This memoir by John A. Stokes, with Lois Wolfe, Ph.D., published by National Geographic in 2008, knocked my socks off. John Stokes was a teenager in 1951, one of several students leaders who led a strike of their segregated black school, Moton High school in Farmville, Virginia. Sick of inferior conditions and shacks for a building, these young people inspired the entire student body to walk out of school, refusing to return until a new high school was built. When national NCAAP leaders arrived to help, they were so impressed that they begged the young leaders to join the Brown vs. the Board of Education lawsuit, rather than fight for a segregated school. The students agreed. Their case was the only one in the Brown lawsuit initiated by students. When the U.S. Supreme tore down Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1954 in support of the Brown lawsuit, these students were long out of school. But they remain proud of what they did to this day.
But this 126 page book is much more than a retelling of the dramatic days of the strike. It reads like a novel. The young voice of Stokes rings through on every page and vividly reveals life growing up in the Jim Crow South, before and after the student strike. Published in a small novel-like format with eighteen çhapters and photos, it holds appeal for readers ages ten through adult. It is one of those terrific nonfiction stories that pulls you in on the first page and propels you into the future on the last page. As a reader, it makes you wish you had been brave like those students. With great details leading up to the climax of the strike, helps us understand how the students' courage grew out of despair and frustration with "separate but equal" schools, public transportation, swimming pools, movie theaters and drinking fountains. Stokes is a retired educator who speaks around the country about this case and the continued need to fight for justice and equality in America today. Though this book was co-written, it is clearly Stokes' story and an uplifting one it is. Young readers will connect to the boy who grew into a teen, so sad and depressed that he had to risk his life to make a difference.