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Part One: Introduction to Birmingham

Birmingham 1963

Young activits face firehouses in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Drawing by Evan Bissell


  1. Introduce the unit with a quick-write or discussion using the following questions: How do you change an unjust law? How do you define justice and injustice?
  2. Ask students to identify examples from the past and present of unjust laws in the United States. Discuss the process by which these laws have been changed or could be changed. Example: Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education or the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees all American women the right to vote.
  3. Provide students with "Birmingham in the 1960’s" handouts. After the students have read the handout, lead a discussion on the injustice which existed in Birmingham in 1963. You may also wish to have students list violations of democratic principles as stated in the Bill of Rights and/or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  4. Assign roles for upcoming role play. You will have groups of four and they will take on the roles of Martin Luther King, Jr., Wyatt Tee Walker, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ralph Abernathy. Have students do preliminary research on their role from the King Encyclopedia.
  5. Discussion Questions:
  • What was the social, political, and economic situation in Birmingham, Alabama before the spring of 1963?
  • How do we, as a society, define an unjust law and which strategies are most successful in changing that law? If we are able to abolish legal injustice will it also result in abolishing social injustice?




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