The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Despite these powerful words, for many people in our country this has not been the case. In the over 200 years of America’s existence, women and minorities have often had to fight for these freedoms.
One of the most powerful and inspiring fights for freedom in our country occurred during the 1950s and 1960s, when African-Americans rallied together to fight segregation, voter suppression, and other injustices. It’s important for children (and adults!) to study this time period, to understand the struggle that the generations before us have faced. May we never take our freedoms for granted!
Freedom is the right of every man and woman, but for some it could not come without a fight. It is my hope that these inspiring stories of people who were not afraid to stand up to injustice will inspire our children to do the same. While much has changed in our world, unfortunately bigotry and racism still exist. Studying the past can empower us to face the future, with the goal of creating a better world for everyone, no matter their race, religion, orientation, or nationality.
20 Books About the Civil Rights Movement
Important People in the Civil Rights Movement
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson
Nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks heard the adults in her life talking about fighting segregation in her home of Birmingham, Alabama, and she felt something inside of her swell. She knew she had to get involved. So when the adults marched and picketed to end segregation, she marched along with them.
Audrey was arrested for being part of the protest, but that didn’t stop her from continuing to stand up for what was right. Her inspiring story shows kids that you’re never too young to make a difference.
I recommend sharing this biography with readers ages 5 and up.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni
The story of an amazing woman, told by another amazing woman! Nikki Gionvanni’s writing is full of detail, and it makes readers feel as though they are right in the middle of the story.
This book follows Rosa Parks through her day on December 1, 1955. It examines what Mrs. Parks might have been thinking and feeling, and what was going on in her personal life at the time. Giovanni takes an event that most of us know about and makes it feel brand new.
I recommend this gorgeous picture book for kids ages 5 and up.
Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story by Ruby Bridges
This early reader is perfect for introducing young elementary students to the story of Ruby Bridges. Ruby was the first African-American child to integrate a New Orleans school, and the image of her bravely walking by a crowd of angry protesters has become iconic. This book tells her story in her own words. We purchased this book after learning more about Ruby at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, and it’s become one of our favorite books.
I recommend this book as a read-aloud for kids ages 5 and up, or for youngsters who are beginning to read independently.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carol Boston Weatherford
Hatred, prejudice, and even physical violence could not keep Fannie Lou Hamer from speaking out about equal voting rights. During the Democratic National Convention, she gave a stirring speech that rallied the nation around the cause of Civil Rights — a speech that President Lyndon Johnson tried to keep from happening. Fannie Lou Hamer was truly an unstoppable force.
This picture book uses poetry and gorgeous illustrations to tell the story of a true American hero. I recommend sharing it with children ages 8 and up.
Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange
The devoted wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an important activist in her own right, both during her husband’s life and after his death. This book explores the harshness of Coretta’s childhood in the segregated southern United States, and how that led her to work for freedom for all people.
This picture book is an excellent choice for reading with kids ages 4 and up.
Thurgood by Jonah Winter
Thurgood Marshall is best known as the first African-American to serve on the United States Supreme Court, but he was also a man who devoted his life to fighting against injustice and championing equality. Marshall was a natural-born lawyer who went from a childhood in Baltimore to Howard University Law School to the NAACP to the highest court in the land. Winter’s picture book perfectly captures his spirit and determination — punctuated with stylish illustrations by Bryan Collier.
This captivating story is perfect for sharing with children ages 5 and up, and I know I learned as much as my kids did when we read it together.
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Would Grow Up to Become Malcolm X by Illyasah Shabazz
Malcolm X was a controversial figure in the Civil Rights Movement, but he did important work and left an important legacy behind. I love this book not only for the beautiful story and the illustrations, but also because it paints Malcolm not as a character but as a real person, whose experiences shaped his beliefs and actions. This book was written by Malcolm’s daughter, and is a fascinating look at an important life.
I recommend reading this biography with kids ages 6 and up.
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim
Before John Lewis was a civil rights activist, and before he was a United States Representative, he was a young boy who wanted to be a preacher. He practiced by preaching to the chickens on his farm. He would baptize the chicks, and he protected his beloved flock from harm. The skills he developed as he spoke to and cared for the family chickens would serve him well in his later life as a leader and politician.
This is a gorgeous book that gives the reader a unique peek into the early life of an influential leader. It’s a lovely book to share with kids ages 4 and up.
She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland by Loki Mulholland
Joan Trumpauer Mulholland was only 19 years old when she got involved in the Civil Rights Movement as a Freedom Rider in the summer of 1961. Two years later, she joined Civil Rights leaders as they marched from Selma to Montgomery. She was arrested, put on death row, beaten, and called a race traitor — but none of that stopped her from fighting injustice.
This is a compelling look at a little-known hero, and it’s ideal for sharing with children ages 4 and up.
Heroes for Civil Rights by David A. Adler
This excellent book profiles various heroes of the civil rights movement, including lesser known figures like Ralph Abernathy, Medgar Evers, James Meredith, Fred Shuttlesworth, Earl Warren, and more. David A. Adler is an excellent children’s biographer, and this book gives kids access to profiles of many heroes, all in one volume
This is a book that I recommend every parent or teacher add to their collection, and it’s appropriate for kids ages 5 and up.
