Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bad Ass Library Find of the Week: Marcus Garvey and My Stand for Civil Rights

This post is kind of a cheat. I've been sitting on this particular Bad Ass Library Find for about 3 months now, just waiting for a time when I would look at the calendar, see that it was a Monday, Wednesday or Friday and not have anything else in mind.

Today is just such a day.

When I first got to this branch the children's room was arranged in a way that I didn't quite agree with. The paperback and hardcover fiction was separated and so it was pretty common to look in two places for one title. Series were inter-shelved by author's last name, even when there were multiple authors (39 Clues, Choose Your Own Adventure). The worst though was that the biography section was divided into "Black" and "White."

Even beyond the icky racial implications, this was no good. The section was a pure disaster to organize. No one seemed quite sure where to shelve Mother Theresa, Geronimo, Sonia Sotomayor or the other non-white, non-black notable figures from history. Not to mention the fact that Thurgood Marshall had biographies in both sections. One of my first acts as a bonafide children's librarian was to integrate the biographies. Consider it my personal stand for civil rights.

I got to know the biographies pretty well over the course of those few hours and was pretty amazed to find this gem.

A children's book about Marcus Garvey? That's nothing short of groundbreaking, really. I never, ever, learned about him in any sort of formal setting and certainly not when I was a child. Maybe that's indicative of the schools I went to, but I don't think controversial figures like Marcus Garvey get a fair shake when the civil rights movement is taught. A cursory mention of Malcolm X to provide the yang to Martin Luther King Jr.'s yin is the most I ever heard.

I haven't read the entire book, but I was curious to see how the founder of the Back to Africa movement would be presented to children, so I have skimmed a few sections. Here's my favorite couple of sentences...

To beat the [prohibition] deadline, the Green River Distillery Company rapidly loaded 4.8 million dollars' worth of whiskey onto the Yarmouth [the ship belonging to the Black Star Line, Garvey's all black owned and operated shipping company] for its second voyage to Cuba. Once again, the old ship listed seriously as it left the dock. Two days later, about one hundred miles from the Cuban harbor the ship began to sink. The crew was drunk when the U.S. Coast Guard arrived to tow the ship back to New York, where Government agents were waiting to seize the cargo.

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