We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March

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Overview

In 1963, the Civil Rights movement was falling apart. After a series of setbacks across the south, the movement was losing direction and momentum. No southern city was more divided than Birmingham, Alabama, home of the infamous Bull Connor. Dr. Martin Luther King conceived an ingenious plan: fill the Birmingham jails by arranging a series of public protests at which participants would be arrested as a result of their nonviolent action, paralyzing the city and drawing national and world attention to the horrors ...

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Overview

In 1963, the Civil Rights movement was falling apart. After a series of setbacks across the south, the movement was losing direction and momentum. No southern city was more divided than Birmingham, Alabama, home of the infamous Bull Connor. Dr. Martin Luther King conceived an ingenious plan: fill the Birmingham jails by arranging a series of public protests at which participants would be arrested as a result of their nonviolent action, paralyzing the city and drawing national and world attention to the horrors and injustices of segregation. But the stakes were too high for much adult participant in the movement—job loss, jailing, and quite possibly even death. Instead, against Dr. King's better judgment, young people led the protests.

Through the experiences of four of the original participants, We Have a Job tells the little-known story of the 4,000 black students who voluntarily went to jail between May 2 and May 11, 1963. Fulfilling Mahatma Gandhi's and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s precept to "fill the jails," they succeeded in desegregating one of the most racially violent cities in America.

A 2013 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist
A 2013 Orbis Pictus Honor Book for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children
A 2012 Parents' Choice Award for Nonfiction

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This chronicle of a pivotal chapter of the civil rights movement weaves together the stories of four black children in Birmingham, Ala., who were among some 4,000 who boycotted school to participate in a march to protest segregation. Before recounting that event, during which almost 2,500 young people were arrested and jailed, first-time author Levinson opens with intimate profiles of the four spotlighted children (drawn from interviews she conducted with each of them), along with descriptions of Birmingham’s racist laws, corrupt politicians, antiblack sentiment—and activists’ efforts to fight all of the above. Readers also get an up-close view of such leaders as Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights; Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who advocated a nonviolent response; and James Bevel, a preacher who rallied the city’s children and teens. Yet the most compelling component is Levinson’s dramatic re-creation of the courageous children’s crusade and the change it helped bring about in the face of widespread prejudice and brutality. Powerful period photos and topical sidebars heighten the story’s impact. Ages 10–up. Agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Feb.)
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
If you have ever doubted that one person can make a difference then Levinson's book will certainly convince readers that they and others who are like-minded can make changes in the world. It really is sad that so little of the details of American history are taught in our schools. Yes, we hear about the Civil Rights Movement and the National Voting Rights Act and sometimes about significant Supreme Court cases such as Plessy versus Ferguson, but it is all so abstract. Levinson has succeeded in bringing the tumultuous times in Birmingham and the 1963 Birmingham Children's March down to a personal level that is truly riveting. What really happened to the four students featured in the book and thousands of other children was really unknown by this reviewer. Yes, I had heard of the marches, the brutality of the police force and the bombing at the Sixteenth Baptist Church and other deaths, but it was always a bit abstract. Reading this book—you are there, you feel the frustration of the leaders like Fred Shuttleworth and Martin Luther King Jr. You realize that there were struggles within the black community as to the best way to achieve their goal of freedom and full integration and the fear and ambivalence of moderate whites. It also shows how many other black leaders were involved and how important their roles were in sustaining the movement. Could I as a teenager have ever done what Audrey, Wash, James, and Arnetta did? I am not so sure that I would have been brave enough. This is a book that every student should read. It is also a book that should make African Americas of today realize what it took to achieve what they take for granted—freedom to go to integrated public schools, enter any public place or conveyance, work anywhere, and live anywhere they choose. These freedoms were won at a great price as the details of these struggles in Birmingham reveal and they should not be squandered. The photographs, layout with subheadings, and call outs to emphasize a point or put things in perspective all help make this rich text eminently readable. For those undertaking research there are extensive source notes, a bibliography and a very detailed index. A must have for a school or classroom library. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
ALAN Review - Barbara A. Ward
This book describes the pivotal role of youth in keeping the 1963 campaign for civil rights alive through the voices of four participants: Audrey Hendricks, 9; Wash Booker, 14; Arnetta Streeter, 16; and James Stewart, 15. While readers will find the names of well-known civil rights leaders in the book's 15 chapters, the children and teens are the stars here, brave enough to face violence on the streets of Birmingham and to volunteer to be arrested. Because so many young protesters were arrested as they marched through the city's streets, its jails overflowed, and law enforcement officials couldn't keep up with the mass onslaught. Accompanied by large archival photographs, the book features honest and raw narratives recalling the hope and determination of those times, a vivid reminder of the impact on change even the youngest may have. There is much food for thought here about events from almost 50 years ago. Reviewer: Barbara A. Ward
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—This photo-essay stands out for its engrossing content, excellent composition, and riveting use of primary-source material. Covering the history of the Birmingham Children's March from inception to full impact, Levinson traces the stories of four young people between the ages of 9 and 15 in 1963. Audrey Hendricks, Washington Booker III, Arnetta Streeter, and James Stewart came from very different segments of the city's black community, but all risked their lives and spent time in jail to fight for their freedom. Tracing their different routes to activism and melding it beautifully into the larger history of race relations in Birmingham and in the American South, the author creates a multidimensional picture of the times and the forces at work. Interviews with the four principals, one of whom died in 2009, give the narrative power and immediacy. Reproductions of period photos, notices, and documents provide additional insight. The map of downtown Birmingham, with locations mentioned in the text delineated, is a great help in placing both photos and text in a landscape. With a helpful list of abbreviations, excellent source notes, photo credits, a fine bibliography, and a comprehensive index, this a great research source, but it's also just plain thought-provoking reading about a time that was both sobering and stirring. Recommended for middle and high school library collections to stand together with Charlayne Hunter-Gault's To the Mountaintop (Roaring Brook, 2012), Ann Bausum's Marching to the Mountaintop (National Geographic, 2012), and Larry Dane Brimner's Black & White: The Confrontation Between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene "Bull" Connor (Boyds Mills, 2011).—Ann Welton, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA
Kirkus Reviews
Triumph and tragedy in 1963 "Bombingham," as children and teens pick up the flagging Civil Rights movement and give it a swift kick in the pants. Levinson builds her dramatic account around the experiences of four young arrestees—including a 9-year-old, two teenage activists trained in nonviolent methods and a high-school dropout who was anything but nonviolent. She opens by mapping out the segregated society of Birmingham and the internal conflicts and low levels of adult participation that threatened to bring the planned jail-filling marches dubbed "Project C" (for "confrontation"), and by extension the entire civil-rights campaign in the South, to a standstill. Until, that is, a mass exodus from the city's black high schools (plainly motivated, at least at first, almost as much by the chance to get out of school as by any social cause) at the beginning of May put thousands of young people on the streets and in the way of police dogs, fire hoses and other abuses before a national audience. The author takes her inspiring tale of courage in the face of both irrational racial hatred and adult foot-dragging (on both sides) through the ensuing riots and the electrifying September bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, then brings later lives of her central participants up to date. A moving record of young people rising at a pivotal historical moment, based on original interviews and archival research as well as published sources. (photos, timeline, endnotes, multimedia resource lists) (Nonfiction. 11-15)
Pamela Paul
…[a] riveting, significant work of nonfiction.
—The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781561456277
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, Ltd.
  • Publication date: 3/1/2012
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 67,251
  • Age range: 10 - 15 Years
  • Lexile: 1020L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Cynthia Levinson interviewed dozens of participants in the Birmingham Children's March and spent four years researching and writing We've Got a Job to share their stories. A former teacher and educational policy consultant and researcher, she has also published articles in Appleseeds, Calliope, Dig, Faces, and Odyssey. She divides her time between Texas and Massachusetts.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 14, 2014

