Review: We’ve Got a Job

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson, Peachtree Publishers 2012. Review copy from publisher. Finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award.

It’s About: In May, 1963, African Americans marched for freedom in Birmingham, Alabama. The marchers were school children. Just as with adult protesters,  they were met with police resistance; fire hoses and dogs were used against them; they were arrested, responding to Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to “fill the jails” as a protest against segregation.

Why children? Why march?

The Good:  I’ll be honest: I hadn’t heard about the May 1963 Children’s March. (Or maybe I had, yet don’t remember.) I love finding out new things, even when it’s accompanied by a “how come I didn’t know this before?”

We’ve Got A Job is a unique look at the civil rights movement, by looking at an event that was primarily about children and teenagers. Four teenagers are highlighted, Audrey Hendricks, the youngest participant at age nine, and three high school students, Washington Booker III, James W. Stewart, and Arnetta Streeter.

Audrey, Wash, James, and Arnetta reflect the diversity of the African American community in Birmingham in 1963, in terms of involvement in the civil rights movement as well as socioeconomic background. Some, like Audrey, are from families active in the movement; others get involved on their own. Being African American in Birmingham 1963 means that whether a person is the child of a dental assistant or doctor, those different backgrounds don’t matter when it comes to using a library, attending to school, eating at a restaurant, or attending a movie. It’s not about whether you can afford the dress in the store or the ice cream at the lunch counter; it’s about the color of your skin.

Levinson does a terrific job of creating the world these children lived in. The details are the type that make the past all the more real, such as not being allowed to try on clothes in dressing rooms and what parents did when confronted with a day out and no access to bathrooms.

Why did they, as children, march? We’ve Got a Job explains how adults were committed to ending segregation, but not necessarily to being arrested and risking jail and loss of jobs. Children and teenagers didn’t have the fear of job loss. Levinson explains how the leaders in Birmingham came to the decision to include children; and how that came to be.

And yes, they ended up in jail. Even nine year old Audrey.

Other reviews: The Happy Nappy BooksellerEducating AliceGuys Lit Wire 

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