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Using Primary Sources in the Classroom

Civil Rights Movement Unit:
Lesson 3: Birmingham 1963

1. Background information for teachers:
By April of 1963, Birmingham, Alabama had become a national example of racial tension and strife. In the spring of 1962, city parks and public golf courses had been closed to prevent desegregation and the black community had attempted to protest racial activities by boycotting selected Birmingham merchants. In response, food that was appropriated for needy families had been cut by the city commissioners. City elections and demonstrations against segregation further separated the city racially for a year and produced a population that was both angry and afraid. On April 12, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. was sentenced to a nine-day jail term for his part in desegregation demonstrations. It was during this time that King wrote his essay, "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which described his concerns for the laws of America and his hope for justice for black Americans.

 

The national media publicized the powerful water hoses and the German shepherd police dogs that were used by the firemen and the policemen of Birmingham against demonstrators in May of 1963 as directed by police commissioner Eugene ("Bull") Connor. Despite the peaceful efforts of both the black and white leaders of the city, terror and violence had gripped Birmingham, Alabama while the world watched. The documents in this lesson include telegrams sent to or by Gov. Wallace concerning the events in Birmingham. The notorized statements from the Intercitizens Committee, Inc. provide a contrast to the official state government version of events in Birmingham. The Committee was formed in 1963 by Reverend J. L. Ware to attract middle class blacks to this movement.

 

For more information see Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Online.

 

2. Learning objectives:
Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:

1. Analyze a written document for position of writer and content.
2. Synthesize an historical position based upon document analysis.
3. Understand the events of Birmingham in 1963 and the positions held by the individuals involved.

 

3. Suggested activities:

 

1. Make copies of Documents 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 for each student.

 

2. Ask the students to read each document.

 

3. After reading the documents, ask each student to choose one document and use the general suggestions for analyzing a written document. Have the students answer the questions about the document they chose and report their findings to the class.

 

4. Upon completion, give each student the following assignment:
You are the press secretary for the Governor of Alabama. You must write a press release to be sent to each newspaper, radio station and television station in Alabama which willexplain what has happened in Birmingham. Consider all of the documents that you have read. What will you advise the Governor to tell the state?

 

DOCUMENTS:

 

Document 1."Telegram from L.H. Foster 05/13/63," Alabama Governor Wallace Administrative files, SG12655, folder 3, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 2. "Telegram from George Andrews 05/13/63," Alabama Governor Wallace Administrative files, SG12655, folder 3, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 3. "Telegram from NBC News 05/16/63," Alabama Governor Wallace Administrative files, SG12655, folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 4. "Telegram from Wallace to The President 05/13/63," Alabama Governor Wallace Administrative files, SG12655, folder 3, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 5. "Telegram from Mayor Boutwell 05/28/63," Alabama Governor Wallace Administrative files, SG12655, folder 5, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 6. "Documents on Human Rights in Alabama," Alabama Governor Wallace Administrative files, SG12655, folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.