Title: We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March
Author: Cynthia Levinson
Pages: 176 pages
Publisher/Date: Peachtree Publishers, c2012
Awards: Finalist for The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction (2013)
Though nonviolent, all of these confrontations were illegal. King reasoned that if enough protesters were arrested, they would fill the jails and overwhelm Connor’s ability to enforce segregation laws. […] Only a few hundred adults heard Bevel’s frenzied sermon that night, and just seventeen volunteered to go to jail. But kids got the message, especially when the preacher who followed Bevel proclaimed, “Some of these students say they have got to go to school, but they will get more education in five days in the City Jail than they will get in five months in a segregated school.” (48, 59)
Segregation in the 1960s was a violent time of upheaval. Most of us have heard the most familiar stories of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. But very few people may realize the effect that children and teens had in moving segregation efforts forward. During the entire month of April, 1963, the first in an effort to fill the jails and bring attention to the cause, only 123 people were arrested. But then a rallying cry and concentrated effort was made to enlist teenagers to a cause that would directly affect them. “Between Thursday, May 2, and Monday, May 6, almost 2,500 young people had been arrested.” (114) The treatment of these individuals, some as young as nine-years old, who flooded the streets brought national attention to events in the south. Ultimately, four children died in a church bombing that was the culmination of tensions between the black and white populations.
Cynthia Levinson spent four years tracking down and interviewing these participants and researching how history played out almost 50 years ago. Including a map, a timeline, an index, pictures of those interviewed and an assortment of notes, this book is an amazing glimpse into a time that changed America. Levinson does a thorough job of bringing to life the actions of the teenagers but also those of the adults involved. Readers finish the book with a solid understanding of how divided not only the community was on the issue of segregation, but also how disorganized the leadership was in achieving their goals. The government endorsed and encouraged the police’s prejudices against these protesters and it is hard to come to terms with their behavior based on today’s laws prohibiting such actions. At one point, government officials notified the Ku Klux Klan that they would be given 15 minutes to confront Freedom Riders, and the perpetrators who were caught after those violent fifteen minutes were given a minimal sentence.
Pair this book with The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, which is set a few years earlier or The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, which are both set a few years later. Especially in this unsteady time when unrest is reigning and emotions are high with so many political issues, including gay rights, immigration, and gun control, teens might take notes about nonviolent actions that they can use to affect change in today’s society.
This book in particular was read as I participate in YALSA’s 2013 Hub Reading Challenge which challenges readers to finish 25 books by June 22nd from a list of 83 titles that were recognized and published over the last year.