Author Interview With Civil Rights Activist Doreen Rappaport

To continue our mini-blog series over MLK’s 50th anniversary of “I Have A Dream,” today, we are featuring a quick Q&A with author and civil rights activist Doreen Rappaport. A writer of many critically acclaimed children’s books, such as Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr., she is best known for books that celebrate multiculturalism and the stories of those she calls the ‘not-yet-celebrated.’
doreen rappaport
Having recently used her book, Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller, as the inspiration for our program at CS 21, in which students learned how to write their own biographies of beloved figures in history, we feel fortunate today to have the opportunity to share a little bit more about Doreen Rappaport, and the experiences in her life that prompted her desire to empower children through history.
helen's big world

                              (Student reading biography to Mrs. Rappaport)

1.) In 1965, you went to McComb, Mississippi to teach in a Freedom School. Are there any prominent memories you have which explain this shift in your life?

It wasn’t a shift in my life. It was a natural progression from my background. I am Jewish. Before I went to Mississippi, I was very aware of anti-Semitism, not just Hitler’s campaign and extermination of the Jews, but of prejudice in the United States against Jews and other minority groups, including women. My father felt it necessary to change his name when he tried to break into the music field, thinking that Rappaport was too Jewish. And at that time, he was probably right. I also had been teaching music in junior high schools in a variety of communities and was beginning to learn more of the “real” history of the United States. In McComb, I did voter registration. We went to visit people in their homes. We visited sharecropper shacks. I remember being welcomed in a black home, talking to the man and woman about going down to register at the courthouse, and being aware that I was asking them to risk everything–possibly losing their rental parcel of agricultural land and their lodgings– by doing this. I also knew their home could be shot into. They might be shot. The fragility of their lives versus the ease of my life was overwhelming.

2.) On your website, you say: “I want to write stories that empower kids to know that other people empowered themselves.”

Can you tell us about a time when you felt that a student truly took the message to heart?

A kindergarten girl raised her hand after we had been discussing my book, Martin’s Big Words. She asked, “If he’s called Martin Luther King, why isn’t his wife called Coretta Scott Queen.” It was not only a delicious comment by a five year old, but it sparked a conversation on women’s equality with men, and those kindergarten girls had lots to say about what they were going to do “when they grew up.”

With the publication of my book, Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust, I have received many emails from Jewish children thanking me for writing this book and uncovering these “heroes.” They didn’t know that there was so much resistance by Jews during the Holocaust and they felt proud to learn this.

3.) Out of all the books you have published, and had the ability to share with the youth in America, which has been the one that has stuck out the most to you in terms of meaning and content?

I don’t have a favorite book. I am proud of all of these books. When I go into predominantly black communities,I feel great when kids respond to my black trilogy, tracing black resistance from the kidnappings in Africa through the monumental modern civil rights movement. I see the pride that the children take in learning about slave resistance, about Ida B. Wells refusing to move from her seat, facing down the train conductor, and being so vehement, she had to be carried off the train. I see children respond to the Montgomery bus boycott realizing that kids their age, and YOUNGER, walked to school and church and their friends’ houses for over a year in all kinds of weather. Eleanor Roosevelt’s struggle in overcoming not just her unhappy childhood but the limited vision presented to her as a woman in the early 20th century reminds me of my own struggle in the 50s and 60s to wrest free from destructive stereotypes of how women should behave.

Thanks again to Ms. Rappaport for sharing with all of us a little more about the person behind her many books. We are grateful to her not only for her continued support and participation in our programs, but also for providing books that continue to help BtB achieve our mission. For more information about Doreen Rappaport, check her out on her website.


One thought on “Author Interview With Civil Rights Activist Doreen Rappaport

  1. This is great…

    a few things…

    It’s a little confusing to have both the q’s & parts of the answer bold…

    Can you take out the exclamation point after Skype. I prefer to save them for something spectacular…

    The first answer doesn’t follow the format of the others…can you add a space between Q & A?

    I’m assuming the pic of Doreen on the screen is the best we have of the Skype session. If not, she’d be happier with a better one…

    The last sentence needs a word or two…check out more on her web site or something like that.


    Another author you might want to interview at some point is Isabel Hill. She’s a filmmaker & writer about Brooklyn & we use her books in second grade…


    Let me know when it’s up & I’ll send it to all the related parties…tks.

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