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How History (and Librarians) Inspire Freedom of the Press, a guest post by Mary Cronk Farrell

standingWhen I got my first real job as a broadcast journalist at age 21, I believed my work would contribute to the common good. I believed the stories I reported, first as a radio journalist and later in television news, would help people understand events in our local community more clearly, feel more empathy and maybe open their minds or change their hearts.

 

Was I too idealistic? Was believing that the news media played a crucial role, not just in preserving democracy, but also as a force for good in our lives nothing but a fanciful notion of a naïve do-gooder?

 

It certainly seems so today.

 

But in researching the stories of black women who risked their lives to serve their county in a segregated army during World War II, I discovered evidence of how a free press pushed our nation to progress toward equality, how newspaper stories about injustice inspired people to empathy, and how the press rallied citizens to demand fairness.

Ranks of the all-black #6888th Postal Battalion of Women’s Army Corps, 1945. (National Archives)

Ranks of the all-black #6888th Postal Battalion of Women’s Army Corps, 1945. (National Archives)

In the spring of 1945, black members of the Women’s Army Corps stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, had withstood all they could stand. Day after day they donned blue work uniforms and reported to Lowell Army hospital to wash dishes and scrub floors. White WACs at the same hospital wore white uniforms for jobs as lab technicians, nurse’s aides and assisting wounded soldiers write letters home.

Major Charity Adams inspects Women’s Army Corps ranks, February 1945. (National Archives)

Major Charity Adams inspects Women’s Army Corps ranks, February 1945. (National Archives)

Throughout World War II, complaints arose, and inspections verified that black WACs were too often assigned to menial jobs not prescribed for WACs. One inspection at Fort Breckinridge, Kentucky, found thirty black WACs working in the laundry, fifteen assigned to service jobs, including dishwashing at the base club, and five “well-educated negro women…administration school graduates…employed sweeping warehouse floors.”* At Fort Knox, Kentucky, black WACs worked in the kitchen, a white officer saying, “Most of these girls are much better off now than they were in civilian life.”*

 

At Fort Devens, the black women tried to work through the system, sending their complaints of discrimination up the chain of command to no avail. Alice E. Young, 23, had finished one year of nursing school while working as a student nurse in a Washington, D.C. hospital. She’d joined the army due to promises she’d be trained as a nurses’ aide and worked at Lovell awaiting a space in the training program.

 

But one day the commander of the hospital Colonel Walter M. Crandall toured her ward and saw Alice taking a white soldier’s temperature. “No colored WACs,” he announced, would take temperatures in his hospital. “They are here to scrub and wash floors, wash dishes and do all the dirty work.”**

 

Alice was demoted to hospital orderly, her hopes of going to med tech school dashed. She cleaned the hospital hallways and kitchen, washed dishes, cooked and served food and took out the garbage. Sixty percent of the black WACs at Lovell had similar duties.

Devens WACS Stage Sitdown, The Chicago Defender, March 24, 1945.

Devens WACS Stage Sitdown, The Chicago Defender, March 24, 1945.

They decided to strike. According to the New York Times, 96 black WACs initially refused orders to go to work due to discriminatory assignments. After several days, most eventually went back to work under threat of court martial for insubordination, a death penalty offense in wartime.

 

But Alice and three others who walked away from their posts at the hospital did not return and were court martialed. “These women made this gesture of protest in hope that someday their descendants might enjoy fully the rights and liberties promised to Americans,”** their attorney said.

 

Major news sources like the New York Times and Time Magazine covered the strike and the women’s trial, as well as small town newspapers like the Daily Sun in Lewiston, Maine, and African American newspapers across the country. When the army court convicted the four women and sentenced them to one year of hard labor with no pay and dishonorable discharge, the story received wide coverage.

Army Court Convicts 4 WACs of Disobeying Superior, The Washington Post, March 21, 1945.

Army Court Convicts 4 WACs of Disobeying Superior, The Washington Post, March 21, 1945.

Many Americans both white and black read about the unfairness the striking women had faced. They protested the harsh penalty by writing letters to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Secretary of War, Congress and editors of newspapers. Many called for punishment of Colonial Crandall, rather than the women.

