A Q&A with Judy Dodge Cummings!
Learn how Judy Dodge Cummings tackles history and makes it relevant to today’s world!
Tell us a little bit about your background in this subject and how your own history helped you create your most recent history book, Changing Laws: Politics of the Civil Rights Era.
I was weaned on history. Our family took road trips every year across the country while I was growing up, and my dad never met a historical marker he didn’t like. The stories behind these markers intrigued me. Although I didn’t major in history my first time through college, I loved studying it. When I returned to school to get a second degree, I decided to stop fighting the inevitable, and I majored in social studies with an emphasis in history.
Why did you choose to write a book on the politics of the civil rights movement?
Actually, this book was proposed by my editor, but I have written numerous books on American history and race relations. I jumped at the chance to sink my teeth into more research.
What do you enjoy most about writing activity books?
I was a high school teacher for 26 years and a firm believer in the value of project-based education. Creating lesson plans was one of my favorite parts of teaching, and writing activity books is a natural extension of that. I want to make history come alive for youth. The best way to do that is to find ways to engage them in “doing history.”
What is your favorite phase of writing a nonfiction book?
I love to research! Historical research is almost as good as a time machine. It takes you distant times and places and introduces you to people that shaped the world.
Do you only write history books? What are you working on now?
History is definitely my favorite topic to write about, either nonfiction or fiction. When I’m casting about for ideas for a new book, my mind just naturally goes into the past. I’m currently writing a middle grade historical fiction novel set in New Mexico in 1953.
If you could go back to any moment in time that you explore in this book, when would it be?
I would go back to March 21, 1965 when civil rights marchers successfully walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge out of Selma, Alabama. I would like to be marching at the front of the line, side-by-side with the leaders of the movement all the way to Montgomery. I can only imagine the elation and hope African Americans must have felt at that moment.
What do you hope readers take away from this book?
I hope readers understand what it took for African Americans to finally get their very basic rights of citizenship. The Constitution was amended in the late nineteenth century to grant Black people equality, but laws only work if they are enforced. It took decades of activism and much sacrifice by African Americans before political leaders finally acted to enforce the liberties and rights of Black citizens. And every political victory was a result of struggle and sacrifice.
Fiction vs nonfiction—which do you prefer to read? Which do you prefer to write?
I can’t go to sleep at night without reading at least a few pages of a novel, even if I have to hold my eyelids open. Fiction is my escape. As for writing, I really enjoy writing both fiction and nonfiction. They feed different parts of my brain.
Any last thoughts, insights or words of wisdom that you care to share with us?
I meet lots of people who say that they hated history when they were in school. If that’s true for you, give the subject another try. When history is told well, it reveals universal human stories. The past has meaning for the present.
Try a sample chapter from Judy’s new book!
In Changing Laws: Politics of the Civil Rights Era, middle graders explore the key legislative and judicial victories of the era that spanned from 1954 to the early 1970s, including Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, all of which couldn’t have happened without the increased activism of the times.