Flight to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad by Henrietta Buckmaster

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This is a story of almost unbelievable heroism and great daring, told with gusto and sincerity. It is told through the lives of courageous men and women—some of them known to us by name; most of them, unknown.

The Underground Railroad maneuvered the escape of Southern slaves to the North. It was carried on at first by a handful of people: Quakers, ministers, farmers, journalists, the escaped slaves themselves. The movement spread, and eventually the network extended from Georgia to Iowa, from Alabama to Canada.

The North Star was the slave’s hope . . . “keep on going north, and if you do not die, you will find freedom.” Going north meant careful planning, hairbreadth escapes at night, slow journeys through swamps and forests, careful disguises along open roads. It meant hunger, weariness, and dread. But the rewards of freedom from slavery were worth all the suffering.

Henrietta Buckmaster has told this little-known story against a background of the times.

But history is made by people. So Flight to Freedom is the story of people: Harriet Tubman, Levi Coffin, Wendell Phillips, Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass—and Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose vivid picture of slavery hastened the climax of a conflict that had been brewing since the first slaves were brought to these shores from Africa in chains.

It is a glorious story the author tells, a dramatic chapter in our history. It is a story that is not yet finished.

The Fire in the Flint by Walter F. White

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In this novel Kenneth Harper a southern born but northern trained African American physician returns from World War I to start a medical clinic and practice in southern Georgia.  He is flush from his good treatment by whites in the north and in Europe so he expects such treatment in the south.  His brother warns him but he soon learns that southern white treatment for “negroes” will not allow him to set up the clinic for all that he wants to.  The novel is the story of his slow downfall as he finds out that even sympathetic whites will not challenge the racism of their colleagues, runs afoul of the Ku Klux Klan, has his brother lynched and his sister raped by white men.  He ends being lynched himself while killing some whites in the process. The novel was published in 1924 and met with success. He tried unsuccessfully to have the novel turned into a play or movie.

As a member of the NAACP, Walter White investigated lynchings and worked to end segregation. He was the organization’s executive secretary from 1931 to 1955. White was also a significant figure in the Harlem Renaissance. His books included A Man Called White, and Flight, Rope and Faggot: A Biography of Judge Lynch.

Cover showing Cossacks on horseback

The Cossacks and The Raid by Leo Tolstoy with Maps

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A brilliant short novel inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s experience as a soldier in the Caucasus, “The Cossacks” has all the energy and poetry of youth while also foreshadowing the great themes of Tolstoy’s later years. His naïve hero, Olenin, is a young nobleman who is disenchanted with his privileged and superficial existence in Moscow and hopes to find a simpler life in a Cossack village. As Olenin foolishly involves himself in their violent clashes with neighboring Chechen tribesmen and falls in love with a local girl, Tolstoy gives us a wider view than Olenin himself ever possesses of the brutal realities of the Cossack way of life and the wild, untamed beauty of the rugged landscape.

This novel of love, adventure, and male rivalry on the Russian frontier—completed in 1862, when the author was in his early thirties—has always surprised readers who know Tolstoy best through the vast, panoramic fictions of his middle years. Unlike those works, The Cossacks is lean and supple, economical in design and execution. But Tolstoy could never touch a subject without imbuing it with his magnificent many-sidedness, and so this book bears witness to his brilliant historical imagination, his passionately alive spiritual awareness, and his instinctive feeling for every level of human and natural life.

Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude

The Long Black Schooner: The Voyage of the Amistad

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Men, women, boys, girls—all are chained together on the slave ship Amistad. Only yesterday they were free in their beloved African villages. Then slave catchers kidnapped them, and are taking them in chains across the sea to be sold.

But Cinque, their leader, has an iron file….

On the night of June 30, 1839, the slaves cut their chains and take over the ship. Here is the true story of a breathtaking and little-known event in American history.

Here is what one reader had to say in a review on Amazon:

The book tells the story surrounding the Amistad. However, it is told in a way that is appealing to both youth and adults. The language is simple and the story is straightforward. There is no historical gobbly-gook here.

