parts of town in Anniston. Then one day she is at the local white people’s grocery store when a young black boy walks in. Suddenly all eyes are on him and the owner of the store refuses to serve his “kind”. This incident starts the wheels turning in Billie’s mind and she begins to have questions about prejudice and discrimination. She happens to meet Lavender’s daughter one day at a spelling bee; she didn’t even know Lavender had a daughter. Jarmaine tells Billie about the Freedom Riders who will be coming through Anniston in a few days. Billie is there when the bus is burned and she is horrified by the actions of people she has known all her life. People swinging bats and chains at the young people on the bus; police just standing by and watching it happen; her father watching it all from a distance. On the day of the scheduled rally, Billie and Jarmaine sneak out of their houses and board a bus for Birmingham. Billie likes Jarmaine and during their journey she gets a taste of what it’s like to be the minority in the crowd.
I found this book to be hard to put down. I so wanted to know how things were going to turn out for Billie and Jarmaine. They learn some valuable lessons as they journey together and Billie begins to dream of a world where black and white can be friends. Ronald Kidd has done a wonderful job telling this story. I was really able to feel like I was there with these girls as they witnessed how cruel people can be to each other and how scared the two groups were of each other. It is awe-inspiring to me to see the kind of courage it took for these young people to put their lives on the line in order to bring about change.
The book is intended for a young adult audience but I think anybody of any age would enjoy this story. The author has tried to stay true to the facts while creating his fictional characters and has done a wonderful job in that regard. The Freedom Riders were a group that we don’t often hear about in talks about the Civil Rights movement, but their spirit she live in hearts no matter what color we are. I would highly recommend this book and I’m giving it 4 out of 4 stars.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this pre-release copy of the book.