Kid Lit Review of “Follow Chester: A College Football Team Fights Racism and Makes History” by Gloria Respress-Churchwell

Chester Pierce was born in New York in 1927. In school, he played football, basketball, and music. He became his high school’s first Black senior-class president. He got accepted to Harvard University, where he played varsity football.

In 1947, the author reports, his team was scheduled to play the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. Colleges in the South were still segregated, and the UVA coaches thought Harvard wouldn’t bring Chester to the game. But Chester’s coach pulled him aside and said, “Get ready. You’re going with us to UVA. You deserve to play.”

He was nervous, but his teammates told him, “We’re with you, Chester, no matter what.” He proposed they create a special play call for use both on and off the field. ‘“Whenever we use the play, it means we act as one,’ Chester said.” They called the play “Follow Chester!”

On the way down to UVS, the Harvard bus pulled into a service station in which the restroom sign said “Whites Only.” The author writes:

“Chester started walking towards the woods. Someone yelled, ‘Follow Chester!’ If Chester couldn’t use the bathroom, none of them would.”

When they arrived at UVA, the Virginia coach told the Harvard coach that Chester couldn’t sleep in any hotel and “he’s sure not staying here.” The team stood strong, however, and UVA finally agreed to provide housing for Chester. Similarly, at a restaurant the next morning, the whole team went in through the back of the restaurant – the “Colored Entrance.”

On game day, the stadium was full. Black fans sat in a segregated section, and many white fans booed.

UVA won the game (by 47-0), but, as the author observes:

“Chester Pierce – with confidence – made history that day. Harvard lost, but courage stood up to adversity. That was the real victory.”

In a note, the author apprises readers that after graduating from Harvard in 1948, Chester attended Harvard Medical School and became a psychiatrist. It was Chester who coined the term “microaggression,” widely used today and referring to the everyday insults and dismissals endured by people of color in the US. Some 60 years after the game, the University of Virginia awarded Chester Pierce, now Dr. Pierce, the Vivian Pinn Distinguished Lecturer Award to honor his medical achievements and his lifetime of work on health disparities.

Back matter includes the Author’s Note which gives a brief history of integration in football, facts about the Mason-Dixon Line, more information about Dr. Chester Pierce and the historic game at UVA, a bibliography, links to additional sources, and a photo of the 1947 Harvard Crimson football team.

Illustrations by Laura Freeman show her usual attention to historical detail.

Evaluation: This book for readers 6 and over may shock some who had no idea Blacks were not allowed to play football at one time, and if they did play, they were not welcome to play in the South.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Charlesbridge, 2019


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1 Response to Kid Lit Review of “Follow Chester: A College Football Team Fights Racism and Makes History” by Gloria Respress-Churchwell

  1. stacybuckeye says:

    Gage and I read this last year. I wasn’t crazy about the illustrations but loved the book.

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