Guiding Question: What do I know? And, how do I know it?

An opportunity to:

  • (re)claim lost, unrealized, unrecognized history as it pertains to the Civil Rights Era
  • integrate missing histories into your family’s common awareness
  • connect themes from the Civil Rights Era to patterns we see today

History is an imperfect social science

Many of us are taught that history is a chronicling of events - a record of things that have happened in the past, not quite as concrete as math but more certain than, say, psychology or literature. The truth is far more complicated. History is incomplete. History is biased. It is revisionist. It is often lost. It is present. It is predictive. History is truly a social science and our teaching of it is as flawed as the timeline itself.

Knowing this can be overwhelming however. If so much is unknown and needs to relearned then where do we even start? When we feel this way that we have to remind ourselves that what’s most important is nurturing curiosity and making space for multiple stories. We’ve created these 8 guidelines to help you more easily wade into the slipstream.

Guidelines for Your Work Together With Your Children:

1. Curiosity, not completeness, is the goal. Developing a complete recounting is unlikely. Don’t worry about how many details you acquire and impart, instead focus on inquiry and conversation.

2. Start with the basics. There are several tried and true biographies that get highlighted every January and February, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglas, and Harriet Tubman. These famous Americans are a great place to start. There are tomes of information on each and many, many resources for children.

3. Delight in the joy of discovery. History can be cool and fascinating. Follow your children’s questions this month and discover unknown facts, people and stories. This helps to avoid the “boring but important” sentiment.

4. Use multi-media. Where possible supplement your story time conversations with images, videos and audio recordings. These resources can bring distant times, people and places alive and make concepts more concrete for kids.

5. Be examples of truth and honesty for your children (taken from a sign at the entrance of a local institution, The Griot Museum of Black History). Aspects of American history are heartbreaking and defy easy answers. Sanitizing it doesn’t do anyone any favors. Show courage and share your own sadness when you feel it. By doing so you will give your children permission to do the same.

6. Connect the content to your children. Ask them to stretch their empathetic imagination… What would it be like to experience the particulars of the stories they are reading? What might they have done as a white person if they were living during the era of segregation? Who in the story do they admire? What does the story teach us about courage, change and standing up for others?

7. Connect the content to today. If we look for it, we can find remnants of the past throughout contemporary life. It can be tempting to present terrible events in history as divorced from the realities of today – try to resist the ‘that was then, this is now’ approach. Injustice and racial disparities persist and continue to cost our region and its citizens a great deal. Connecting these stories to present day issues helps reinforce the importance and the urgency of our work together.

8. Connect to the story of hope and help. As Mister Roger advises, “look for the helpers.” There have always been Americans fighting for equity. America’s promise of freedom and equality is big and bold and worth fighting for, even if we are still falling short. The vision and working towards it is something to be proud of, and a terrific legacy to share with your children.

"We are not makers of history, we are made by history."

— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

"Stories About The Civil Rights Era" Stories

“We March”

by Shane Evans

“28 Days”

by Charles R Smith

“Seeds of Freedom”

by Hester Bass

“Sweet Smell of Roses”

by Angela Johnson

Click here for the complete printable and downloadable list of "Going Deeper" book bundles


The History Class Dilemma

Why Students Should Study History

10 Things to Know Before Watching Selma

An Unfinished Civil War: From Slavery to Ferguson

Ken Burns Wash U Commencement Address
Article about the address:

Stories from The Children’s March

A pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement because in part seeing children so mistreated shocked the conscience of white parents across the country and political will began to shift

The Legacy of Sundown Towns

Part of St. Louis Public Radio’s series on St. Louis History in Black and White, this seven-minute episode details the era of sundown towns from 1890-1910 and its lasting impact today, both locally and throughout the U.S.


HiStories!: History, Renegade Style

Frankie Muse Freeman, born in 1916, received her law degree in 1947.  One of the few female African American attorneys practicing at the time, she was instrumental in the NAACP's case Davis et al. v. the St. Louis Housing Authority, which ended legal racial discrimination in public housing within the city. She went on to serve on many presidential civil rights councils and received the NAACP's highest award. Mrs. Freeman, currently a practicing St. Louis attorney at 99 years old, was given a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2014.

Visit Frankie Freeman’s star on the 6100 block of Delmar Hear Frankie Freeman speak at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters on Friday February 19th at 7pm (early arrival strongly encouraged) 

Amanda Clark is the founder of Renegade STL a company that offers offbeat and original tours of St. Louis. She blends history and architecture to bring fresh perspective and highlight lesser-known stories of our vast city.

Read Me! Adult Companion Book – by Gina Sheridan

March: Book One (2013) by John Lewis & Andrew Aydin, with art by Nate Powell

Seamlessly switching from the past to the present, the first book in this black and white graphic memoir trilogy covers U.S. Rep. John Lewis's early years as a student in a segregated school in Georgia to the sit-ins that defined his young adult years and shaped his commitment to justice and nonviolence. Book Two, an equally compelling read, was released in 2015 and Book Three is in the works now. If you are at all hesitant about the graphic novel format, consider this: John Lewis himself was inspired to become an activist in part because of a 1950s comic book featuring his hero, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gina Sheridan is the branch manager of the Mid-County Branch in the St. Louis County Library System. She is also a prolific blogger and the author of Check These Out and I Work at a Public Library. (And incidentally, she is also the creator of the Little Free Library that we passed on our tour of Old North St. Louis!)

Getting Under the (Neighbor)Hood - by Amanda Doyle

Take a peek back in time and discover the story of Roswell Field, a St. Louis lawyer who summoned up his courage and sense of right and wrong when he represented slaves Dred and Harriet Scott in the beginning of their quest to be declared free people. At the Eugene Field House in downtown St. Louis -- named for Roswell's son, who gained fame in his own right as a beloved poet in the second half of the 1800s -- you can find out more about this St. Louis transplant who came to see the flawed logic in legal arguments for slavery and eventually used his reputation, legal training, and many talents (he knew 5 languages in addition to his native English) to help send the Scotts’ case all the way to the Supreme Court. After the Scotts eventually gained their freedom, Roswell Field helped Dred Scott find a job and commence his life as a finally free man. Most of the exhibits in the current museum relate to family life in the 1800s, and to the Field's substantial collection of children's toys; tour guides and rotating items are great sources of info on this St. Louisan who helped make history. (A major capital campaign and expansion are underway, just to the historic home's north that will allow even more items to be exhibited and explained.)

The Eugene Field House and St. Louis Toy Museum, 634 S. Broadway, 314.421.4689,
Open in January by appointment, February - December on Weds-Sat 10 am-4 pm, Su noon-4 pm
$5/adults, $1/kids 4-11, free/3 and under
Amanda E. Doyle is an ardent St. Louis supporter and resident with more than a decade of experience in promoting the city to visitors. She lives with her family in Tower Grove Heights, and regularly plots her alternate lives in cool neighborhoods around the area. She is also the author of Finally! A Locally-Produced Guidebook to St. Louis By and For St. Louisans. The third edition just came out in Fall 2015.