A SWEET SMELL OF ROSES by Angela Johnson
If you're white, you're alright;
If you're brown, just stick aroun';
But if you're black, keep back, keep back, keep back!
---- Sung by Americans fighting against racism.
Most people are aware of the evils of slavery but often give little thought to the details and the implications, children least of all perhaps. It consisted of the merciless kidnapping, cruel transportation and bitter exploitation of Africans by Europeans, mainly English and Spanish, to pursue a trade based on the law of the jungle: night is right. Huge fortunes were made, shared by the monarchy in each country.
This human cargo was unloaded in America, sold to the highest bidder for whom they did backbreaking work from morn until sunset for a bare living. They were imprisoned in their place of work and subject to every demand of their owners. Disobedience was met by savage corporal punishment, Women were often used for sexual purposes by their masters.
It is hardly an exaggeration to claim that American prosperity and eventual world domination were built on the forced labour of their African victims. A century of struggle and resistance, sometimes supported also by white progressives, and including a civil war, have led to the abolition of slavery. But this did not mean the end of discrimination and brutal racism. The situation today is improving as a result of their campaigns and an Afro-American has been elected as president.
The book deals with the highlight of the struggle, the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King. It tells of how two little girls steal out of their home to join the procession in their town, demanding FREEDOM NOW, of their adventures on the way and during the march and thus gives us a picture of the movement as seen through the eyes of children.
Teachers should explain that, despite the great gains, there is still much for minorities to fight for, but that what has been achieved so far is a testament to the efficacy of united action.
The book is recommended for the 5-8 age group but would be enjoyed by all, including adults.