    Cynthia Levinson¿s We¿ve Got a job: The 1963 Birmingham Children

    Cynthia Levinson’s We’ve Got a job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March was a fascinating book to read. From the very beginning when Audrey said, “I want to go to jail”, I was immediately pulled in. At that point questions fled my mind, why would a nine year WANT to go to jail and why would her parents help her do so? Why was her teacher proud of her for going to jail? These were questions that captured my interest and kept me reading. I enjoyed the way that the book was written as a type of interview. It really made the story come alive to read direct quotes from the perspectives of, not just the writer, but from Audrey Hendricks, Wash Booker, Arnetta Streeter, and James Stewart which added an element of raw, emotional honesty. Reading about the way that the so called, “authority figures” treated these children regardless of creed, character, or means was eye opening.
    The most amazing part of this whole story to me was the way that the children and families maintained “peaceful” protest in the face of the heinous crimes thrust upon them. Although you will run across well-known civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth, and James Bevel while reading, the author makes it clear that the children were the true heroes in this novel. Those brave enough to voluntarily be put in jail, knowing of the torture and degradation that awaited, those that were willing to stand up to the swirling chaos and violence stirring around them, those whom stood up and took a stand, when running and hiding would have been an acceptable course of action in the eyes of those around them, in the name of equality and fair treatment. This was an exceptional glimpse into the a lesser known faction of society that worked to bring about much needed change.

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  • Posted May 3, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    May 2013 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Birmingham Children's

    May 2013 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Birmingham Children's March.

