Discussing Segregation with Out of the Box Kids

Recent national events and our American History studies have led us to have many discussions about race, segregation and slavery with our kids.  We hadn’t discussed it much previously because I wanted them to have the historical context for the complexities around race in America.  We have raised them to enjoy diversity and global cultures and the beauty our differences bring to the world.  I also knew they would ask for the history and the whys of injustices as we talked.  All of this is why I was glad to find the book,  If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King to help guide our initial discussions of the modern history of racial tension in America

Books Help Us Have Big Discussions

If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King was written by Ellen Levine in 1994.  It is part of the “If You Lived…” series published by Scholastic.    It’s a non-fiction book for 2nd through 5th graders and is written as a series of questions and answers explaining the everyday life for both Black and White Americans in the 1960s, as well as the events that lead to desegregation around that time.  While the title includes Martin Luther King’s name, he is not a dominant figure in the events in the book.  Many other less remembered leaders are included for the important roles they played leading up to the March on Washington where Rev. King spoke.  The questions in the book address both sides of the rising tensions and politics.  

  • What was Segregation?
  • What did the government say about segregation?
  • How did people get to work or school? (during the Montgomery Bus Boycott)
  • Why did some protesters believe it was important to go to jail?
  • Did everyone agree with Martin Luther King?

The question and answer layout of this book was especially effective for teaching the complexities of the events and times.  My out of the box kids need concrete information to understand these difficult subjects.  Each question and answer chapter led to deeper discussions about how it related to our current racial discussions.  The quotes and details that were included provided insights and details that let helped us remember that both sides of the conflict were human.

Our Review

After one particular discussion one of the kids offered an insight. “It’s easy to see segregation was wrong now, but i don’t know if I would have seen it that way if I lived then.”  It is easy to judge history by our current knowledge and values. We are wise to consider what it meant within the accepted norms for that time when we judge their actions, lest we become too self-congratulatory and self-satisfied. We may have similar blind spots in our own culture today that will become equally clear with the passage of time.

We read this book over a couple of weeks as part of our family school time.  It’s only 72 pages long with many illustrations.  Our goal in adding it to our studies was not to finish it but to let it be a conversation starter for our family.  So with that in mind we read only two or three questions and answers each day.  Reading smaller passages also let us think about it more deeply between reading days.  The more frequent discussions help us better internalize and remember the lessons it was teaching us.

We Continue to Learn

As a family we continue to have discussions about the current events and injustices of race in our world.  I am glad we were able to use this book to set a foundation for our family instead of needing to wait for our history studies to reach that point.  While this book was published in 1994, it was still just as valuable to read today as when it was published.


… If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King is just one book in a series titles “If You Lived…” published by Scholastic.  The series follows the same questions and answer format for several iconic time or moments in American history.  It’s a great way to introduce students to history in an engaging way. It can be a great starting point for a unit study or special project.  Some of the other titles include “If You Sailed on the Mayflower, . . . If You Were There When They Signed the Constitution, and If You Traveled West In A Covered Wagon.  

What books do you use to introduce complex subjects like Race in your house?

Using Books to talk about Race and Segregation InsideOurNormal.com

Discussing Segregation with Out of the Box Kids
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