Melba Pattillo Beals follows up her award-winning adult memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, with a potent middle grade read that tells the extraordinary story of her childhood as a member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students who first crossed the color barrier to integrate Central High School in 1957. A precocious child, Beals listened to the political conversations around her and understood far more than the adults anticipate. As a result of these conversations and the social injustices she and her family experience, she constantly questioned the rules of the Jim Crow South: the differences in drinking fountains, not being provided dressing rooms to try on clothing, and waiting for hours to pay for her purchases because white customers are allowed ahead of her.
Fear was also ever-present in her life. When the Ku Klux Klan rides through her neighborhood, attacking or taking people, she recalls feeling fear, but she also experienced everyday fears such as saying the wrong thing or looking the wrong way. At first, Beals felt safe in her house, but that fragile illusion soon crumbled. Church was the only safe harbor—until the KKK took the sanctity of that place away from her, too. After this horrifying event, Beals turned to her books and became an excellent student. Propelled by her grandmother’s advice that sometimes you have to go where you’re not wanted, Beals is accepted into the first integrated class at Central High School in Little Rock.
Beals includes a stirring epilogue summarizing that year and critical years afterward to help young readers put her story into the context of the larger civil rights movement. March Forward, Girl is sure to inspire young people to take action against injustices in their world.