    This was a major event in American History. Several children who were part of this march tell from their own personal experience of this historical event. Some of these children Audrey Hendricks, Wash Booker, James Stewart, and Arnetta Streeter fought for their civil rights in the streets of Birmingham, Alabama. 

    One young girl, Audrey Faye Hendricks, Age 9, Goes to Jail, she bragged to friends, family and her teacher that she was proud to be going to jail. 

    Many children had suffered abuse and injury during the march. 

    I was born in 1950 so I was 12 yrs. old at that time and I had never understood what harm was there in giving Blacks equal rights. I remember crying over the injustice and my parents kept telling me that I was not old enough to understand. I understood and I knew God would not approve of the treatment His children were put through. 

    This is a book I will put on my book shelf in full view in hopes of anyone entering my home might pick up this book and start an intelligent conversation about this event in American History.

    I highly recommend this book.

    Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Peachtree Publishers for review. I was in no way compensated for this review. This review is my honest opinion.

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  • Posted March 7, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This book We¿ve got a job follows the experiences of four young

    This book We’ve got a job follows the experiences of four young people in the May 1963 Alabama Children’s March. It is an informative and amazing account of the struggle the blacks had in their quest for freedom. It is incredible to see the attitudes and actions of some members of society. The tenacity of many in the black community is highly commendable, they were trying to fight a huge system by peaceful means.

    This work addresses a dark and regretful time in our nation’s history. We’ve got a job gives us an inside picture of one group and their oppression of others. That one group in a society would so oppress another is hard to understand these many years later.

    There are many pictures and personal interviews throughout the book. Through these the reader gains an inside look at this turning point in our nation. This valuable document gives us a look at a segment of history which should not be forgotten. This shows us how the young people had the desire to stand for a cause and make a difference. (rev. A.Freeman)

    DISCLOSURE: A complimentary review copy was provided to us by Peachtree Publishers in exchange for our honest review. Opinions expressed are solely those of the reviewer.

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  • Posted February 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Must Read - Will Be One of the Best of 2012

    By May 1963, African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama, had had enough of segregation and police brutality. But with their lives and jobs at stake, most adults were hesitant to protest the city’s racist culture. Instead, the children and teenagers—like Audrey, Wash, James, and Arnetta—marched to jail to secure their freedom.

    At a time when the civil rights movement was struggling, Birmingham’s black youth answered Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to “fill the jails” of their city. In doing so, they drew national attention to the cause, helped bring about the repeal of the segregation laws, and inspired thousands of other young people to demand their rights. (Inside jacket of We’ve Got a Job)

    We’ve Got a Job tells a story about the civil rights movement few know. Each of the stories these four brave children tell are remarkable. That they took on this fight for equality at such young ages, and made Birmingham change its racists behaviors and policies is astonishing.

    One of those children is Audrey. Her family was what many see as the typical American family. And today, they would be, but it was 1960 and they were black, living in a notoriously racist city in the South. There was nothing typical about Audrey’s family. They were second-class citizens regulated to the back of the bus, and separate water fountains. Audrey heard the freedom fighters from the near daily meetings her parents hosted, and knew she had to help.

    Wash, short for Washington, lived in a tenement house with his sister and mother. He was afraid to do something as common as take a bath. In fourth grade, a teacher threatened to beat Wash. He ran. In seventh grade, he skipped more than he attended. Wash knew that his biggest threat were the police and Commissioner Bull Connor.

    James lived in a great house with a pool. His father was a doctor and his mother taught college English. James was a bright kid. He figured out early that he had to be careful whom he trusted.

    Light-skinned Arnetta endured teasing and name calling solely based on her skin color, even by the other black kids. Her father fought segregation hard and wanted to include Arnetta and her two younger sisters. Arnetta started a social club at school called the Peace Ponies. After hearing Dr. Martin Luther King speak, Arnetta and the rest of the Peace Ponies stepped up and the Movement.

    Dr. Martin Luther King called for peaceful demonstrations, sit-ins, and marches all to “fill up the jails.” The author has dug up details few have been privy to and, while disturbing, they are enlightening. One or two are strange. For instance, some American’s believed the Russians were involved and trying to overthrow American democracy. There were not. The Ku Klux Klan was involved, as were some teachers, and white parents. The teachers and parents taught racist idiocy to their kids, saying blacks’ blood is thicker and runs slower than whites, therefore they learn differently and needed segregated.

    I was four in 1963, so I have little first-hand knowledge. I know more about the Vietnam War and the killings at Kent State, than I do about a nearly 350-year fight against racism. Even fifty years beyond the 1963 marches, racism still exists. This book has shown me so much, opened my eyes wide, and increased the empathy I always felt about the cruelty of that era. Written for kids ages ten and up, anyone can read this and find something they did not know—unless they were

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