 

The news stories and subsequent uproar by citizens made a difference. The War Department found a way to reverse the verdict on a technicality and reinstate Alice and the others to active duty. The Army did not investigate Colonel Crandall’s behavior, but he was relieved of his hospital command and pressured to retire. In addition, the army changed policies at Lovell Hospital prohibiting black WACs from being assigned to menial jobs not done by white WACs.

Headline, front page, The Afro American, Baltimore, MD, April 28, 1945.

Headline, front page, The Afro American, Baltimore, MD, April 28, 1945.

The pervasiveness of our news media today allows us to be even better informed than Americans during WWII, but it requires diligence and critical thinking due to the massive amounts of information at our fingertips, and the phenomenon of “fake news.”   Reporters Without Borders, an organization that tracks freedom of information, ranks the United States 45th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. We fall below a host of European countries and others around the world including Ghana, South Korea, Uruguay and South Africa.

 

With the news media’s ever-increasing focus on the sensational and the obvious partisanship of news outlets, I’ve become more jaded and I don’t regret I’ve left the business. But librarians inspire me to keep faith with my ideals. They’re on the front lines championing freedom of information and teaching students critical skills to assess the news they see. They inspire us all to work within our own spheres of influence to defend our freedom of the press which is critical to democracy and a powerful force for truth and justice.

 

* When the Nation was in Need: Blacks in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, by Martha S. Putney (Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2001)

**United States V. Morrison, Anna G, A., Green, Mary, E., Young Alice E., Murphy, Johnnie, A. (Proceedings of a General Court-Martial, Fort Devens, M.A., March 19, 1945)

 

Meet Mary Cronk Farrell

Mary Cronk Farrell 2015. (534x640)Mary Cronk Farrell, author of critically acclaimed and award-winning Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific, now releases the incredible story of how black women in the army helped change the course of World War II:  Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII (Abrams, January 2019).

 

Connect with Mary online: 

Website: www.MaryCronkFarrell.com

Blog: http://www.marycronkfarrell.net/blog

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Author-Mary-Cronk-Farrell-180125525368386/

Twitter: @MaryCronkFarrel

Instagram:  MaryCronkFarrell

 

About  Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII

standingStanding Up Against Hate tells the stories of the African American women who enlisted in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in World War II. They quickly discovered that they faced as many obstacles in the armed forces as they did in everyday life. However, they refused to back down. They interrupted careers and left family, friends, and loved ones to venture into unknown and sometimes dangerous territory. They survived racial prejudice and discrimination with dignity, succeeded in jobs women had never worked before, and made crucial contributions to the military war effort. The book centers around Charity Adams, who commanded the only black WAAC battalion sent overseas and became the highest ranking African American woman in the military by the end of the war. Along with Adams’s story are those of other black women who played a crucial role in integrating the armed forces. Their tales are both inspiring and heart-wrenching. The book includes a timeline, bibliography, and index.

(ISBN-13: 9781419731600 Publisher: ABRAMS Publication date: 01/08/2019)

SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE

 

Book Review: Queer, There, and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager and Zoe More O’Ferrall

tltbutton6Publisher’s description

This first-ever LGBTQ history book of its kind for young adults will appeal to fans of fun, empowering pop-culture books like Rad American Women A-Z and Notorious RBG.

World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals—and you’ve never heard of many of them. Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 23 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn’t make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.

By turns hilarious and inspiring, the beautifully illustrated Queer, There, and Everywhere is for anyone who wants the real story of the queer rights movement.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

queer thereThere is a LOT of information packed into this book! The introduction explains how often assumptions are made about historical figures’ sexuality and gender identities, erasing their real identities and erasing the important contributions made by LGBTQIA+ people. The introduction also discusses the choice to use the word “queer” to encompass all of these people and provides a quick overview of the language related to queerness and terms/labels used.

 

We get a quick tour through worldwide queerness throughout history (Europe, Africa, Asia, Latina America, Oceania, North America) and the effects of colonization and religion as well as looking at how LGBTQIA+ people were accepted, persecuted, and criminalized throughout history. There is also plenty of emphasis on the activism and achievements of queer folks throughout history.

