Sweet Land of Liberty
Illustrated by Leonard Jenkins
Ages 5 to 8
Peachtree Publishers, 2007, 978-1-56145-395-5
Oscar Chapman lived in a very poor part of Virginia where people still felt angry about the Civil War and where whites were very strongly apposed to giving people of color equal rights. When Oscar and his friend Grace brought a picture of Abraham Lincoln to school to hang on the wall, the members of the school board wanted to expel the boy. Luckily one board member stuck up for Oscar and he wasn’t expelled but it was an incident which Oscar never forgot and it had a lasting effect on him. He grew up seeing prejudice and racism at work and it deeply disturbed him. He decided that “if he ever had the chance to fight injustice, he would.”
When he grew up Oscar worked in Washington, D.C. as assistant secretary of the interior. It was spring in 1939 and a famous African American singer called Marian Anderson wanted to sing in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, because of her color, no one would let her use their hall or building for her concert. Then Oscar’s friend Walter White came up with a wonderful idea. He suggested that Marian Anderson should sing at the Lincoln Memorial and Oscar got to work making the plan a reality. Oscar knew that many people would be angry but he didn’t care. He was determined to make this concert a success and in so doing he was also determined to make a point.
This superbly written and very carefully researched book is both fascinating and extremely moving. Readers will be able to see how an event in a person’s childhood can have a profound effect on his or her future. In this case experiencing prejudice first hand made Oscar Chapman determined to do what he could to fight against it when he grew up. In her “Author’s Note” Deborah Hopkinson explains how she came to find out about Oscar Chapman and his role in the Marian Anderson story.
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