The children's marches occurred over several days in May 1963. The students skipped school and marched downtown, singing songs about freedom, to bring racial injustice to attention. They were subsequently jailed.
Black Birmingham adults couldn't fill the jails, but the youth could and did. They were packed into cells with little room to move. Their jailors would turn on the air conditioning during the chilly nights and the heat during the warm spring days. Some cells had one toilet, others none. Naps were taken in shifts as there wasn't enough floor space to accommodate but a few kids.
During the rallies, the police used attack dogs at times to frighten the marchers. Firemen turned high-pressure water hoses on the kids and drove them down the street. The non-violent training that the students received from the movement's leaders was essential during the heated exchanges between them and the police.
The local news coverage of both the march and the national civil rights movement was scant. News organizations were slow to pick up on the injustices being done to American citizens on American soil. However, images of fire hoses knocking children off their feet, paddy wagons full of teenagers headed off to jail and bombed out churches were finally making an impact on the national collective conscience.
On Thursday, May 9, 1963, the Birmingham Truce Agreement was struck and was the beginning of the end of segregation. It required the desegregation of lunch counters, fitting rooms and drinking fountains. It required the hiring of blacks as clerks and salesmen at white stores. It required the release of all incarcerated protestors.
The agreement was met with President Kennedy's approval and encouraged his pursuit of a bill prohibiting racial discrimination. The Civil Rights Act became national law in 1964, the summer after Birmingham's greatest period of turmoil.
The four kids in Levinson's book, along with thousands of others, lived the freedom movement in Birmingham as foot soldiers in a titanic struggle for basic human dignity and fairness.
Cynthia Levinson successfully recreates the frustration and chaos of the Civil Rights movement from the perspective of four teens in Birmingham. For those who lived through the placid '50s and the turbulent '60s, there may be few surprises in this book. But for those born after, for those teenagers today who have only known integration, this book will be a startling revelation. It is hard to believe that a half century ago this country was so divided along racial lines.
Two civil wars were fought over race in this country. The Civil War featured the blue and the gray and culminated in the assassination of a president. Was the civil war of the '60s any different? Read "We've Got a Job," and find out for yourself.