Follow Chester!: A College Football Team Fights Racism and Makes History

by Gloria Respress-Churchwell (Author) Laura Freeman (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

A little known civil rights hero and college football MVP finally gets a voice in this fictional account detailing Chester Pierce's game-changing play as he became the first black college football player to compete south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

In 1947, no African American player can play at a southern school; in return, the opposing team benches a player of "equal talent." This historical fiction picture book frames a turbulent time in the civil rights era with the clever use of a football play to show race relations and teamwork. Inspired by a true story, capturing a historic defense against the Jim Crow laws of the South.

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Kirkus Reviews

This straightforward sports tale will encourage readers to face adversity head-on.

School Library Journal

Gr 1-4—Chester Pierce developed confidence during his life as he confronted various challenges. A later challenge was resisting discriminatory practices that prevented black players from playing college football in the South. In this partly fictionalized account, readers learn that Chester played for the Harvard University varsity football team. In 1947, the team was scheduled to play against the University of Virginia (UVA). Although the UVA coach expected that Chester would be left behind, the Harvard coach believed Chester deserved to play. Harvard players also supported their teammate, using a play that they called "Follow Chester." This entailed following Chester's actions and behavior when faced with the Jim Crow laws of the South. For instance, when Chester encountered a bathroom for "whites only," the entire team refused to use it, opting instead for the woods. When a restaurant barred black people from using the front entrance, the whole team entered from the back. Although Harvard did not win the game, Chester succeeded in refusing to accept racist policies and was cheered on by his fans. An author's note clearly identifies the fictionalized parts of the story, discusses the author's extensive research which included an interview with Dr. Pierce, and includes a photograph of the Harvard Crimson football team of 1947. VERDICT This is a well-told, well-researched story, but readers need to be aware of the fictionalized parts. The book not only shows the challenges Chester Pierce faced, it shows how people can work together to combat discrimination.—Myra Zarnowski, City University of New York

Copyright 2019 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Gloria Respress-Churchwell
Gloria Respress-Churchwell has an MFA in writing for children from Simmons College and has produced and directed documentaries at the Nashville Film Festival including award-winner The Life of Robert Churchwell: The Jackie Robinson of Journalism and From Sag to Swag: The Power of Dress. She is a co-contributor of the Robert Churchwell Journalism Collection to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Laura Freeman has illustrated more than twenty children's books, including Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, the Nikki & Deja series by Karen English, and Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal. Her art can be found on a wide range of products, from dishes to textiles to greeting cards. Laura is originally from New York City and now lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Charlesbridge Publishing
Publication date
September 20, 2019
BISAC categories
JUV016150 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | United States - 20th Century
JUV039120 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Prejudice & Racism
JUV032020 - Juvenile Fiction | Sports & Recreation | Basketball
JUV032030 - Juvenile Fiction | Sports & Recreation | Football
Library of Congress categories
United States
Social aspects
Discrimination in sports
Football players
College sports
Harvard University
Pierce, Chester M
Racism in sports

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