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.
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 YorkCopyright 2019 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.