Review: Color Me Dark

Color Me Dark: The Diary of Nellie Lee Love, the Great Migration North, Chicago, Illinois, 1919 (Dear America)Color Me Dark
by Patricia C. McKissack

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Color Me Dark (North Migration) / 0-590-51159-9

The year is 1919, and African-American soldiers are finally returning home from the war. These brave, strong, patriotic young men are, however, increasingly not reaching their homes, but are rather turning up dead in suspicious circumstances - circumstances that the white authorities consistently rule as accidental, despite all evidence and eye-witness to the contrary. After her uncle is murdered for being a soldier, and her brother is too frightened to come home for the same reason, Nellie's family decides to move to Chicago, a land of freedom and opportunity, even for blacks. Nellie finds, however, that while she learns to love Chicago, she also must accept that the same problems exist here as they did back home.

"Color Me Dark" is a wonderful lesson in self-esteem and self-love for adults and children alike. Nellie scoffs at the pervasive idea that "lighter is prettier" and though she is repeatedly praised for being "light enough to pass" as white, she turns up her nose at the idea and tells her peers to "color me black" - to count her as black and dark as her family and her dear sister. Nellie loves dark skin, curly hair, and her own beautiful heritage and is never ashamed of herself or her family. She also recognizes that people are complicated creatures - some blacks are cruel to her, some whites are kind, and some people (regardless of color) can be both cruel AND kind. So, too, does each person have hidden talents - Nellie, for instance, is a whiz at math and fills her diary with fascinating math equations on the "three nineteen" dates - the 19th days within the year 1919.

For parents, a great deal of the history of this period is sad and disturbing. Nellie's uncle is beaten and left on a railroad track to die. Her friend accidentally drifts over to the "white side" of the swimming lake and is deliberately drowned. Race riots occur and lives are lost when the young boy's death is ruled 'accidental' ("drowning by fear"). However, through all this brutality, Nellie and her sister maintain a positive attitude, seeking the good in the people around them and looking forward to a time when they can live and work in peace and harmony, proud to be the color they were born with.

~ Ana Mardoll

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