A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Daily life in Clinton during segregation, the "genteel chains we're forced to wear." A time of Whites Only at the local restaurants, town's swimming pool, rec center, public library. Chapter entitled "Rules for Life" lists some unwritten rules African Americans were expected to follow: Wait to enter a grocery aisle until white customer leaves. Work as janitors, maids, or dishwashers but not at good jobs at hosiery mill or local shops. Buy things at local drugstore but don't sit at the lunch counter. African American women trying on hats have to first put scarves on their head. Mention of books Jo Ann loves to read (Swiss Family Robinson, Black Beauty, The Robe). Back matter includes archival photos, a timeline of school segregation and civil rights, quotation sources, a bibliography, and a list of books for further reading.
Strong messages about standing up for what's right, working together to fight injustice, persevering in face of adversity and threats. "We crossed a line, we twelve, and reached a goal. Knocked down, pushed back, abused, yet still we stood as proof that, joined together, we are a whole."
Positive Role Models
In addition to courage and determination, Jo Ann's optimism shines through. Despite culture of bigotry, racism that surrounds her, Jo Ann still wants to believe people will do the right thing, that her fellow students will see her "not just as the Negro girl." Although this optimism is beaten and battered by her time at Clinton High School, she regains it during the family's move to California. She tells a a Los Angeles newspaper reporter, "The kids could work things out for themselves. If grown-ups would teach them to love instead of hate, we'd get along just wonderfully."
Violence & Scariness
Integrating Clinton High School sets off wave of protests, violence. Students are met by crowds yelling "Go back to Africa"; protesters chase, attack some of the African American boys. Mobs gather in town square. National Guard (with tanks) is called in to restore order after "nights of wild rabble." After Guard leaves, Ku Klux Klan arrives, sets off a bomb to terrorize African American community. Local white minister is attacked, beaten for his support of the Clinton 12. A mob beats an African American sailor home on leave. Students shove Jo Ann in the halls, trip her, throw spitballs at her.
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A few uses of the "N" word and "coon."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that This Promise of Change: One Girl's Story in the Fight for School Equality is a memoir in free verse by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy. In August 1956, all-white Clinton High School in East Tennessee became one of the first public high schools in the American South to be integrated. Jo Ann Allen was one of the Clinton 12, courageous and determined African American teens who would face months of threats, taunts, and physical assaults, simply because they wanted the opportunity for an equal education. Integration of the high school would tear off Clinton's mask of being a small town where everyone seemed to get along (unless you were an African American who didn't know his or her place) and lay bare its deep-seated racism. As the school year begins, violence and the threat of violence become a constant in Clinton. Mobs become so unruly that the National Guard is called in to restore order. Men and boys are attacked and beaten, and white-robed Ku Klux Klansmen arrive and set off a bomb. A compelling and elegantly written must-read addition to the stories of teen heroes of the civil rights movement.
Is It Any Good?
This is a powerful memoir of a hate-filled and turbulent time, seen through the eyes of a teen clinging to her belief that, in the end, people will do the right thing. This Promise of Change offers readers not only a superbly written and inspiring story, but also a wealth of information and resources. The back of the book includes an epilogue that updates readers on Jo Ann and the other members of the Clinton 12, and a scrapbook of archival photos lets readers put a face to students and protesters. There's a timeline of school segregation and civil rights landmarks, quotation sources, a selected bibliography, and a list of books for further reading.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.