Lizzie Demands a Seat!: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights

Calkins Creek. Jan. 2020. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781629799391.
Gr 1-3–In 1854, when Lizzie Jennings was forced off a traditionally “whites only” streetcar, she went to court, winning the right for all black passengers to ride in the same car with white people on the Third Avenue Railroad in New York City. Anderson’s account of Jennings’s early civil rights triumph stresses the teacher and choir director’s determination. An afterword explains how this free, educated, and wealthy black woman was uniquely positioned to succeed where an earlier court case had failed, and how the fight continued for 10 more years before all New York street car companies stopped having separate cars for black and white passengers. Set on spreads with full-bleed illustrations, the storytelling is straightforward and direct. Dialogue closely follows contemporary newspaper accounts to enliven the historical moment. The well-chosen language—“She’d been rejected, restricted, and refused by schools, restaurants, and theaters”—is a pleasure to read aloud. Departing from the somber palette he used for Jabari Asim’s Preaching to the Chickens, Lewis employs pastel colors, shades of blues, pinks, and purples, and plenty of background yellow to portray the characters and their surroundings. This lightens the story and supports its positive outcome. Shadowy background figures remind careful readers of the larger community that supported Jennings and were affected. Pair with Nikki Giovanni’s Rosa Parks for a reminder of how long this struggle continued.
VERDICT An important story beautifully told.

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