Sue Morris's Reviews > We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March

We've Got a Job by Cynthia Levinson
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Feb 15, 12

bookshelves: middle-grade, nonfiction, my-library

By May 1963, African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama, had had enough of segregation and police brutality. But with their lives and jobs at stake, most adults were hesitant to protest the city’s racist culture. Instead, the children and teenagers—like Audrey, Wash, James, and Arnetta—marched to jail to secure their freedom.

At a time when the civil rights movement was struggling, Birmingham’s black youth answered Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to “fill the jails” of their city. In doing so, they drew national attention to the cause, helped bring about the repeal of the segregation laws, and inspired thousands of other young people to demand their rights. (Inside jacket of We’ve Got a Job)

We’ve Got a Job tells a story about the civil rights movement few know. Each of the stories these four brave children tell are remarkable. That they took on this fight for equality at such young ages, and made Birmingham change its racists behaviors and policies is astonishing.

One of those children is Audrey. Her family was what many see as the typical American family. And today, they would be, but it was 1960 and they were black, living in a notoriously racist city in the South. There was nothing typical about Audrey’s family. They were second-class citizens regulated to the back of the bus, and separate water fountains. Audrey heard the freedom fighters from the near daily meetings her parents hosted, and knew she had to help.

Wash, short for Washington, lived in a tenement house with his sister and mother. He was afraid to do something as common as take a bath. In fourth grade, a teacher threatened to beat Wash. He ran. In seventh grade, he skipped more than he attended. Wash knew that his biggest threat were the police and Commissioner Bull Connor.

James lived in a great house with a pool. His father was a doctor and his mother taught college English. James was a bright kid. He figured out early that he had to be careful whom he trusted.

Light-skinned Arnetta endured teasing and name calling solely based on her skin color, even by the other black kids. Her father fought segregation hard and wanted to include Arnetta and her two younger sisters. Arnetta started a social club at school called the Peace Ponies. After hearing Dr. Martin Luther King speak, Arnetta and the rest of the Peace Ponies stepped up and the Movement.

Dr. Martin Luther King called for peaceful demonstrations, sit-ins, and marches all to “fill up the jails.” The author has dug up details few have been privy to and, while disturbing, they are enlightening. One or two are strange. For instance, some American’s believed the Russians were involved and trying to overthrow American democracy. There were not. The Ku Klux Klan was involved, as were some teachers, and white parents. The teachers and parents taught racist idiocy to their kids, saying blacks’ blood is thicker and runs slower than whites, therefore they learn differently and needed segregated.

I was four in 1963, so I have little first-hand knowledge. I know more about the Vietnam War and the killings at Kent State, than I do about a nearly 350-year fight against racism. Even fifty years beyond the 1963 marches, racism still exists. This book has shown me so much, opened my eyes wide, and increased the empathy I always felt about the cruelty of that era. Written for kids ages ten and up, anyone can read this and find something they did not know—unless they were actually in Birmingham, Alabama, and listened to Dr. Martin Luther King speak to those kids in the early sixties.

I am not sure what to say other than this is a phenomenal book by author, Cynthia Levinson. We’ve Got a Job is the best book I have read this year. Granted, it is only February, but I honestly believe this one will stay in my top ten for 2012. The pictures are so good at capturing the day. The speeches, Point for Progress, and press statement, among other documents and quotes that line the sidebar. This book should be in every middle grade classroom and high school American History ad Government classes. We’ve Got a Job is exhaustively researched and expertly written. Children 10 and older can read this with understanding and adults can read this and learn something new from that era of their life.

I can think of three wonderful things to do with this book. It can be a textbook and inspire a new generation, this time in integrated classrooms. This book is something adults need to read. We can learn things we did not know, correct some of the things we thought we knew but are false, and find courage within the pages to change for the best. We’ve Got a Job looks perfect on a coffee table, waiting for someone to open its pages and start a conversation. Without conversations, nothing can change for the good.

Note: book received courtesy of the publisher.
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