For years one of my favorite teaching materials for the Civil Rights Movement has been the documentary Eyes on the Prize, in particular the section focusing on the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March and so I was delighted to come across Cynthia Levinson’s We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March. She begins with a prologue:
On Thursday morning, May 2, 1963, nine-year-old Audrey Faye Hendricks woke up with freedom on her mind. But, before she could be free, she knew she had to go to jail.
“I want to go to jail,” Audrey told her mother.
How could you not want to read on after that? Through Audrey and three other young people who were involved Levinson vividly makes this historical time up close and personal. And honest — there is no sugar coating here — at the very beginning she provides “A Note on Name-Calling” in which she clearly lays out the varied terms by which African-Americans have been referred to and referred to themselves over time. After that she presents those terms as they were used during this time period without further comment.
This is a real life story that takes place over a brief period of time and Levinson does a superb job bringing out the suspense, drama, harshness, and celebration of all. I especially appreciated the elegant way she brought in the complications — what was working and what wasn’t, the different behaviors and personalities of the leaders, and most of all the varied voices of her young people. Audrey, Washington Booker III, James W. Stewart, and Arnetta Streeter all were part of the marches, but in very different ways. By highlighting their different backgrounds, Levinson makes myth reality. Complementing her text are photos and perfectly-placed sidebars highlighting dates, quotes, and excerpts from relevant documents; an author note articulating the research and writing process; notes indicating sources for each chapter (though, I admit, I wanted even more of them); and an index. (I love books with indices!)
This is an engrossing, compelling, and fresh view of the Civil Rights movement through the eyes of young people who were part of it. Highly recommended.