 

Each chapter focuses on one individual from history and begins with a short tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) summary to grab your interest. The chapters give in-depth information about the subjects’ lives. Readers will learn about people they may already be familiar with, such as Joan of Arc, Ma Rainey, Frida Kahlo, Alan Turing, Harvey Milk, and George Takei. Other historical figures include Roman Emperor Elagabalus (born a boy, lived as a woman, married 5 women and 2 men while a teenage emperor); Kristina of Sweden (a “gender-bending” queen who romanced men and women); Juana Ines De La Cruz (a Mexican nun who fell for her benefactor’s wife); Abraham Lincoln (and his “intimate friend” Joshua); Lili Elbe (one of the first people to undergo gender confirmation surgery); Josef Kohout (a gay Holocaust survivor); and Glenn Burke (a gay baseball player). A glossary is appended as is an extensive bibliography and notes. Written in a very conversational tone, this book is an important addition to library collections. Get this one up on your displays—there are plenty of teens who will be so glad to see a spotlight being shone on the important contributions of LGBTQIA+ people throughout history. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062474315

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 05/23/2017

Book Review: Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl

Publisher’s description

RADFrom the authors of the New York Times bestselling book Rad American Women A-Z, comes a bold new collection of 40 biographical profiles, each accompanied by a striking illustrated portrait, showcasing extraordinary women from around the world.

In Rad Women Worldwide, writer Kate Schatz and artist Miriam Klein Stahl tell fresh, engaging, and inspiring tales of perseverance and radical success by pairing well researched and riveting biographies with powerful and expressive cut-paper portraits. Featuring an array of diverse figures from Hatshepsut (the great female king who ruled Egypt peacefully for two decades) and Malala Yousafzi (the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize) to Poly Styrene (legendary teenage punk and lead singer of X-Ray Spex) and Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft (polar explorers and the first women to cross Antarctica), this progressive and visually arresting book is a compelling addition to women’s history.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m going to crib from my review of their previous book, Rad American Women A-Z, because the same sentiment applies here:

“Please go buy this book. Buy it for your library, your classroom, your kids, your friends’ kids, your neighbors, yourself. Maybe, just to be safe, buy like 10 copies, so you have plenty to hand out for gifts. This book would make a great graduation present, a birthday present for kids of all ages, and a great gift for your adult friends, too.”

Just as you would expect, this book tells about “the lives and accomplishments of bold, brave women who lived awesome, exciting, revolutionary, historic, and world-changing lives” (as the introduction tells us). Some of the women are more well-known than others. Many of the women I already knew about thanks to an extremely extensive education in college while getting my women’s studies degree. Even though college was now 20 years ago, so many of their stories have stuck with me specifically because I never heard about their lives anywhere except my women’s studies classes. 40 women from 30 countries are highlighted. Readers will kick off their education by learning about Enheduanna (2285-2250 BCE, Mesopotamia), the world’s oldest known author. From there we jump all over the place, both in time and location. We learn about Kalpana Chawla, an Indian astronaut; Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s ardent supporter of democracy and peace; Qiu Jin, China’s revolutionary leader known as the “Chinese Joan of Arc;” Fe Del Mundo, from the Philippines, the first woman admitted to Harvard Medical School; Kasha Jacqueline Nagabasera, the “Mother of the Gay Rights Movement” in Uganda; feminist and Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Colombian street artist Bastardilla; punk singer Poly Styrene from the band X-Ray Spex (I wouldn’t be much of a punk if this wasn’t one of my favorite songs from my youth); and the Argentinian activist group Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (who I had the honor to hear speak back in the mid-90s). Those are just some of the phenomenal women included in this book. These women, and the other women written about, are many things: musicians, athletes, rulers, spies, activists, leaders, explorers, linguists, fighters, healers, educators, scientists, programmers, and more. The end of the book includes a list of 250 more rad women from around the world to check out. The bold, bright paper-cut art is dynamic and makes this already extremely appealing book even more likely to get noticed on a shelf. An excellent overview of many important women and a fantastic addition to any collection.

