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Lesson Plan: Letter From Birmingham Jail

King and Abernathy walk in a long double-file line of marchers on the sidewalk of a street in Birmingham. King is wearing jeans and casual clothes.

King and Ralph Abernathy lead a long double-file line of marchers through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.



The following lesson encourages students to reflect on nonviolence as an instrument to change unjust laws by studying the Birmingham Campaign of 1963. Within this six-part lesson students will participate in a role play about the intricate planning strategies of Project C, observe the courageous activism of young people and examine the eloquent words of Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The lesson provides students the opportunity to analyze primary source documents, interact with KPP’s online resources and discuss the concept of social justice and social transformation in the past and in the present.

Grades: 9-12
CA State Standards11.1, 11.10, 11.11

The essential question and sub questions are designed to guide the teacher and students through each segment of the lesson. These questions may be used as assessment at the end of the unit or as discussion prompts along the way. Teachers are encouraged to teach the entire unit or to choose the parts which fit their curricular needs. All activities are offered as an online experience or in print format.

Essential Question:

Did the nonviolent direct action, which King describes in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” successfully transform Birmingham, Alabama from a segregated to a just society in 1963?

Sub Questions:

  • How do we, as a society, define an unjust law, and what kinds of strategies and tactics have proven most effective in changing such laws? If we are able to abolish legal injustice will it necessarily result in social justice?
  • What was the social, political and economic situation in Birmingham, AL before the spring of 1963?
  • What were the goals of Project C and how were these goals to be accomplished?
  • In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” how does King explain the purpose and effectiveness of nonviolent direct action?
  • As Project C began to unfold in Birmingham in the spring and summer of 1963, how were these events reported to the nation and world?
  • Was it the adults or the children of Birmingham that lead the strategy to fill the jails through civil disobedience?
  • Have the people of Birmingham reached a point of reconciliation after the experiences of injustice, violence and nonviolent direct action?

Unit Parts:

  1. Introduction to Birmingham
  2. Project C Strategy Committee Role Play
  3. Letter from a Birmingham Jail
  4. The Children Shall Lead
  5. The Big Three: Should They Take the Offer?
  6. Transformation? Reconciliation? Does nonviolence work?

Assessment/Culminating Project