EDITORS NOTE: Sharon Robinson, daughter of iconic baseball player Jackie Robinson, has been awarded the 2020 Grateful American Book Prize for Child of the Dream, A Memoir of 1963. The book, for young readers, is her recollection of events that impacted her and her family the year Sharon turned 13 years of age. What follows is an interview with Sharon conducted by co-founder of the Prize David Bruce Smith.
David: What inspired you to write Child of the Dream?
Sharon: It was a combination of factors. I turned thirteen in 1963. That made it a landmark year, but it was also a pivotal year for the country and the Civil Rights Movement. Just think, the day after I turned thirteen George Wallace, the newly elected Governor of Alabama, proclaimed: “Segregation Today, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation forever.” I will never forget those words or the chill it sent through my body. To me, George Wallace had declared war. There were many poignant moments to follow that I felt compelled to share with children today. The Children’s Crusade in May where we witnessed kids my age marching peacefully and being thrown down, their clothes tattered by the force of fire hoses. Children singing songs of freedom as they are led to jail. My family attended The March on Washington in August and planned and hosted a jazz concert, the first of many fund raisers for the movement, at our home in Connecticut. Nineteen sixty-three was the year I began to find my voice amidst turmoil at home and in the world. Children today are being asked to stand up against bullies, racism, and poverty. I hoped to inspire them by sharing my personal story and telling it within the context of history.
David: Jackie Robinson was a multifaceted individual, the perfect protagonist for a book such as yours. Is that why you decided to write the book?
Sharon: So true…. Jackie Robinson was a great athlete, but he was also an activist, author, speaker, fundraiser for the Civil Rights Movement, son, husband, father. I was proud to share the complexity and life-long commitment of the man and delighted to provide a glimpse into how we as a family functioned during stressful times.
David: How would you describe your family?
Sharon: I would say we were a complicated and loving family. We grew up with fame and responsibility. Our parents were open and honest about race and shielded us from it at the same time. We lived in Stamford, Connecticut where my brothers and I integrated our schools and neighborhood. At the dinner table, we listened to Dad’s reports on the movement from his travels South. I was five when the Little Rock Nine called Dad while we were eating dinner. We all thought they were so brave. Yet, we did not understand how the more subtle racism in the North was affecting us. We did not share our pain with our parents. We did not even understand it until we were adults. We focused on the larger Civil Rights Movement and the need to end segregation in the Southern states. Ultimately, troubles at home forced us to be more open with each other.
David: How did you feel when you learned you had been selected to receive this year’s Grateful American Book Prize?
Sharon: David, I was absolutely thrilled! Like many, I did not love history in high school. It was an adult acquired passion. I love research and I dug deep for this book. While I had spent a couple of years researching and plotting how to tell the story, I was under heavy time constraints to meet my publishing deadlines. It was like high school and college again. Thankfully, I do well under pressure. I wanted to do this story justice and be open and honest with it at the same time. I knew that I judge a book’s impact on how children react to the story. My visits to schools, bookstores, and teacher conventions gave me a sense of the book’s success. Did I strike the right tone? The reaction to Child of the Dream: A memoir of 1963 from girls and boys was tremendous! Teachers and booksellers seemed excited and the reviews were good. When I received the call that I had won the Grateful American Book Prize, I felt so honored, proud, and deeply moved. The award recognizes the importance of encouraging kids to understand and appreciate the history of our nation. After dancing about the house, I called my mother and brother and we had a virtual celebration!