I found the book to be rather interesting, quite informative, and fairly easy to read (I read it in less than two days). It makes a great gift for any young history buff or anyone who is interesting in learning more about the Amistad but who hasn’t studied much history.

Photo of Debs speaking to a crowd in Canton, Ohio

Eugene V. Debs: A Man Unafraid by McAlister Coleman

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From a Review by H.L. Mencken in the American Mercury, August 1930.

“Mr. Coleman has told his story very well.”

MR. COLEMAN’S sub-title may seem a bit pretentious, but the record bears it out. Debs was one of those fanatics who are simply unacquainted with the meaning of fear. At a time when practically all of the other Socialists of America were running ignominiously for cover he stood his ground magnificently and went to jail without a quaver. He would have gone to the gallows, I believe, in the same serene and unperturbed manner. Perhaps it is something of a slander to call him a Socialist at all. He died without knowing more than the A B C of Marxism, and had relatively little to do with its chief prophets. The shabbiness of spirit that is their chief mark, at least on this side of the water, was not in him. An ignorant man, and, in more than one way, a childishly silly man, he yet managed to show a singular fineness of character.
Someday, I suppose, his admirers will be comparing him to Lincoln, as Lincoln is compared to Jesus. The likeness is faulty in each case. Lincoln was a far shrewder and more politic fellow than Jesus, and Debs was far braver and more forthright than Lincoln. In old Abe, in fact, the cross-roads politician was always visible. He never did anything without figuring out its consequences to five places of decimals, and when those consequences promised to damage his private fortunes he usually found a good reason to refrain. But Debs banged through life without caring a damn, innocent and cocksure. He got into trouble very often, but I can find no evidence that he was ever bothered by doubts.
If common decency ever gets any credit in America, and the schoolbooks are revised accordingly, there will be a chapter in them on the great encounter between Debs and Woodrow Wilson. They never met face to face, for Wilson was in the White House and Debs was in prison; nevertheless, their souls came together, and it was old Gene’s that won hands down.
The conflict between them had been fought out in the world many times before, but never by two such perfect champions. On the side of Wilson were power, eminence, learning, glory, a vast forensic skill, a haughty manner, and the almost unanimous support of the American press and people; on the side of Debs there was only the dignity of an honest and honorable man. Debs remained behind the bars, but Wilson danced naked before the world, exposed to posterity as the abject and pathetic bounder that he was. It was his tragedy that he was not only quite unable to achieve decency himself, but also quite unable to recognize it in other men. When he died Harding turned Debs loose, with a gesture both generous and charming. Thus it remained for a boozy Elk out of the Jimson weed country to teach manners to a Princeton Presbyterian….
The whole labor movement in the United States is in the hands of sleek, oily gentlemen who have learned that it is far more comfortable to make terms with the bosses than to fight them. These gentlemen, as I have said, are well fed and well tailored, and have no sympathy with dreamers. Presently they will be collecting money for a monument to old Sam Gompers. But they will never propose a monument to Debs. • In the long run, however, he will probably be recalled, at all events by romantics. There was genuinely heroic blood in him, though he sacrificed himself to a chimera. Mr. Coleman has told his story very well.

Book Cover Image with Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry: Firebrand of the Revolution by Nardi Campion, Reading Level is 5.6

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“Firebrand” is an engaging biography of a pivotal figure in America’s fight for independence.

A reviewer from Goodreads writes “This is an older biography of Patrick Henry (1961), with target audience of middle school/junior high. Overall, this was a really excellent read, with plenty of details about Henry’s life and career, but not too overwhelming. It’s written to engage younger readers, so there is some dialogue and little anecdotes along the way, but most of these stories added to the character development of Henry, helping us to see what shaped him throughout his younger years and even as an adult.”

