Birmingham Children’s Crusade

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Martin Luther King Jr. in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

May 3, 1963: Birmingham Police take signs from young protestors participating in the Children's Crusade | Source: photo by Ed Jones via The Birmingham News
A 17-year-old civil rights demonstrator is attacked by a police dog on May 3, 1963, Birmingham, Alabama. | Source: Bill Hudson, Associated Press
Girls between the ages of 14-17 sitting in a detention center in Birmingham, Alabama after being detained for protesting | Source: Getty Images
May 3, 1963: Birmingham Police take signs from young protestors participating in the Children's Crusade | Source: photo by Ed Jones via The Birmingham News
A 17-year-old civil rights demonstrator is attacked by a police dog on May 3, 1963, Birmingham, Alabama. | Source: Bill Hudson, Associated Press
Girls between the ages of 14-17 sitting in a detention center in Birmingham, Alabama after being detained for protesting | Source: Getty Images

Birmingham Children’s Crusade

Essential Questions  

The following essential questions provide a framework for exploring this unit’s main ideas and themes

  • What role did young people play in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s?
  • What connections can be made to contemporary youth movements and civil rights issues?

New Jersey Student Learning Standards

The materials and suggested lesson plan below can be used to satisfy the following New Jersey Student Learning Standards:

6.1.12.D.13.a: Determine the impetus for the Civil Rights Movement, and explain why national governmental actions were needed to ensure civil rights for African Americans

6.1.12.D.13.b: Compare and contrast the leadership and ideology of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights Movement, and evaluate their legacies.

Lesson Module

Goal and Learning Objectives: The goal of this module is to provide resources and information about the history of the American civil rights movement.  Looking at the movement to end Jim Crow laws and desegregate public places provides a framework for exploring the role of young people in politics and society in the 20th century. The history of youth involvement in the Civil Rights Movement offers an opportunity to examine young people’s role at critical points in the nation’s history, and to think about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on politics in our time.  

Content: Included in this lesson module are lessons on youth  participation in social movements, with a focus on connecting the past to the present. These activities can be integrated into classroom units related to the civil rights movement and social movements.

 

Activity I: History

Context: In his 1963 inaugural address, Alabama governor George Wallace declared “segregation now…segregation tomorrow…segregation forever!” In April, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) chose to focus on Birmingham, Alabama as the key city to end segregation throughout the south. The Civil Rights groups organized Project C, better known as the Birmingham Campaign. It included peaceful lunch counter sit-ins, marches, and boycotts to try and convince civic and business leaders to desegregate the city.

Children and adolescents from ages 7 to 18 years old were eager to get involved in the nonviolent movement for civil rights, and on May 2nd thousands of students skipped school to march through downtown Birmingham. The peaceful protesters were met with police dogs, fire hoses, and police batons, and hundreds were arrested and jailed in crowded and unsanitary conditions. The shocking images of children being hosed down and beaten by police reached the desk of President John F. Kennedy, and opened his eyes to the urgency of the American civil rights movement. In the following months, President Kennedy went on national television to speak out against desegregation and announce plans for federal civil rights legislation. The following year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, banning segregation and banning discrimination on the basis of sex, race, gender, or national origin. The Birmingham Children’s Crusade and the larger Birmingham Campaign were pivotal actions in the fight for civil rights.

Instructions: Introduce your students to the history and context of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Use the timeline below to introduce the key dates and events of the Crusade.

Activity II: Key Figures

Instructions: This activity gives students the opportunity to learn about key figures involved in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade and larger Civil Rights Movement. Divide the class into small groups and have them discuss the figures on our Key Figures page and the downloadable PDF with more information. Have students answer and think through the discussion questions and then share their answers and thoughts with the whole class.

Activity III: Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement

Instructions: Have students pick one of the following topics and then have them write out a S I T worksheet*: a fact they find Surprising, a fact they find Interesting, and a fact they find Troubling. Then, have them take turns sharing on their topic. 

*The S I T worksheet was created by Facing History and Ourselves – a website that offers lessons, teaching resources, and worksheets for teachers to use in the classroom. 

Activity IV: Hands on Activity - Document Analyses and Socratic Reading

Instructions: Split students into groups and have them pick either  a) one of the stories from the children of the crusade or b) MLK’s letter from Birmingham Jail. Use this instruction guide by Facing History and Our Selves to have students engage in a socratic seminar reading of their chosen text. 

Materials

Don’t have time to use these activities? Do you already have a lesson plan fort this topic?

Here are links to the materials presented in the above activities that can be used anyway you see fit!

Timeline of the Crusade

Biographies of Key Figures