Just over 100 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, Elizabeth Jennings refused to dismount from a New York City streetcar.
In 1854, New York was a so-called free state, and Lizzie Jennings was a freeborn, well-to-do African American woman. Accustomed to being permitted in the better-appointed streetcars reserved for white passengers, Lizzie is first taken aback and then angered when the white conductor tells her she must wait for one emblazoned “Colored People Allowed in This Car.” Her refusal to leave leads to a contretemps with the law—and a white witness, whose expression of support bolsters her enough to file an eventual, successful, groundbreaking lawsuit. Anderson’s third-person text allows readers under Lizzie’s skin as her indignation at injustice mounts. Children will readily recognize both the conductor’s capricious cruelty and Lizzie’s anger that “being born a ‘free black’ in a ‘free state’ ” does not mean being “treated as equal.” Lewis’ dappled watercolors depict the action and extend it. A picture of an angry Lizzie thrown to the cobbles, bonnet askew, is shocking; another, of the faces of five white, male jurors floating forbiddingly against a vivid, dark-blue background, underscores the injustice of the legal system. A two-page author’s note fleshes out the history, including mentions of Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks.
Necessary.(bibliography, further reading) (Informational picture book. 5-8)