The Cart That Carried Martin

The Cart That Carried Martin

  • 1695

By: Eve Bunting / Illustrated by: Don Tate

The cart that carried greatness.

The strength and spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. permeates this picture book about the funeral of Dr. King in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1968. Quiet, yet affecting, The Cart That Carried Martin is a unique tribute to the life of a man known worldwide for his outstanding efforts as a leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

Eve Bunting focuses on the funeral procession of Dr. King, beginning with the two men who found the cart to carry him through the streets of Atlanta. After painting it green, the men hitch two mules named Belle and Ada to the cart where Dr. King’s coffin is placed. Tens of thousands of mourners gather to pay their respects and sing songs of hope as the cart makes its way to Ebenezer Baptist Church and then past the Georgia state capitol to Morehouse College.

Bunting’s thoughtful, well-chosen words, coupled with Don Tate’s soft colors provide the reader with a sense of hope and reverence, rather than the grief and despair one might expect.

Back matter includes a brief introduction to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work, assassination, and funeral and is accompanied by a full-color historical photograph of the real cart.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Eve Bunting, author

Eve Bunting has written more than two hundred books for young readers, including The Baby Shower, The Wedding, and Smoky Night, the winner of the 1995 Caldecott Medal. Born in Ireland, she now lives in California.

Read more about Eve Bunting.

Don Tate, illustrator

Don Tate is the award-winning illustrator of numerous books for children, including Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, Ron’s Big Mission, and Black All Around. He is the author of It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, for which he received the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Award. Don lives in Austin, Texas.

Read more about Don.

Awards & Honors:


  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
  • Bulletin Blue Ribbon from the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
  • Booklist Top 10 Black History Books for Youth
  • IRA Teachers' Choices Winner


Editorial Reviews:

Booklist, starred review

Short on text but long on symbolic meaning and emotional impact, this offers up something far different than a typical biography, with its stunning recollection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral procession through Atlanta. The caisson that carried King’s body was a simple wooden cart “borrowed” from a closed antique store, hastily painted, and attached to two young mules. Disarming in its ordinariness, this cart carried King for three miles, winding its way through the streets of Atlanta to Ebenezer Baptist Church, past the Georgia State Capitol building, where onlookers sang “We Shall Overcome,” and on to the quad at Morehouse College. Tate’s watercolors take on an ever-wider scope as the crowd of mourners swells, but they’re worthy of careful attention, too, as details of King’s life and work are alluded to throughout. They perfectly complement Bunting’s straightforward but elegant narrative; together, they support quite a bit of symbolism while maintaining a strong sense of realism. This inspired title could be the impetus for countless important discussions about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, both of which began small but grew into remarkable historical forces.

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review

The slat-sided, wooden-wheeled wagon had stood outside the Atlanta antique store for some time waiting for a taker. On the day two prospective buyers arrive, however, nobody is around to sell it to them. They "borrow" the wagon anyway and paint it green, noting that "he would like that." Two mules are hitched up, recalling the old emancipation promise of "a mule and forty acres." Crowds pack the streets outside the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and when the service is over, a wooden casket is loaded onto the cart. It rolls through Atlanta to Morehouse College, where a second funeral service takes place. Only then is the casket placed into a modern hearse that will carry it to interment. The wooden cart is returned to the antique store, but now it is a revered artifact, sought by many, sold to the King family, and finally installed at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Bunting offers her account of Rev. King's funeral procession with the assumption that listeners already know the deceased, and viewers then enter the morning's rituals with the reverent curiosity of a child who senses that something momentous has just transpired. Tate's line and watercolor illustrations augment that feeling, as he captures in a few deft details the faces of King's followers who are variously saddened, stunned, or numb. It is clear that everyone knows who has passed and King's name is never spoken, making the grief that much more palpable: "The cart was not heavy. The coffin was not heavy. The man inside was not heavy. His great spirit had been the heaviest part of him. It could not be kept in a coffin." A photograph and brief note are appended.

Kirkus Reviews

An old, unwanted cart becomes part of Dr. Martin Luther King's funeral procession.

Two men borrow the cart from an antiques store and paint it green, the color of freshly watered grass. They take it to the Ebenezer Baptist Church and hitch two mules to it. Outside the church, crowds gather, while inside, the pews are filled with a weeping congregation. Slowly, the mules pull the cart carrying Dr. King's coffin through the streets of Atlanta to Morehouse College for a second service. The cart, its day's journey completed, is now part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Bunting uses simple declarative sentences to capture the sorrow of the day and the message that King's followers were intent upon proclaiming--his greatness came from humble beginnings. The mules, Belle and Ada, were a reminder that upon freedom, slaves were given forty acres and a mule. Tate's pencil-and-gouache artwork plays up the details of the cart and the two mules while depicting the crowds of mourners less distinctly. Adults looking for a title to share with young readers will find this helpful in imparting the emotions raised by King's assassination.

