May 9, 2016

Shipwreck survivor

A Change of Heart
by Alice Walsh
art by Erin Bennett Banks

Lanier Phillips grew up in segregated Georgia, where persecution by the Ku Klux Klan was an almost daily occurrence. At eighteen, he enlisted in the US Navy, hoping to escape from the racial violence. But things were no better; black sailors were not allowed in combat positions, instead they worked as mess attendants, cleaning up after the white crew. When the ship he was on, the USS Truxton, ran aground off the coast of Newfoundland during a violent storm, Lanier was the only black survivor. 

Lanier was rescued by the people of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland. The care he received from them had a profound affect on him. It was the first time that he had been touched and treated respectfully by whites. It changed his life forever.

A Change of Heart describes Lanier's life-altering moment in a sympathetic, non-frightening way that is suitable for ages seven and up. An afterword provides a brief synopsis of Lanier's life and the accolades he went on to receive.

An uplifting story of kindness and humanity.

Life Lines: The Lanier Phillips Story
by Christine Welldon

The Truxton was not the only ship in peril that day. The USS Pollux, also caught in the same storm, was aground too. The Pollux survivors were rescued by the people of Lawn, Newfoundland, and of St. Lawrence, who came to assist after their rescue of the Truxton.  Welldon's account of the perilous rescues are dramatic and frightening, as are her more detailed depiction of the racial hatred Phillips experienced at that time. That racism existed far beyond U.S. borders is disturbingly portrayed when the other black sailors chose to die on the Truxton rather then risk being lynched on land. Not knowing their location, they had thought the land was Iceland, which did not allow black or Jewish men on their shores. So it was no wonder that Phillips felt resentment and hatred for white men. But after his rescue, he was able to let go of his hatred and find peace.

Lanier Phillips would still experience racism, but he would be able to hold his head high and find success as a civil rights activist. His journey is well told in Welldon's competent biography, as are her depictions of the people of Newfoundland. Their stories are inspiring and a testament to the power of compassion.

An excellent book.

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