What would you do? The 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade: Teaching civil rights with direct access to eye witnesses

In May 1963, the Civil Rights Movement made a leap forward with the Birmingham Children’s Crusade and the jailing of thousands of young people. The nation’s attention was riveted by the images of police dogs and firehoses trained on children and teenagers who were peacefully marching to end the city’s strict “Jim Crow” segregation laws. In a single class period, your students read the personal accounts of four people who were youth in 1963 (primary sources); discuss how Birmingham’s youth, Black and white, experienced and assessed the Children’s Crusade; make inquiry into the choices those young people made; and imagine how they themselves would respond if given the chance to take action for social change.

Class subject:
Social studies, Language Arts
State Standards

Click here for a listing of standards addressed by this lesson, from the Alabama listings:

English Language Arts (2021): Grades 6, 8, 9, 11

Social Studies (2010):

  • Grade 6: United States Studies: The Industrial Revolution to the Present
  • Grade 7: Civics
  • Grade 11: United States History II: The Industrial Revolution to the Present
Class time

60 to 90 minutes


Students will be able to:

  • Identify the reasons people gave for whether or not they chose to join the Birmingham Children’s Crusade
  • Compare and contrast the viewpoints of each personal account on the Birmingham Children’s Crusade
  • Reflect on the storytellers’ personal accounts on the Children’s Crusade
  • Explain whether or not they would have participated in the Children’s Crusade and why
Classroom Activities
  • Teacher presentation on the background of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham
  • Readings of primary source material and interpretation of the texts to identify the writers’ motivations
  • Class discussion to inquire about a variety of perspectives on the Children’s Crusade from the kids who lived in Birmingham in 1963
  • Self-reflection and declaration of a personal position
  • Video to provide background on the Birmingham Children’s Crusade and its historical importance (link, above)
  • Texts: Primary source first-person accounts from four people who were kids in Birmingham during 1963, through:
    • Access to the Kids in Birmingham 1963 Web site (Links, below)


    • Photocopies of excerpts from the selected primary source stories (Handouts, above)
  • Graphic organizer (Handouts, above)