I didn't want to let Black History Month go by without mentioning this hard-hitting, beautifully-written book by Ray Anthony Shepard (whom I was lucky enough to meet at the Highlights Foundation Novel in Verse workshop in 2016).
NOW OR NEVER! 54th Massachusetts Infantry's War to End Slavery by Ray Anthony Shepard (October 2017, Calkins Creek, 144 pages, for ages 10 and up)
Synopsis (from the publisher): Here is the riveting dual biography of two little-known but extraordinary men in Civil War history: George E. Stephens and James Henry Gooding. These Union soldiers not only served in the Massachusetts 54th Infantry, the well-known black regiment, but were also war correspondents who published eyewitness reports of the battlefields. Their dispatches told the truth of their lives at camp, their intense training, and the dangers and tragedies on the battlefield. Like the other thousands of black soldiers in the regiment, they not only fought against the Confederacy and the inhumanity of slavery, but also against injustice in their own army. The regiment’s protest against unfair pay resulted in America’s first major civil rights victory -- equal pay for African American soldiers.
Why I recommend it: I learned so much from this slim volume about a little-known part of American history. Everyone should read this well-researched book, not just teens and pre-teens. Shepard doesn't hold back in telling the sometimes-gruesome, sometimes-infuriating history of the African-Americans who fought and often died for the Union.
Why did I wait until now to read a book from 2017? Ray is such a kind man, when he learned what I had been through in 2017/2018, and that I was awaiting brain surgery in 2019, he told me to hold off until I was fully recovered, saying it's a "hard and sometimes-disturbing Civil War story." I'm glad I finally read it, though. It's definitely worth it.
Bio (from Ray's website): Ray Anthony Shepard
is a grandson of a slave, a former teacher, and retired editor-in-chief of a major education publishing company., He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Education and the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he received a Martin Luther King Jr. Fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. This is his first work of creative nonfiction.
"I write to provide young readers of any age a fuller (not revisionist) picture of American slavery, a corrective history of the struggle and anguish of courageous individuals in the two-and-a-half-century assault to limit full American citizenship to African Americans by ascribing inferior physical, moral, and intellectual attributes to a set of racial features."