01 Sep / Water Tossing Boulders: How a Family of Chinese Immigrants Led the First Fight to Desegregate Schools in the Jim Crow South by Adrienne Berard [in Booklist]
Thirty years before Brown v. Board of Education struck down segregation in public schools, a Chinese American family in the Mississippi Delta fought to continue their daughter’s education. On September 15, 1924, Rosedale School’s principal banned nine-and-a-half-year-old, straight-A student Martha Lum and her older sister from school because of their “colored” Chinese ancestry.
The Lum family decided to fight, and their lawsuit became “the first U.S. Supreme Court case to challenge the constitutionality of segregation in Southern public schools.” Filed by former Mississippi Governor Earl Brewer, the case took on a Southern gothic-like legal cast, ending with twenty-seventh president-turned-chief justice William Taft writing the final decision.
Although the writing is a bit uneven, with clumsy attempts at florid language (“daughters of an ancient nation called China”) and repetition in spite of the book’s slim size, Adrienne Berard’s intention to “restor[e] Gong Lum v. Rice to its rightful place in history” is undeniably noble. The fact that the school district where the Lums filed suit remains segregated almost a century later is sobering proof of the book’s significance.
YA/General Interest: This chronicle of a little-known case of early-20th-century miscarriage of civil rights is both enlightening and instructive.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult