Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Jonah Winter
Illustrator:  Shane W. Evans 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 to 7
Schwartz & Wade, 2015   ISBN: 978-0385390286

Lillian is a hundred years old and today she is going to vote; she is going to do something that her forebears could not do because they were African American. Lillian starts to think back to those distant relatives of hers, whose stories color her own life.

Lillian’s great-great-grandparents were sold at auction in front of an Alabama courthouse. Her great-grandpa Edmund worked in cotton fields for hours under the hot sun. For him the words “all men are created equal” meant nothing because he was someone else’s property. In 1870 a law was passed which said that America citizens “shall not be denied or abridged” the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Edmund though that this, the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, would ensure that he could vote at last. Edmund and his wife entered the courthouse and he cast his vote.

Just twenty years later grandpa Isaac went to the courthouse and he was charged a poll tax to vote, which he was too poor to pay. Uncle Levi was forced to take “tests” when he went to vote and the questions he was asked were so ridiculous or so hard that he could not answer them. No one could. The tests were created to deprive him of the right to vote. So much for the Fifteenth Amendment.

In 1920, Lillian’s mother and father tried to register to vote. This was the year when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed giving women the right to vote. With little Lilian by their side, Mama and Papa were chased away by an angry mob, the same mob that set a cross alight in front of Lillian’s family home. So much for the Nineteenth Amendment.

As a young women Lillian herself was tested when she tried to vote. Once again the test was created so that no one, no matter who they were, could pass it.

In her one hundred years Lillian has seen many peaceful marches, many protests as black and white folks tried to bring about change. She was one of many who had hope in their hearts when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. That year Lillian stepped into the voting booth for the first time. When she cast her vote on that day she was finally “a full-fledged citizen of the United States.”

Now, at age one hundred, Lillian is going to vote again, and this time she is going to vote for an African American presidential candidate.

This incredibly powerful story was inspired by the life of Lillian Allen, a woman who was the granddaughter of a slave and who tirelessly canvassed for Barack Obama in the days leading up to the 2008 presidential election.

At the back of the book an author’s note provides readers with further information about the struggle that African Americans took on so that they would be allowed to vote.