Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 570

Although written for young adults, Alexander’s book, which she calls an anthology, can be used on several levels. First, this text serves as a source for young adults seeking information on African Americans who displayed courage, tenacity, vision, and determination, breaking a pattern of injustice inflicted upon millions of African Americans. Second, Alexander covers the Civil Rights movement, sit-in demonstrations, and the voting rights movement, so that Young and Black in America can be easily used as a supplemental text for high-school American history classes. The book provides information about young African Americans and their attitudes concerning the nature of inhumanity toward others and the anguish and pain that African Americans suffered as individuals because of the color of their skin or the texture of their hair.

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Alexander’s carefully selected anthology offers all young adult students a view of history as seen through the eyes of young African Americans. These young people of color write of confrontations, insurmountable working and living conditions, life-threatening situations, and their struggle against racial discrimination. At an early age, they all displayed a conviction to make a positive difference in their lives, as well as in the future lives of others. While acting singularly—as the writer Richard Wright, the great orator Malcolm X, or David Parks describing racial prejudices in Vietnam—or in a collective situation—such as with sit-in demonstrator Anne Moody—all these people offer strong narratives worthy of emulation by young readers.

The author’s sympathies are uncategorically with the people whom she has chosen to include in this book. As a young African American during the major events covered in this book, Alexander could have been like Anne Moody. The author relates Moody’s autobiographical sketch concerning a sit-in demonstration in Canton, Mississippi. At that time, African Americans were not allowed to eat, drink, or have bathroom privileges in white establishments throughout the United States. One day, Moody and others were denied service at a lunch counter but were determined to stay. Moody suffered many humiliations at the hands of some patrons, including name calling; the smearing of catsup, mustard, sugar, and pies on their clothing; and physical abuse by some of their antagonists. These experiences could have happened to the young Rae Pace Alexander. Certainly, she read about such events in the newspapers or saw similar demonstrations on the television.

Perhaps, the author identified with Daisy Bates, who, as a very young child, lived in a segregated town. Bates’s autobiographical sketch recounts an episode at a butcher’s shop in which she had to wait until the last white person had been served in order to make a purchase. Even then, while being waited on, she relates the injustice of the butcher giving her “fat chops” with no meat. This seemingly small injustice made a powerful impression on the young elementary-age Bates; it was one of many experiences that forever provided her with the conviction of using her life to make a difference for others. The opportunity came several years later when, as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), she was able to set the stage for the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The young African Americans chosen by Alexander were exceptional youths functioning in extraordinary circumstances. They not only changed the immediate lives of those around them but also aided future generations of African Americans.

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Critical Context