Living History

Here’s how Kids in Birmingham 1963 storytellers bring history alive.


  • New anti-bias curriculum. As Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, planned its “Perspectives for a Diverse America: A K-12 Literacy-based Anti-bias Curriculum,” they discovered the Kids in Birmingham 1963 collection. They invited five Kids storytellers to include their stories as central texts that exemplify anti-bias themes. Director Maureen Costello wrote to Kids, “The first-person stories on your site are exactly the kinds of texts we’ve been seeking.  They’re short enough for classroom use; they resonate around all the issues we identify; and, of course, they reflect the experience of everyday young people.  That’s a winning combination.” More than 6,000 people have registered to use the free curriculum, available here:

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  • Teacher institute. As the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, prepared for its summer 2014 Civil Rights Institute for teachers from across the U.S., Meg Steele in Educational Outreach invited storyteller Ann Jimerson to lead the teachers through a Smithsonian exhibit on civil rights history. Ann and civil rights activist Joan Mulholland brought the history to life, pausing in front of a display of shards of stained glass from the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. When she was 12 years old, Ann’s father, a white civil rights worker, had stooped to pick up shattered  glass just hours after it was blown from the church windows. The Jimersons and Joan Mulholland have donated the glass to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, due to open in 2016.

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  • Kids in Birmingham 1963’s creative Lesson Plan. Inspired by the stories on the website, teachers Beth Jimerson and Casey Kelly  created a lesson plan to honor the young women killed in the 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. With her high school students, Ms. Kelly tested the lesson, which has students work in groups to create a found poem in response to reading primary source stories related to that event. Click here to see the lesson plan, complete with handouts, PowerPoint slides to introduce the historical facts, complete instructions, and a rubric to aid students in assessing their work.

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Found poems created by groups of students from text of Kids in Birmingham 1963 stories. Photo by Casey Kelly.

  • Classroom project. As fifth grade teacher Elisha Scales of Durham, NC, taught a unit on civil rights, she helped her students create a list of questions for Kids in Birmingham 1963 storytellers. She reports that her students loved hearing back by e-mail from the Kids storytellers. As Ms. Scales said, “It was amazing to see the ‘aha’ moment on their faces when they realized how recent these incidents were and that these people lived them. For a 10 year old, anything before 2010 seems like ancient history 🙂 Thank you again!”
  • Study tour to Birmingham. Ninth and tenth graders from Oakwood Secondary School in North Hollywood, CA, in a 2014 spring-break immersion course called “Freedom Fighters, Young and Unsung: A Civil Rights Road Trip,” met history head on during their stop in Birmingham. They were hosted by Kids in Birmingham 1963 storytellers Carl Carter, Robert Corley, Jeff Drew, Virginia Jones, and Janice Wesley Kelsey, who shared their youthful experiences of a turbulent time. The Birmingham crew was impressed with the young people’s thoughtful questions.

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Photo by Virginia Jones


  • Expeditionary Learning in rural Nevada. Seventh and eighth graders at Adobe Middle School in Elko, Nevada, explored civil rights for an Expeditionary Learning semester in 2014. They interviewed a number of storytellers from the Kids in Birmingham 1963 project and used the interviews to create a book. John Tierney, a school administrator, wrote: “Thank you for the contribution towards the efforts of my students. Bridging the past and present is difficult and made even more so considering the rural nature of our community…They are amazed events like the 16th Street Church Bombing could have ever happened or that sports teams were ever segregated. Taking the time to share your life experiences helps to broaden their awareness and understanding of the world… From to depth of my soul THANK YOU for taking the time to connect with these young people. You have enriched their lives while deepening their understanding of the human experience.”

