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  • A Long Time Coming: A Lyrical Biography of Race in America from Ona Judge to Barack Obama

A Long Time Coming: A Lyrical Biography of Race in America from Ona Judge to Barack Obama

a long time coming barnes and noble

This YA biography-in-verse of six important Black Americans from different eras, including Ona Judge, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack Obama, chronicles the diverse ways each fought racism and shows how much—and how little—has changed for Black Americans since our country’s founding.

Full of daring escapes, deep emotion, and subtle lessons on how racism operates, A LONG TIME COMING reveals the universal importance of its subjects’ struggles for justice. From freedom seeker Ona Judge, who fled her enslavement by America’s first president, to Barack Obama, the first Black president, all of Shepard’s protagonists fight valiantly for justice for themselves and all Black Americans in any way that they can. But it is also a highly personal book, as Shepard — whose maternal grandfather was enslaved — shows how the grand sweep of history has touched his life, reflecting on how much progress has been made against racism, while also exhorting readers to complete the vast work that remains to be done.

336 pages                         978-1662680663                                   Ages 12-15

Keywords: African American and Black nonfiction, biography, African American author, American history, African American history, Social Studies Curriculum, prejudice and racism, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old

********* “You should see what a lovely, lovely world this'd be

Everyone learned to live together, ah hah

Seems to me such an itty bitty thing should be

Why can't you and me learn to love one another?

All the world over, so easy to see

People everywhere just wanna be free (wanna be free)

I can't understand it, so simple to me

People everywhere just got to be free”

– Edward Brigati/Felix Cavaliere (1969)


Why there were the unfreed

in the land of the free?

Why seven hundred and fifty thousand

soldiers--White, Black, Union,

Confederate--died to keep

or free the unfreed?

Why a decade later the freed

were once again unfreed?

Why a century later

civil rights civilians--

Black, White, southerners,


freeing the unfreed once again?

Or wonder why

we separate, perpetuate, and

hyphenate some Americans

as if the hyphen means

more or less American?”

A LONG TIME COMING is a unique, nonfiction book for young people that introduces the history of race relations in America. Stellar and stunning, it is a story told through nonfiction prose poetry. Over and over, It brings realness to the history of race and racism by delving into the lives and times of six iconic Black American history makers who, like every Black American of his or her respective time, had to put up with the…err...racist nonsense that far too many Black Americans have had to endure and continue to endure today. This notable and powerful piece of children’s literature is thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking.

The publisher is recommending a readership of 12 and up. I, myself, would additionally recommend it for tweens, and I will be sharing this with my ten-year-old grandson immediately.

(Of course, in Florida, this book will, likely, be immediately banned from school libraries.)




Too many of America’s enslaved

wanted to breathe freedom’s air,

ran north for a fresher breeze.

Too many slaveowners became alarmed,

demanded all windows be shut.

Congress agreed, as did the President

who had lost a slave or two

during the Revolutionary War.

He signed the Fugitive Slave Act,

made runaway slaves outlaws!

If Ona escaped, the Washingtons

had a stronger law to grab her back.




Ona, thought to be twenty-one,

was surprised by the President’s generosity.

He sent her to Mount Vernon twice a year

to see her mother Betty who was further

bent and spent by slavery’s endless days.

Free Blacks pulled her aside,

whispered, don’t be fooled.

Pennsylvania law set a slave free

if they were twenty-one and kept

in the state six consecutive months.

George Washington sent her back

to restart her slavery clock.”

George Washington undoubtedly deserves praise for being a legendary military tactician and commander. But as a human being who chose to be a slaveholder, he was clearly an [expletive deleted]. Like me, some readers may well get through the first chapter of A LONG TIME COMING and have a similar urge to go piss on the Founding Father’s tomb.

But, I say, hold your fire, and aim it, instead, in the direction of those who, 250 years later, are still hatching schemes to deprive Black Americans of equal access to housing, to education, to voting rights, and to justice. Aim it at those who were so incensed at having a Black man in the White House for eight years, that they joined up to actually install Donald Trump, an ignorant, self-absorbed, and inhumane bully, who was no further evolved than Washington the slaveholder.

My generation came of age during the modern Civil Rights Movement, but there was just so far that racist America, particularly the states that constituted the Confederacy, were willing to let things go. When the Senator from Tennessee blocked the first Black President’s opportunity to fill a Supreme Court seat, it was the same old same old stemming from the rotten deal made back in Constitution Hall to accept Southern slavery.

And that’s why this book is badly needed today. Those white supremacists who were part and parcel of the January 6th Insurrection are part of the network that has done their best to gerrymander the states and interfere with Black voters, in order to once again subjugate Black America.

Whose side are you on? I urge parents, relatives, teachers and librarians to go out of your way to get this one-of-a-kind historical read into the hands of tweens and teens. The real American history, so well-presented here, is the sort of book that can really make a difference in the lives and futures of young Black Americans and young white Americans alike.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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