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1.12.2011

Boycott Blues (2008)



Illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Colored inks on clayboard

Text set in Adobe Caslon


I read through this book twice before seeing the author's note at the end in which she explains the origins of the term "Jim Crow." "For this story," Andrea Pinkney writes, "I have taken the liberty of depicting Jim Crow as a menacing bird to give characterization to segregation's ugly reality."

Wait a minute... had I missed something? Had I overlooked such stark symbolism? I flipped back to the beginning. Sure enough - on only the second illustration in - the words, "It was December 1, 1955, when the blues came to call - the same day Jim Crow flew in waving his bony wings," and her husband has unevenly sketched the White House with a bus puttering along before it, and above the White House is a large, menacing smudge which resembles an exploding storm cloud. And yes, if I stare at it long enough, Rorschach-style, it does seem the smudge contains a black beak, crazed wings, flapping curiously... If I blink, it reverts to just an inky mess, a black hole where the sun ought to be.

For the remainder of the pages, we see only its black tendrils about the outskirts of the images. It's there, hovering above the fateful bus that Rosa Parks boarded at the end of her workday.

Whenever Jim Crow got to laying down the letter of the law, to stating the state of segregation, he did it with his peck, peck, peck. And on this day, Jim Crow's peck was a duet.

The bus driver stands with his fingers pointing toward the rear, the driver's seat is engulfed in the stuff, swirling about like the Venom suit in SpiderMan, using him as its conduit. But, "even with Jim Crow's peck, peck, peck sounding like rust on a bedspring, Rosa stayed seated."

When Rosa leaves the bus, escorted by two police officers, the inkblot encompassing all of the bus.

The boycott begins. For one year, African-Americans - followed by white - refused to ride, crippling a major aspect of the American infrastructure across the nation.

Then came the miracle. The Supreme Court invited Jim Crow in for a visit, and waved a gavel on his bony wings. The judge in the courthouse said, "Jim, you're all wrong."

The black visage lifts, the colors of the page are able to shine through. "Bony wings, adieu. Peck, peck, peck, later for you. Bye-bye, boycott blues."

2 comments:

  1. Having just written a Rosa Parks biography for Scholastic, one comment I would make is that we need to stop spinning myths around icons. Rosa Parks was an inspiration - but she was not the first person to refuse to get off the bus. A student in her NAACP youth group - Claudette Colvin - was one of several women who were the subject of the lawsuit that actually ended bus segregation. But those people go unrecognized for their contributions.

    And even Rosa did not profit it in the way that male civil rights icons did. While Rosa was chosen as a test case because of her light skin, the NAACP pretty much abandoned her and her husband, both of whom lost their jobs because of the publicity. The bus boycott was not organized by Dr. King, but by a local group of women who had the plans underway before Dr. King arrived. While Rosa raised almost $200,000 for the cause, she was told she couldn't be hired to work for King because she lacked a degree. So she moved to Michigan with few funds while the men stepped forward and took credit for the work done by women in the town.

    Sometimes I think it would be so much better if we talked about what the community did and why - sometimes - idols are chosen to stand on a pedestal as a political move, but then discarded by those same people once the work is done. That is a better service to children, IMHO.

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  2. One day I met Andrea and Bryan Pinkney at the museum in MA. What a treat!
    The review is spell-bounding in its black crow image!

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