 

Review copy courtesy of the authors

ISBN-13: 9780399578861

Publisher: Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony

Publication date: 09/27/2016

Book Review: Gay & Lesbian History for Kids: The Century-Long Struggle for LGBT Rights, with 21 Activities by Jerome Pohlen

GL HistoryPublisher’s description:

Who transformed George Washington’s demoralized troops at Valley Forge into a fighting force that defeated an empire? Who cracked Germany’s Enigma code and shortened World War II? Who successfully lobbied the US Congress to outlaw child labor? And who organized the 1963 March on Washington? Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts, that’s who.

Given today’s news, it would be easy to get the impression that the campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality is a recent development, but it is only the final act in a struggle that started more than a century ago. The history is told through personal stories and firsthand accounts of the movement’s key events, like the 1950s “Lavender Scare,” the Stonewall Inn uprising, and the AIDS crisis. Kids will learn about civil rights mavericks, like Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the first gay rights organization; Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who turned the Daughters of Bilitis from a lesbian social club into a powerhouse for LGBT freedom; Christine Jorgensen, the nation’s first famous transgender; and Harvey Milk, the first out candidate to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Also chronicled are the historic contributions of famous LGBT individuals, from General von Steuben and Alan Turing to Jane Addams and Bayard Rustin, among others. This up-to-date history includes the landmark Supreme Court decision making marriage equality the law of the land. Twenty-one activities enliven the history and demonstrate the spirited ways the LGBT community has pushed for positive social change.

Kids can: write a free verse poem like Walt Whitman; learn “The Madison” line dance; remember a loved one with a quilt panel; perform a monologue from The Laramie Project; make up a song parody; and much more.

 

Amanda thoughts:

Need a crash course in LGBT history? This book has got you covered. A very brief look at pre-1900s history starts us off, looking at historical figures, laws, and persecution through the ages. In depth sections look at Walt Whitman, transgender people and people who “passed” as another gender, and early gay activists, among others. The author covers Emma Goldman’s 1915 lecture, the first public lecture on homosexuality in America, the beginning of the Progressive Era, and life in Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’s Paris. He moves on to addressing the Harlem Renaissance, the first “sex reassignment” surgery (Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe), and LGBT people in the movies, military, and artistic fields.

 

While some chapters cover a lot of ground and speak broadly of attitudes or events, some go in to much more detail, such as the coverage of the Lavender Scare, which coincided with the Cold War’s Red Scare, and purged gays and lesbians from federal jobs. As we move through history, we learn about clubs, societies, magazines, and movements. The 1960s brings increased activism as well as many riots, many of which are explained in detail. The 1970s included parades, the Gay Liberation Front and other activist groups, and led up to challenges in same-sex marriage bans and saw the formation of support groups such as PFLAG. The author addresses changes in psychiatric communities regarding the attitudes toward and diagnoses of homosexuality as a mental disorder. Many things are done very well in this book, like the examination of the intersections of the women’s movement and the lesbian movement in the 1970s; Pohlen looks at the many subgroups and the rifts that sprung up, especially the divide between the lesbian and transgender communities. He goes on to look at Anita Bryant’s campaigns to repeal any gay rights and to put bans in place, the idea of “recruitment” and the “gay agenda,” and at the life and death of Harvey Milk. The 1980s brings a focus on AIDS and details the many horrific ways it wasn’t taken seriously or given enough political attention or funding for research. The 80s included marches, the NAMES Quilt, and a focus on helping LGBT youth. From the 1990s on, we learn about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, international developments, progress in AIDS treatments, gay-straight alliances, DOMA, Matthew Shepard, hate crimes, civil unions, civil rights, marriage equality, and Dan Savage’s It Gets Better movement. Resources and end notes are appended.

 

I’d recommend this for ages 12 and up, despite it saying “kids” in the title. It’s a thorough and nuanced look at LGBT history. The conversational tone keeps things moving along nicely even as we read fairly dense chapters about history and politics. The 21 activities include things like writing a poem, making a flag, and inventing a secret language. They all relate loosely to events described in the text, but don’t necessarily enhance the book. Overall, a fantastic resource that should be on the shelves of every school and public library. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781613730829

Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Publication date: 10/01/2015

Series: For Kids Series