The Teenagers Who Changed the World

by Robin Talley, author of Lies We Tell Ourselves

This photo was taken on September 4, 1957, in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was 15-year-old Dorothy Counts’ first day of school.

Dorothy was one of just four black students entering previously all-white schools in Charlotte that day. A large number of white students, along with a group of adult white supremacists, harassed Dorothy on her way into the school. They threw rocks and trash at her, spat on her, screamed obscenities, and called her unspeakable names.

The attacks didn’t stop once she made it inside the school building, either. This photo makes that perfectly clear.

After four days at the school, Dorothy’s parents ― told by school administrators that they couldn’t promise she’d be safe there any longer ― transferred her to a new school in Pennsylvania, where the schools had already been peacefully integrated.

Today, Ms. Counts (now Ms. Count-Scroggins) is in her seventies. Deeply affected by her experience in Charlotte as a teenager, Ms. Counts-Scroggins spent her career as a child care advocate, working to support the welfare of other kids.

It was students like Dorothy Counts who inspired me to write my debut young adult novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves. The town and characters in my book are fictional, but I spent months researching the true stories behind integration. I immersed myself in memoirs, news reports, and oral histories from the astonishingly brave young people who served on the front lines of a battle that never should’ve been necessary ― the struggle to enforce the United States’ laws requiring equal educational opportunities for all students, regardless of what they looked like or who their parents were.

Sarah Dunbar, the heroine of Lies We Tell Ourselves, is a 17-year-old senior who’s one of ten black students chosen to integrate the all-white Jefferson High School in Davisburg, Virginia. She’s met with a lot of hatred, and a lot of cruelty. But she also finds hope, and even love ― and it’s in the last place she’d ever expect.

Lies We Tell Ourselves wasn’t an easy book to write ― but the stories of the real students, like Dorothy Counts, who stood tall in the face of a horror most of us can’t even imagine, were a hundred thousand times harder to endure. Their stories will always inspire me. I hope they’ll go on to inspire the next generation, too.

About Lies We Tell Ourselves:

lieswetellourselvesIn 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.

Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.

Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”

Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it.

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