We Are All Birmingham: Students’ Inquiry into Civil Rights History

This unit teaches standards in both language arts and social studies through a focus on Birmingham's role in civil rights. The lesson was inspired by the account from Virginia Jones, who says she was unaware of major civil rights events despite growing up only a couple of miles from the actions in Birmingham in 1963. Students learn about the civil rights movement in Birmingham and beyond while also looking at historical events simultaneously happening in their neighboring community of Homewood, Alabama. Created for 4th-graders; may be adapted for middle and high school students.
Class subject:
Language Arts, History, Social studies
Alabama State Standards Addressed:

English Language Arts

ELA.4.22. Analyze events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in informational texts, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

Social Studies

SS.4.14. Analyze the modern Civil Rights Movement to determine the social, political, and economic impact on Alabama.

SS.6.9. Critique major social and cultural changes in the United States since World War II.

SS.US History II.14. Trace events of the modern Civil Rights Movement from post-World War II to 1970 that resulted in social and economic changes, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, the March on Washington, Freedom Rides, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, and the Selma-to-Montgomery March. (Alabama) [A.1.c., A.1.d., A.1.f., A.1.i., A.1.j., A.1.k.]


Students will be able to

  • Compare significant events in Homewood’s early history to Civil Rights in Birmingham.
  • Create and analyze a dual timeline of important Civil Rights history in Birmingham and important events in Homewood’s founding using primary resources.
  • Plot important events in Civil Rights history and Homewood’s founding chronologically in a timeline.
  • Answer reflection questions on how larger events happening in Birmingham affected life in suburban areas around the city.
Unit Time:

7 days to complete, spending 45 minutes to 1 hour for each lesson

  • Handouts (linked above)
  • Notecards
  • The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson, here
  • We’ve Got a Job to Do by Cynthia Levinson, here
  • Construction paper or cardstock
  • Paper
Classroom Activities:

Day 1 Students will investigate primary sources and begin building their background knowledge on Civil Rights movement, specifically Rosa Parks’ arrest and the March on Washington.

Day 2 Students will continue investigating sources to build background knowledge of the Civil Rights movement through reading the book The Youngest Marcher, which focuses on the youngest child who participated in the Children’s Crusade.

Day 3 Students will read Virginia Jones’ account of growing up in Birmingham as a young white woman and being unaware of the Civil Rights violence and unrest happening around her. Afterward, students will write responses to the question “What surprises you most about this account?” and discuss as a whole class.

Day 4 Students will investigate newspaper articles to determine causes of different events that occurred in Homewood and Birmingham, such as Homewood (and Mountain Brook) considering merging with Birmingham in both 1959 and 1964 and Homewood City Schools getting established in 1970.

Day 5 Students will use their background knowledge and reasoning skills to arrange national timeline events in chronological order.

Day 6 Students will synthesize what they have learned with a summary. Using their timelines from the previous day and any materials they would like to consult from previous days, students will write a summary of the events that addresses different questions.

Day 7 Students will choose one event, person, or place they have learned about to create a historical marker. The history marker will include a description of what their marker is commemorating, who was involved, where the event took place, when it took place, and why it should be remembered.