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What Was the Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963?
It turns out that the August 1963 March on Washington wasn’t the only mass march. On May 2, 1963, thousands of children walked quietly down the streets of Birmingham, Alabama. Inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had recently written Letter From a Birmingham Jail, the children had gathered with the understanding that they were the next generation who could inspire change.
Students as young as seven years old skipped school to gather for a non-violent protest, holding signs and singing songs.
The Birmingham Children’s Crusade was met with police and arrests. Almost 1,000 children were arrested on the first day. On the second and third days, even more children were arrested. They were sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by police attack dogs. The jails were full of children singing “We Shall Overcome.” Some children remained imprisoned for several days.
This is the part of the story where I remind you that this was only sixty years ago. Sixty years ago, American citizens, children, were attacked by adults at the instructions of the government – our government – for nonviolent protesting for equal rights.
Thousands of children packed the jails to capacity, and Dr King negotiated with the leaders of Birmingham for their release and to begin desegregation.
The book, Let the Children March, written by Monica Clark Robinson and illustrated by Frank Morrison, tells the story of this event in history in context with a greater timeline of the Civil Rights Movement.
Children are the Future
The children of Birmingham Alabama knew that their peaceful protest would likely not be met with the same peace in return. And yet, encouraged by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., they believed in their rights to stand up for their futures. And it worked! The city was integrated because of the bravery of the children.
This was such a great book to show my kids that it matters when children join the fight for what’s right. When my youngest asked what a “march” was, I was able to explain it as “like the Black Lives Matter protests we go to.”
I asked them to imagine: “what if we went to a Black Lives Matter protest to stand up for what’s right, and we were knocked over with fire hoses and attacked by trained dogs?” They understood how terrible that would be to be hurt for doing the right thing.
We talked about how brave these children were, fully committed to nonviolence and met with violence from adults. I asked them how hard it would be for them to be hurt by someone and refuse to react or fight back. They both said “that would be really hard, Mom.”
My youngest especially is committed to the pursuit of justice as part of his core character, and he took offense at the idea of any adults harming nonviolent protestors, especially children.
We were able to connect this book to Song for the Unsung about Bayard Rustin, the man who organized the March on Washington in 1963.
Both my eight-year-old and five-year-old loved this book. It is definitely appropriate for elementary age.
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