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The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights (2010)

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrated by Tim Ladwig

Watercolor and pastel on Twinrocket tinted watercolor paper

Typeset in Adobe Garamond Pro

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

"Since the first African-American churches were founded in the 18th Century, black religious organizations have brought biblical values to bear on the freedom struggle," begins the book in a nice introductory note, explaining the pairing of the text of Matthew 5:3-12 - commonly referred to as the Beatitudes - with snapshot portraits of scenes from the history of Civil Rights.

We start in the darkened hold of a slave ship - one of the slaves sitting up straight - staring into a shaft of light beaming through the ceiling. "I am the Lord your God," begins the narrative. "I was with the Africans who were torn from the Motherland and cramped in holds of ships on the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas. I heard the chant Kum ba ya, kum ba ya."

Running along the bottom of the two-page spread is the first of the beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."

In direct contrast with the first image, the next is filled with light. A family claps their hands in a sun-drenched church:

I was with Richard Allen, Absalom Jones and James Varick, who founded churches where African Americans could praise the Lord and shout "Hallelujah!" I rang the church bells.

From there we move chronologically through American history. Harriet Tubman against a star-filled night. Marian Anderson standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Rosa Parks, poor Emmett Till.

I had to pause at the image of young Ruby Bridges, wide-eyed between the shoulders of the law - and in particular, the faces twisted in rage and hate filling the pages behind her which Ladwig very menacingly illustrates. "Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you."

Of all the historical names listed, Ruby Bridges was one of only two with a birth date and no death date. Somewhere, Ruby is 57 years old. The only other still living subject - born just seven years after Ruby Bridges - is Barack Obama.

I was with [him] when he took his oath as President of the United States. I was the Bible where he placed his hand.

From there, finally, we are transported back a hundred years or more, as a group of men, women and children wade into the waters, the sky orange with dawn. "The holy water is the stream of humanity," concludes Weatherford. "Drink, breathe and be free."

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