In 1956, racial tensions rose in Clinton, Tenn., as 12 African-American teens became the first students to integrate the public high school. In this profound, painful, yet optimistic memoir written in various poetic forms—free verse, acrostic, ballad, ode, and more—author Jo Ann Allen Boyce shares her experiences as one of the Clinton 12, as the teens became known locally and nationally.
Insightful and articulate, Allen Boyce’s poetry strips away the layers of white civility that had kept racial tensions at bay until desegregation was mandated by law. She reveals the hatred and murderous intentions of many of the townspeople, out-of-town agitators, and the Ku Klux Klan when the teens (and their parents) dared to cross the racial divide.
Throughout Allen Boyce’s retelling of the events, her Christian faith and that of her community shines brightly. The students prayed for safety as they embarked each day down the hill from their part of town to the high school, as mobs of white people jeered and cursed them. The families of the Clinton 12 sought shelter in a church when the KKK descended on their community once again. At night, Allen Boyce and her sister prayed for safety: “In our room / Mamie and I say prayers / before bed / on our knees / on the floor. / Lord Jesus, / I pray, / please keep me safe / and my friends safe / and not let anyone harm us. / We say Amen, / and Mamie says her prayer, / which is a lot like mine. / Some nights we cry a little, / because even believers / can be afraid.”
In one particularly affecting poem, Allen Boyce shares her thoughts about their white oppressors who celebrated Thanksgiving: “Over turkey and gravy\did they give thanks / and make plans to / give grief? / Over offered prayer, / did they beseech God / and prepare to / besmirch us? / ‘In Jesus’ name,’ / did they smear our names / and scheme to / smite us?”
Written for juvenile readers, This Promise of Change is a clarion call to continue to pray for reconciliation between races and to work for social justice for all. (Bloomsbury Children's Books)