THE TEACHERS MARCH! (+Giveaway)

Today I’m pleased to share an inspiring, important book: THE TEACHERS MARCH!: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Charly Palmer.

Sandra and Rich are seasoned nonfiction writers who take research very seriously. So I asked them to share how they found out about this significant event, their rigorous research for the book, and the urgency of of oral history (something they know a lot about!)

Here’s Sandra and Rich’s insightful journey:

You never know where your research will lead you.

Ours led us to a pew in Selma’s Brown Chapel one quiet morning a few years back. We were in the process of writing a book about civil rights martyr Jonathan Daniels, who had slept some nights in those pews when he first arrived in Selma in 1965 as a rebellious seminarian. Church historian Joyce Parrish O’Neal provided us with vital information about Jonathan, and about the pivotal mass meetings and voting-rights marches that had originated at Brown Chapel. Then she mentioned that her mother, Lula Parrish, had risked her job and her life by marching with more than 100 other Black teachers in January 1965. 

We tucked that bit of information away while we completed Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights. Then we contacted Ms. O’Neal again, and we returned to Selma, recognizing the heft and the responsibility of writing about this crucial but little-known teachers’ march.

Reverend F.D. Reese, the science teacher and pastor who had organized the march, welcomed us to his church and shared his crystal-clear memories of the march and his efforts to coax those brave teachers to participate.

Sandra Neil Wallace and Reverend F.D. Reese at Reese’s church

Their worries were palpable. And justified.

We spent more time with Ms. O’Neal, who described her mother’s bravery and her own fear on the day that her mother left for the march: “She hugged us and didn’t say much. But she was thinking ‘will I have a job when I get back?’ and “will I get back?’”

Coach and teacher Lawrence Huggins—assigned to the front of the line of marchers with Reverend Reese—described to us the blows of officers’ nightsticks as they tried to turn back the teachers. 

Lawrence Huggins and Rich Wallace in Selma

The teachers’ march was a triumphant success. The ever-humble Reverend Reese proudly told us that the teachers were “like great giants” that day. They were the first group of professionals to march en masse to the county courthouse to demand their voting rights, and they inspired other groups to follow suit. Most of all they inspired their students, who took to the streets (and often to jail) during the spring and summer of 1965.

Charly Palmer captured the teachersintensity and enthusiasm as they began to march

“It was the march that gave impetus to the movement,” Coach Huggins said, adding that the voting rights campaign had reached “a stalemate until then.”

The teachers’ march propelled the movement and was followed soon after by the Selma-to-Montgomery efforts (including the thwarted Bloody Sunday march in which John Lewis and many others were beaten by troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge). Those marches—led by Lewis and by Martin Luther King Jr., quickly overshadowed the teachers’ march. Coach Huggins participated in the Bloody Sunday march, and Reverend Reese and Ms. O’Neal did triage at Brown Chapel. Each of them was involved in the eventual march from Selma to the state capital.

We’re very proud that our new picture book, THE TEACHERS MARCH!: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History, is bringing long-overdue attention to the heroic educators who set things in motion.

During one of our visits to Selma, Reverend Reese invited us to attend a Sunday service with Congressman John Lewis, who happened to be speaking at Reese’s Ebenezer Baptist Church while we were in town. Reese and Lewis are both gone now. Most of those 105 teachers have passed away, too, reminding us of what we refer to as “the urgency of oral history.” Recording those stories directly from the participants is an honor and a responsibility that we take very seriously.

Many of the foot soldiers of the 1960s civil rights movement have reached their 80s or beyond. Interviewing them has been rewarding and humbling.

As journalists we can be very persistent. We must be accurate when chronicling this vital history. Phone calls, personal visits, and emails ensure not only that we get our facts correct, but also that we gain deep insights into the people behind those facts. Our recent books would not have been possible without their generous recollections and wisdom. And their kindness.

Watch the inspiring book trailer for THE TEACHERS MARCH! (Reverend Reese speaks midway through the book trailer.)

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Book Giveaway: Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win your own copy of The Teacher’s March!

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Investigative journalists Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace are a husband-and-wife team who write books together and as individuals. They are the co-founders of The Daily Good, a nonprofit dedicated to literacy, food security, inclusion, and health in their city of Keene, NH. Sandra’s picture book Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery, was presented the 2019 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction by the National Council of Teachers of English. Rich’s many novels include award winners such as Wrestling Sturbridge and Perpetual Check. Visit them at sandraneilwallace.com, richwallacebooks.com, and DailyGoodNH.org.

