Sweet Land of Liberty

  • Sweet Land of Liberty

March 2007
Peachtree Publishers
Ages 4-8
IRA Teachers Choice

This inspiring story of little-known civil rights champion Oscar Chapman and his role in Marian Anderson's concert at the Lincoln Memorial reminds readers that one person can truly make a difference.

On Easter Sunday 1939, Marian Anderson performed at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in front of a crowd of over 75,000 people. The person largely responsible for putting her there was a white man, Oscar Chapman, assistant secretary of the interior under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

When Chapman learned that Marian Anderson was not allowed to sing at Constitution hall because of the color of her skin, he took it upon himself to do the impossible: find Marian Anderson an appropriate venue for a concert and make an important statement about equality and the rights of all Americans. With support from the highest levels of U.S. government, Chapman helped produce a landmark concert that-for at least one evening-bridged the color divide to bring a city and much of the nation together.

Author Deborah Hopkinson tells the inspirational story of Oscar Chapman, including his childhood exposure to racism that led to his lifelong commitment to ending bigotry. An author's note provides additional historical context. Illustrator Leonard Jenkins remarkable illustrations recreate a bygone era and pay tribute to remarkable real-life people and a magical moment in modern history.


From School Library Journal
Kindergarten-Grade 4-As Assistant Secretary of the Interior under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Oscar Chapman played a vital role in securing Marian Anderson's use of the Lincoln Memorial as a venue for her free concert in 1939. Hopkinson ties incidents from Chapman's childhood to his efforts on Anderson's behalf, establishing that he never shied away from controversy. His refusal to testify against two African-American friends unfairly accused of stealing demonstrates a long history of opposing injustice. This sets the stage for the adult Chapman's willingness to find the perfect location for Anderson's performance and his work for FDR's approval. He also ensured that every V.I.P. in Washington was personally invited to attend. Of course, the event was a blazing success and remains a touchstone of the Civil Rights Movement. Hopkinson's slant on Chapman's contributions provides food for thought. The mixed-media illustrations succeed best when the action shifts to Washington where Jenkins can rely on the historical record in composing his work. The earlier scenes are confusingly jumbled. An endnote lists some of the author's sources, but none of the quotes in the text are specifically cited. Still, the book could provoke meaningful discussion about character formation and civic responsibility.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
Growing up poor and white in Virginia at the turn of the twentieth century, Oscar Chapman watched as his black friends became victims of racism. He grew up to become an important government official in Washington, D.C., and, with his friend Walter White, a light-skinned African American, he lobbied the powerful to challenge the racist Daughters of the American Revolution and allow Marian Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial, where 75,000 people came to hear her, and where, 24 years later, Martin Luther King Jr. made his most famous speech. Jenkins' powerful, bright, mixed-media collages show and tell the connections, past, present, and future, as the politician remembers his childhood experiences and his works for civil rights. A final spread celebrates King, Anderson, and a circle of children together. A long author's note fills in the political history, including the role of Eleanor Roosevelt. Hazel Rochman Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved