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

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

4.6 5
by Cynthia Y. Levinson

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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

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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.

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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

Peachtree Publishers, Ltd.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.80(d)
1020L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 15 Years

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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