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Photo by John Tierney

  • National History Day, Iowa state winners. The Iowa team of Allison Stutting, Ali Watkins, Halle Wilmott, and Dan Stutting performed their original drama on the “The 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade” at the nationals level competition for National History Day 2014. As they developed their project, the high school students interviewed storytellers and, after winning at the state level, made a journey to Birmingham to meet with two more. They said, “The interviews gave us so much insight to what Birmingham was like in the 1960s, especially regarding racial tension in the South.”  See the evocative drama they wrote and performed, here:

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Photo by Virginia Jones, 2014

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  • National History Day, Pennsylvania state winners. The Philadelphia team of high school students, Carmen Li, Kevin Liu, and Kevin Yang, won their state level National History Day contest, advancing to the 2014 nationals. See their impressive website, “Confronting Bombingham” at: The students interviewed Kids storytellers Deborah J. Walker and Dale Long, whose personal accounts added depth to the project.

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  • Primary sources for classroom. Maryland high school teacher Anne Manuel was inspired by a link she saw on the Kids in Birmingham 1963 Facebook page about a brief but provocative letter from Bill Baxley, Alabama’s Attorney General. During his 1976 attempt to prosecute the Klan members responsible for the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Baxley had written in response to a hate-filled letter from the Ku Klux Klan. Ms. Manuel asked Kids how she might locate the Klan’s letter. She wanted to pair the letters for a discussion on hate speech, part of her unit on civil rights. Kids tracked down Mr. Baxley, who made the letter available for Ms. Manuel’s class.

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  • School visit. Storyteller Virginia Jones made a connection with a former teaching colleague through Kids in Birmingham 1963: “I had a wonderful visit with Mrs. DeLaine Ragland’s third grade class. DeLaine went on the Kids site and found me. She just asked me to come and chat with her class. They had been studying about the Children’s March and some about the Civil Rights movement. I talked about what it was like at Shades Cahaba Elementary School in Homewood, Alabama, when I went there in 5th-7th grade. What is ironic is that I went to school with no blacks my whole life, then ended up integrating an all-black school/faculty in Columbus, Georgia in 1968.”

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Photo by Virginia Jones


  • PhD thesis. Gisell Jeter, a History PhD candidate at Ohio State University, is developing her thesis on “We’re Going Too: The Children of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement.” In 2014, she interviewed seven of the Kids in Birmingham 1963 storytellers as she explored the question: What did it mean to come of age as an African American child in Birmingham, Alabama, at the height of the civil rights movement?



  • Exhibit in the UK.  “Journey to Justice: Learning from human rights movements past and present” is a United Kingdom-based venture to inspire and empower people to take action for social justice through learning from human rights movements. Their first project, to be launched in 2015, will be a mobile exhibition focused on the US civil rights movement, starting with the music of the time to tell the story of the men, women, and children involved. In October 2014, planners wrote to Kids in Birmingham 1963 to invite Janice Wesley Kelsey to share her story of marching and going to jail during Birmingham’s 1963 Children’s Crusade. Ms. Kelsey responded to e-mailed questions to help the project create her panel in the exhibit. As the exhibition travels, it will partner with local communities, incorporating lessons from UK campaigns for human rights. Using arts and intergenerational activities, it will show how change for social justice can happen led by “people like us.”

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  • Commemoration in NYC. Watching in horror as Birmingham’s firemen turned high pressure hoses on children in 1963, the New York City Fire Officers Association issued a resolution declaring, “This shameful and deplorable conduct by the City of Birmingham . . . has brought discredit to the honorable status of professional firefighters.” In May 2014, US Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, the FDNY Uniformed Fire Officers Association, and the First Lady of New York City worked through Kids in Birmingham 1963 to invite Janice Wesley Kelsey and Gwendolyn Gamble to travel from Birmingham to New York to take part in an event commemorating FDNY’s historic stand.
  • Seminar on resilience. Virginia-based staff of the American Psychiatric Association’s Office of Minority and National Affairs was preparing for a November 2013 event they would hold in Birmingham, “Transcendence and Resilience Following Trauma, Celebrating the Triumph of the Human Spirit: The 50th Anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing.” Through Kids in Birmingham 1963, they invited storyteller Jeff Drew to tell participants about growing up as an African American child in the neighborhood nicknamed “Dynamite Hill” for the frequent bombings there.