Rose Lee Carter is a 13 year old African American girl living in Mississippi in 1955. She spends her days picking cotton and her nights dreaming of the North, where she can have a better life. All around her, African American people are being shot, beaten, and treated poorly. When news gets out that 14 year old Emmett Till has been kidnapped and lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman just a few towns over, she is deeply affected and saddened by the injustice all around her. Midnight Without a Moon is an important historical fiction novel about the coming of age during one of the most pivotal times in American history.
Rose was thirteen years old when she was making the six mile walk to old Miss Addie’s to deliver eggs. Behind her she heard a pickup truck rattling. Revving its engine like a bull about to enter the ring, daring her to stay on the road. Rose knew it was Ricky Turner, the meanest white boy in town, driving that truck. Would he actually run her over? Rose had heard stories about him scaring black folks just for fun, but she didn’t want to find out just what he’d do. Rose went one way into the bushes, and Miss Addie’s eggs went the other. Rose wanted nothing more than to get away from this life. This horrible existence that was hers in Mississippi.
When she returned home to Papa and Ma Pearl’s house, her mother was there, along with her new husband, Mr. Pete, and his young children. Rose and her 12 year old brother Fred Lee listened quietly as Mr. Pete explained that he got a job in Chicago and they were moving up north. Up north, thought Rose, that’s where I want to go. Far away from here. But Rose and Fred Lee were not going to Chicago, they were staying in Mississippi to work on the plantation and live with their grandparents. Rose did not know such pain could be felt by a young girl. Perhaps living with her grandparents wouldn’t have been so bad if Ma Pearl wasn’t so mean. Day in and day out, Rose was mocked for having such dark skin, like midnight without a moon, Ma Pearl would say. She was swat at, whipped, and made to work long hours in the cotton fields, while her older cousin Queen was treated like royalty. Ma Pearl and Papa lived on Mr. Robinson’s land, and Rose knew they had it much better than others. However, she longed for a better life. She longed to go to school, to do more than pick cotton and milk cows.
The next day, when Mr. Robinson’s other field hand Albert and his sons, Levi and Fischer, didn’t show up for work, Rose knew something was wrong. Hallelujah, the preacher’s son and Rose’s good friend, broke the news to her: Levi had been shot and killed by a white man when he was trying to register to vote. It was happening all around her: white folks killing black folks, cruelty, injustice. Fear and sadness filled Rose’s insides. When her Aunt Belle and her fiancé Monty come to visit from St. Louis, Rose feels a glimmer of hope. Aunt Belle and Monty help the NAACP, and feel strong about equality and justice for all. Ma Pearl thinks they should all just keep their mouths shut and do as they are supposed to do, but Rose knows there is more that has to be done.
Later that summer, news travels from a few towns over. A young black boy of just 14 years old, Emmett Till, has been murdered. He was in a small grocery store and it is said that he whistled at and made inappropriate comments to the white woman who owned the store. Emmett was taken from his home in the middle of the night, beaten, shot, and dumped in the Tallahatchie River. This news shattered the town, shattered Rose. How could she live in a place where this was happening? How could this be? There was a glimmer of hope when the white men that killed Emmett Till were set to go on trial for murder. Perhaps this was the beginning of something new in Mississippi. Perhaps justice would be served. When the white men were declared not guilty after less than an hour of deliberation by 12 white jurors, Rose knew that something needed to change, and it had to be now.
Midnight Without a Moon is an incredibly important glimpse into the past, during a time when injustice and cruelty was at its height. Rose’s story is fictional and often difficult to read, but it is the reality of the African American people who lived in the South during that time, and the story of Emmett Till is true. The Civil Rights Movement that followed these horrific events brought about change and growth. However, as the United States continues to face the challenges of racism and injustice, we must not forget what others went through and that we must continue to work together for peace and equality.
**Please Note: This novel contains offensive language and mature subject matter such as teen pregnancy, physical and emotional abuse, murder, and racism. Time should be devoted to preparing students and parents in advance about these subject matters. Attention should also be paid to the southern dialect and spelling of words.**