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, The Inventor’s Secret, and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Coming soon -- SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters (Little, Brown), MARS IS, and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Sleeping Bear Press. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at: www.suzanneslade.com

36 Comments:

  1. This looks amazing! Thank you for shining a light on it. I’d love to win a copy for my school.

    • What an awesome book! I’ve watched the book trailer and fell in love with the book even more! This would be a great resource to teach with in my Social Studies. I would love to expose my students to this beautiful book about history. Thanks for writing this book!!

  2. Thank you for introducing me to Rich and Sandra Neil Wallace and their beautiful book illustrated by Charly Palmer.

    I look forward to reading TEACHERS MARCH: How Selma’s Teachers Changed History.

    As an educator, I appreciate learning about the story behind this significant event and the teachers who marched demanding their rights.

  3. Wow! This is new history to me. Fascinating! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Thank you for sharing an important story for all to read and learn about.

  5. So interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  6. What an inspiring story! Can’t wait to read it!

  7. What an honor to interview the participants of the march! Looking forward to reading this book!

  8. Wow, this book looks so great, and inspiring! Can’t wait to read it!

  9. This is EXACTLY the kind of book we need NOW!! I volunteer in an inner-city, mostly black, elementary school and the children need to see books like this. Thank you Suzanne for this exposure and kudos to Sandra and Rich for bringing this story to life!

  10. The Wallaces are topnotch researchers and wonderful writers. Their books shine a light on some of the dark injustices in our nation’s history and introduces readers to heroes history forgot. I look forward to this new example of their incredible work.

  11. I enjoy well-researched nonfiction picture books like this one that tackle events or issues that are new to me. Thank you for the chance to win a copy of this inspirational book.

  12. Hurrah! Love the illustrations and the story.

  13. Avatar
    Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Oh my. A must read. Thanks for the post!

  14. Congrats, Sandra, Rich, and Charly!

  15. This is so wonderful. I love how research leads you to interesting and lesser known, yet important bits of history. God bless you for persevering and telling this story. Congratulations!!!

  16. This is such a timely and important topic. I’d love to donate a copy to my grandkid’s school.

  17. What a powerful book! I must get my hands on a copy SOON.

  18. Avatar
    Galiah Morgenstern Lotwin

    Fascinating! Anticipating sharing this book with my class!

  19. Wow! I’m so glad this story is being told! Fascinating how a brief comment can turn into a powerful project. Thank you for sharing the journey behind the book!

  20. This is such an important story – on so many levels. The fact that it is a little known piece of history and that many of the teachers that were involved in The Teachers March have passed away demonstrates how important it is to get these oral accounts into stories for future generations. It looks like a truly inspiring picture book and I look forward to reading it.

  21. I look forward to reading this book. Thanks for the informative post!

  22. This looks amazing! Thank you for sharing!

  23. Thanks to Picture Book Builders for sharing this space with us, and to all who’ve read the post. We can’t wait to share this book with you in a few weeks!

  24. What a great and necessary story to share with our students.

  25. Thanks for this review! Looks amazing!

  26. Thanks for sharing this picture book. Great story.

  27. Avatar
    Jennifer Merrifield

    I must admit to not knowing anything about this important event in history. I look forward to reading the book and then sharing it with my students.

  28. I would love to share this with my students! I’m always looking for quality social justice literature
    .

  29. Thank you for sharing the journey of this story. Recording oral history is so important to understanding the facts and emotions from those who were part of important events.

  30. How amazing that these teachers were an integral and critical part of the Civil Rights Movement. What a testament of the pursuit of justice and equity modeled to their students and the community!

  31. Hooray for this book & my hometown of Keene!! Congrats, Sandra & Rich on another fine book!

  32. What an important event, one that needs to be known! This looks like a wonderful book. As a former teacher, I would have loved to share this with my students.

  33. I got tears in my eyes reading how the students yelled “the teachers are gonna march!”…. can only imagine how their bravery in that moment sparked hope in the hearts of the kids….

  34. Wow, I’m so happy this story is being told. Inspiring!

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