Arts & Culture Maplewood Towns

Authors of ‘Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom’ Visit Maplewood Library 2/19

Authors Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley will read from their young adult memoir “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March,” at the Maplewood Memorial Library (Main Branch) on Thursday, February 19 at 7 p.m. The event is for families and children 5th grade and up.

In the book, Lynda Blackmon Lowery — the youngest person to participate in the march from Selma to Montgomery, AL — recounts her personal story of the historic 1965 march. By the age of 15, Lowery had been jailed nine times. She was beaten, and at one time required 35 stitches in her head.

To learn more about Lowery’s story, read her recent interview with NPR. To learn more about the book, visit the Facebook page.

The reading is a highlight of the library’s Black History Month calendar of events. Lowery will join Buckley and Leacock via Skype on February 19. Copies of the book will be for sale at the event.

“I see bringing ‘Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom’ to the library as important for two reasons,” said Maplewood Library Teen Librarian Irene Langlois. “First, Lynda Blackmon Lowery has given a first-hand personal account of a pivotal event in U.S. history which is usually more interesting to kids than a historian’s perspective. Second, in time for Black History Month, the film, “Selma” and the 50th anniversary of the march, Elspeth and Susan can show today’s kids that with courage and determination they can also fight injustice in a non-violent way.”

The Village Green recently interviewed Buckley via email about the book. Here is the interview:

Can you tell me how the book came about, where the idea came from and how you met Lynda?

About 10 years ago my friend and writing partner, Elspeth Leacock, and I did a book called Journeys for Freedom in which we included a two-page story about Lynda Blackmon Lowery as the youngest person to make the full Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965. We found Lynda by calling the small voting rights museum in Selma. The woman we talked to was Lynda’s sister, and when we said we wanted to interview someone who was on the march, preferably a young person, she said the person we should talk to was her sister!

We interviewed Lynda on the phone, wrote the story, and then finally met Lynda in 2007 in Chicago when we were part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. Lynda joined us in a presentation of her story. Shortly thereafter, Elspeth and I decided that Lynda’s story was so important that we should do a book just on her.

Why did you think this story was an important one to tell?

First of all, Lynda participated in every part of the Selma movement, so her story contains all of the key events: as a young teenager she marched, went to jail, was beaten on Bloody Sunday, and was one of only 300 people allowed to make the full march from Selma to Montgomery. As important if not more so, however, Lynda has a remarkable way of processing what happened to her. She has a positive message that is so empowering for young people today–for all of us really. With determination and “steady, loving confrontation,” you can change the world.

What was it like to write the book, working with your co-author and with Lynda?

Eslpeth and I have worked together for many decades, and she and Lynda and I are good friends. So that made all the difference. Elspeth and I interviewed Lynda for 35+ hours over the course of a few months. Then we channeled Lynda’s voice to write the book. Actually we wrote it about four times! The first was the short piece in Journeys for Freedom, but then it took us about three versions to get Turning 15 to the place where we knew it was right. Then we found an amazing agent who found us an amazing editor!

What has been your experience in promoting the book and speaking to audiences about it? What has been the response, especially from young people?

Since January we have presented Turning 15 at the Library of Congress, the New York Historical Society, and to many school groups, ranging from about 30 kids to audiences of 600-700 middle schoolers in Illinois. Universally, kids are mesmerized by Lynda and have many questions, from “what was it like to meet Dr. King” to “what do you think about recent protests today?”

What do you think people, especially young people, can learn and take away from Lynda’s story?

We hope young people–and everyone– are inspired by Lynda’s message that young people have a voice, that with determination they can be history makers, just like her.

Maplewood Library, 51 Baker Street, Maplewood, 973-762-1622.

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