Child of the Civil Rights Movement by Paula Young Shelton
This book by the daughter of activist Andrew Young shows what the Civil Rights Movement was like for a young black girl whose parents were active in the movement. Her mother and father moved the family from New York back to the deep south to get involved in the work to advance civil rights, and Paula eventually joined in the fight as well. Growing up under the influence of her parents and leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. motivated Paula to act, and taught her that you’re never too young to make a difference.
I recommend this inspiring account of the Civil Rights movement for readers ages 4 and up.
Claudette Colvin Refuses to Move by Ebony Joy Wilkins
Before Rosa Parks made history for refusing to give up her seat on the bus, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin did the same thing. This graphic novel explores Claudette’s brave act and how that inspired a greater level of activism against segregation in the South.
The publisher recommends this books for kids ages 9 and up.
Important Events and Stories of the Civil Rights Movement
Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins by Carole Boston Weatherford
This historical fiction book tells the story of a young girl named Connie who likes to shop downtown with her mother, but hates that there are places they can’t go. All over the city, there are signs telling black people that they are not allowed. In other places there aren’t signs, but there is an attitude that tells people of color that they aren’t welcome. Connie just wishes she could eat a banana split at the lunch counter like anyone else.
After Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visits the city, her brother and sister join the NAACP, and soon they are sitting where they’ve always been told they should not. Connie’s entire family gets involved in the movement. Connie isn’t old enough to speak or march, but she can make signs
This beautiful story is a great way to introduce children to the Greensboro Sit-Ins and other acts of resistance, and I recommend it for kids ages 4 and up.
If You Were a Kid During the Civil Rights Movement by Gwendolyn Hooks
Connie Underwood knows her older brothers are up to something, but she’s not sure what. She’s heard whispers about “sit-ins” and “marches,” but she doesn’t know what all of that means. Will she be able to figure it out?
Mark Jenkins has just moved to Oklahoma from Washington, D.C. His old school was integrated, but the schools in Oklahoma are not, so for the first time, he’ll be attending a “blacks only” school. Mark is not sure what to think about his new home and the many differences between Oklahoma and Washington, D. C.
As this book follows the budding friendship between Mark and Connie, it also teaches readers about the Civil Rights Movement. I recommend this bright and engaging book for readers ages 6 and up.
Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds
This work of historical fiction follows a young boy and his mother as they ride the bus home on a December day in 1955. As they sit in the back of the bus, the young boy watches his marble roll to the front of the bus, and kind Mrs. Parks who works at the tailor shop rolls it back.
What seems like a normal bus ride soon changes when a commotion breaks out at the front of the bus. Mrs. Parks is being arrested for not giving up her seat to a white man. The young boy soon realizes he is watching history in the making.
This powerful picture book is excellent for sharing with kids ages 5 and up.
Sit In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney
David, Joseph, Franklin, and Ezell. Four young men who were inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to take action against segregation. On February 1, 1960, they sat down at a “whites only” lunch counter and refused to leave until they were served. Their bold action made a statement to the world and helped move the cause of desegregation forward.
The poetic telling of an historic event also includes detailed timeline of the Civil Rights Movement. I recommend sharing this book with children ages 6 and up.
White Water by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein
Inspired by Bandy’s own experiences as a child, this book focuses on a little boy who just wants a cool drink of water. The water at the fountain reserved for blacks is warm and rusty, and he wonders: is the water in the White water fountain better? He is determined to find out, and what he discovers leads him to question everything about the segregated system he lives in.
This book will encourage children to question what is accepted to consider whether it’s right or wrong. It’s an excellent choice for sharing with kids ages 5 and up.
A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson
This one never fails to bring tears to my eyes! Two little girls sneak out of their house and head across town to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, while people prepare to march together. In the air is a sweet smell of roses, which seems to signify promise and hope. The girls find themselves unable to resist the pull of so many people coming together for change.
This is a truly beautiful book that shows the power of children, both then and now. I recommend sharing it with children ages 5 and up.
Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles
Joe’s best friend is John Henry, the son of the woman who cleans his family’s house. They love to play and swim together, but they have to swim at the pond; John Henry isn’t allowed at the town pool. The boys are thrilled when they hear that a change in the law will allow them to visit the pool together. However, their excitement soon fades when they realize the town’s reaction to change.
I recently read this book with my boys and it lead to a lot of great discussion. It’s an excellent choice for kids ages 5 and up.
Belle, The Last Mule at Gee’s Bend: A Civil Rights Story by Calvin Alexander Ramsey
While sitting and waiting for his mother on a hot day, Alex notices a mule chomping on collard greens in someone’s garden. An older woman joins him on the bench, and he ends up asking her about the mule. Is the mule allowed to just eat out of people’s gardens like that?
The older woman explains that Belle, the mule, has earned the right to eat wherever she’d like. In the 1960s, local authorities tried to keep the black residents of Gee’s Bend from registering to vote. Many of the residents used wagons, pulled by mules like Belle, to get around detours and register to vote.
This lovely story shows the unbreakable link between past and present, and is perfect for reading with kids ages 5 and up.