Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Image of Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Release Date: 
July 13, 2015
Schwartz & Wade
Reviewed by: 

"A very old woman stands at the bottom of a very steep hill. It's Voting Day, she's an American, and by God, she is going to vote. Lillian is her name."

So begins the literal and metaphorical climb of a hundred-year-old woman who recaptures the seminal movements of voting rights from the days they did not exist right up to the voter ID laws of today which restrict certain segments of the population from voting. As the author notes, back in the late 1700s, hardly any Americans except rich white male property owners had the right to vote. "Women, African Ameriucans, Native Americans, and poor white men were excluded from the most important expression of democracy and equality."

Lillian goes through the important personal events in her life that lead to the right she is determined to exercise. She remembers her great-great grandparents holding their child as they stand on an auction block. Ground zero for Lillian. Then she conjures her great-grandpa, the child of the slaves on the auction block, who did not have the right "to do much at all—until after the Civil War, which will end slavery." Then the 15th Amendment is passed, giving American citizens the right to vote—if they are men.

Just 20 years later, the advent of illegal poll taxes prevent many from exercising their voting rights. In 1920 the right to vote is accorded women, who often had to bypass angry mobs who chased them away from voting sites. Burning crosses, mobs, written tests on the US Constitution, and even death are faced by those wishing to exercise their right to vote.

Through several marches from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Lillian finally sees "Martin Luther King, John Lewis [activist], rabbis, priests, and 25,000 others. . . . She can hear Reverend King asking how long they will have to wait for justice. She can feel the power of his voice when he says, 'Not long.'" The long wait comes to an end on August 6, 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act.

But Lillian does not stop there in the story. She still has her walk to complete. Her walk to the voting booth. The illustrations by Shane W. Evans really give the book its energy. From the shadow outlines of the enslaved relatives from long ago to the line of people leading up to Dr. King as he prays for the right to vote as Lillian walks above the curve of their heads, to the close-up depictions of Lillian herself, the images are what imbue this book with personality.

A stellar addition to libraries, classroom, and personal collections of nonfiction historical accounts of the moments in American history that ought never be forgotten.