“Retrospect is a place where truth lives guilt-free.”
In stunning verse and vivid use of white space, Erica Martin’s debut poetry collection walks readers through the Civil Rights Movement—from the well-documented events that shaped the nation’s treatment of Black people, beginning with the “Separate but Equal” ruling—and introduces lesser-known figures and moments that were just as crucial to the Movement and our nation’s centuries-long fight for justice and equality.
A poignant, powerful, all-too-timely collection that is both a vital history lesson and much-needed conversation starter in our modern world. Complete with historical photographs, author’s note, chronology of events, research, and sources.
Notice: thank you to Penguin Teen for sending an advanced reader’s copy of this book through the Penguin Teen Partner Program. This does not affect my opinion.
In just 160 pages, Erica Martin opened my eyes to more horrors of the Civil Rights Era than I was previously able to recount. In compelling verse, Martin explores the names, faces, and cases of black people everywhere who fought for the right to exist. From forgotten instances such as Claudette Colvin, who was the first black girl who refused to give up her seat on the bus, to people whose death sparked year-long riots, such as Matthew Johnson.
I found myself Googling the events the book referenced that I had never heard of. The Negro Boys Industrial School Fire of 1959, where 21 black boys burned to death in a “mysterious” fire that no one was ever held accountable for starting. The 13 Freedom Riders and the then near-death of the beloved late John Lewis in 1961. The murder of four black girls—school-aged children—by the KKK in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963.
This book covered so many events that I didn’t know about. And if I dare to speak honestly, events that I probably wouldn’t have had the heart to discover otherwise. And this, I think, is the entire goal of the book: to will Americans of all backgrounds to acknowledge the injustices of the past.
“We forget to remember the true horrors of our past.”
The other major takeaway I think this book wants to convey is the de-emphasis and playing down of the past. Erica Martin urges us to remember just how egregious and ubiquitous racism once was in this country, despite the language we use to talk about racism is increasingly milder. The grating truth is that black people were once enslaved, beaten, bombed, berated, and murdered in various ways simply for existing.
“There is no difference between you and I except you get to live and I get to die trying.”
In all, And We Rise is a powerfully short recounting of America’s past grievances on black people. This is not to say that racism against blacks is an archaic event of the past, as it still thrives in subsets of the population today. This is also not to say that American racism was/is solely against blacks, and we must acknowledge the horrors and oppression of other minority races in this country of both past and present as well. And We Rise is a starting point but not an endpoint. I encourage you to continue engaging with and learning about uncomfortable truths so that history does not repeat itself.
Staying Engaged Resources
I have a folder deep in my bookmarks bar of Google called “Things I’ve Never Forgotten.” In this folder, I save the links to the most impactful videos/articles I’ve come across in my life so far. This video is one of them. This is a 3-minute slam poem performed by three students of the 2014 Brave New Voices Finals Round titled “Somewhere in America.” It is relevant to the topics covered in And We Rise, and will let it speak for itself. Warning: it is graphic, but well worth the listen.