An affecting snapshot of a tragic day.

Publishers Weekly

Bunting’s (Have You Seen My New Blue Socks?) impressionistic, dramatic recreation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral procession covers much of the same ground as Belle, The Last Mule at Gee’s Bend by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud (2011). In clipped prose, Bunting writes of the weather-beaten farm cart borrowed for the job ("Its paint had faded.... Nobody wanted it") and of the thousands who came out to pay final respects: "The church throbbed with the sounds of singing. The songs were not sad, but there was a terrible sadness in them anyway." Tate’s (Hope’s Gift) loose pencil and gouache art balances emotionally charged close-up images of mourners with broader scenes in which crowds flank the mule-drawn cart on its journey through Atlanta. In a birds-eye view of the scene at King’s alma mater, Morehouse College, a vast, gray sea of people fills the school’s quadrangle for a second memorial service. The final pages reveal the cart’s current home and further emphasize the humility of a vehicle "that, not so long ago, carried greatness."

School Library Journal

Bunting's quietly sorrowful prose is rather like free-verse poetry, maximizing the power of the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral with minimal language. This event needs no adornment; from the soaring hymns sung in Ebenezer Baptist Church to the size of the crowds along the procession route to the humble farm cart that carried King's body, the details of the day speak forcefully to the impact of this man on society. Bunting focuses in particular on the rough-hewn cart, borrowed from a junk store and given a coat of green paint for the procession from the church to Morehouse College. The cart was hitched to a pair of mules and guided through the streets of Atlanta, carrying the civil rights leader's body past thousands of mourners, whose hushed reverence is echoed in Bunting's sparing, soft narrative. Tate also employs a quietness in his artwork. Whereas bold colors would suit a book about King's activism, the soft wash of the illustrations is appropriate to his silenced voice and the stillness of his grieving followers. This beautiful presentation, centered on a humble detail, is a gentle, stirring introduction to what Martin Luther King, Jr.-and his loss-signified.

The New York Times

There are many books about Martin Luther King Jr. for reading aloud with children in celebration of his birthday on Jan. 15, including picture-book biographies like "Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.," by Doreen Rappaport, with illustrations by Bryan Collier, published in 2001. But the trend for looking at big events through the prism of small things ("The Civil War in 50 Objects," "A History of the World in 100 Objects") is particularly attractive for children, who may have an easier time understanding the parts than the whole.

"The Cart That Carried Martin," by Eve Bunting, with illustrations by Don Tate, and "We Shall Overcome," by Debbie Levy, with illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, take this approach, telling the story of the day of King’s funeral through the mule-drawn wagon that carried his coffin, and the story of the civil rights movement through a popular song.

Even adult readers may not know that Martin Luther King’s body was carried from Ebenezer Baptist Church "through the streets of Atlanta, past the Georgia State Capitol" to Morehouse College on a battered old wagon borrowed from an antiques shop. In an author’s note, Bunting writes that she first learned about the wagon in an article by Jim Auchmutey in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Bunting’s suspicion that the tale would make a good book for children proves to be accurate.

Though her narrative — following the cart from the shop to its current home at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic site — has a simple trajectory, Bunting’s writing brings out the emotional weight of the day: "The cart was not heavy. The coffin was not heavy. The man inside it was not heavy. His great spirit had been the heaviest part of him. It could not be kept in a coffin." Later, someone standing on the street asks, "Is it over?" And the response is: "It will never be over. . . . What he stands for lives on."

Along the route to Morehouse College, people sang "We Shall Overcome," and that song, so closely identified with the civil rights movement, receives its own history in Levy’s book of the same name, which traces its powerful, inspiring message back to the slaves who "suffered, yet they sang — to soothe the hurt, to fight the cruelty, to declare that — yes! — they were human beings."

As protesters for the rights of African-Americans brought the church song "I Will Overcome" to the streets, Levy writes, the words changed slightly, to "We Will Overcome" and eventually to "We Shall Overcome." Brantley-Newton’s cheerfully colored illustrations go on to represent the populations that have sought strength from the song in places as distant as South Korea, the Middle East and South America. For readers ready for the hard facts, Levy includes a timeline with notable dates when the song was sung, including Sept. 23, 2001, when the Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem sang it in remembrance of the victims of the events of Sept. 11. It’s a nice touch, reminding readers that "We Shall Overcome" still has plenty of work to do.


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ISBN: 978-1-58089-387-9

E-book PDF
ISBN: 978-1-60734-601-2
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Ages: 6-9
Page count: 32
10 1/2 x 9 1/2

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