Pioneers of Freedom by McAlister Coleman

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In simple, vigorous fashion, and in a style so clear that it can be read with pleasure by high school students, Mr. Coleman tells the stories of nine men and one woman whom he has chosen as the outstanding leaders of the forces of democracy in America. Some of them are known to every schoolboy, a few of them have almost been forgotten, but all of them again glow with life in these vivid pages.

Here they are — Jefferson, Paine, Wendell Phillips, ‘Gene Debs and the rest—leaders of American democracy. Unforgettable portraits of great men who have pointed the way to a new America.

Edward Jenner and Smallpox Vaccination by Irmengarde Eberle

His Discoveries Saved Millions of Lives

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The Mad Dog of Europe by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Albert Nesor

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From a review of the print edition on Amazon:
While I have read other books about Hitler and WWII, I was drawn to read “The Mad Dog of Europe” by Albert Nesor because of its publication date – 1939. The story drew heavily on first hand accounts of immigrants who had recently left Germany. I was curious to know how prescient the Germans were about Hitler’s intentions. While Nesor gives a detailed account of how and when Hitler took over the country, the main narrative focuses on a circle of friends in the small Bavarian town of Gronau. They had lost sons in WW1 and the ones that did return were disillusioned and struggling to find work. The names of the people and the town were changed because in 1939 it was, of course, very dangerous to make negative remarks about the Reich. There actually is a town in Germany named Gronau but it is way to the north of Bavaria.

Among the book I have read about Hitler, Nestor’s account was the most graphically negative. Hitler is shown to work toward his goal of saving Germany from “Jewish Communism” with obsessive intensity. In his tirades against communism Hitler made me think of Senator Joseph McCarthy on steroids. Both also targeted and persecuted homosexuals. Fortunately McCarthy’s means were more limited. Hitler had a private army during the 30’s of well over a million ruthless men that he used frequently in the streets. The Nazi’s anti-communism was generally supported not only by many Germans, but also by people in other countries and many people in the United States. It was a major platform for his rise to power. When Hitler became Chancellor his political opponents were sent to concentration camps. When I lived in Bavaria (1979 ) my somewhat older neighbor said she would never have anything to do with politics because her father died in a concentration camp for being a communist. With my limited German vocabulary of two thousand words, all I could say was “Hitler war ein Teufel”.

Nestor’s characters were not prescient about Hitler until it was too late. Like us they went about their daily lives even though they did not approve of what they read in the papers. After the Nazis took over everyone in Gronau was terrified. Even high ranking Nazi party officials had saved foreign currency, exit visas and money in American banks in case of a Teutonic armageddon which they vaguely felt might come but did not perceive when or how. In the end the main character of the novel holds off the Nazi storm troopers with a pistol while his brother tries to escape across the border. He has the sentimental hope that Germans will regroup in America and then save his beloved country from Hitler. As we now know it was Hitler’s declaration of War on the USA that forced a response. Not Germans but German-Americans – Dwight Eisenhower, Chester Nimitz, Carl Spaatz – led the troops against Hitler. German immigrants did provide valuable service as translators and as spies.

The Curies and Radium by Elizabeth Rubin

Grade Level on the Flesch-Kincaid readability scale is 6.4.

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PIERRE and MARIE CURIE are perhaps the most remarkable husband-and-wife team in the history of science. Together they set out to isolate the mysterious radioactive substance in the masses of pitchblende ore available to them in the old shed that was their laboratory.

It was back-breaking work, but Marie and Pierre kept at it. Finally, they obtained a product whose radiation was four hundred times greater than that of uranium! Marie called the new element Polonium, after her beloved native Poland. Later, they isolated their famous element radium — nine hundred times as active as uranium!

Pierre’s brilliant career was cut short by his tragic death in 1906, but Marie went on with their courageous work alone. In 1911, she received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of radium.

True, it was Marie’s long exposure to radium and X-rays that caused her death. But out of her death came life, for radium is one of modern medicine’s greatest life-savers. The basic idealism and determination of the Curies are captured for budding scientists to ponder. Scientific language is suitable for young readers.

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