The best books to teach about the civil rights movement

Anthony Grooms Author Of Bombingham
By Anthony Grooms

Who am I?

I grew up in the American South during the Civil Rights Movement. The movement was nearly constant conversation, approached with cautious optimism, in my household. Years later, I met my wife, whose family lived in Birmingham, Alabama, and participated in various ways in the movement in that city. Soon after I began to study and write about the Civil Rights Movement, especially the Birmingham movement. I’ve published two books of fiction that reflect on the Movement and I’ve taught college courses and given many lectures in the States and abroad about literature and film set during the Civil Rights Movement.


I wrote...

Bombingham

By Anthony Grooms,

Book cover of Bombingham

What is my book about?

With wry humor and haunting descriptions, this is a portrait of the wonder and terror of childhood during a time when ordinary citizens risked their lives to change America. Now a soldier in the Vietnam War, Walter Burke tells the story of his family’s fight against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama during the 1963 Children’s March and his struggle to discover a faith that gives meaning to it all.

The books I picked & why

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Silver Rights

By Constance Curry, Marian Wright Edelman (illustrator),

Book cover of Silver Rights

Why this book?

When I was twelve, my father said to me, “Stick and stones might break your bones, but words will never hurt you. You are going to a white school.” It was with those words that I became a part of a complicated integration plan called “Freedom of Choice.” Connie Curry, one of the first white members of SNCC, the student-run civil rights activist group, writes beautifully of the Carter family as they integrate the schools of Sunflower County, Mississippi. The book emphasizes that access to education was a cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement. The Carter children learned, as I did, that words can both hurt and heal.


Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers

By Frank X Walker,

Book cover of Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers

Why this book?

Walker’s poems channel the voices of Myrlie Evers, widow of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers, and of Byron De La Beckwith, Medgar’s assassin. The poems create warm, sometimes groovy narratives that evoke the music and voices of my childhood, thus humanizing the historical figures while still making palpable their fear, hatred, and defiance.


Why We Can't Wait

By Martin Luther King Jr.,

Book cover of Why We Can't Wait

Why this book?

So many people quote Dr. King’s words without ever having read them in context. This book which not only chronicles the 1963 Birmingham Campaign, but articulates the reasons for the Civil Rights Movement, helped me to reframe King, understanding him both as a man of faith and a political radical. It contains “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a masterpiece of American writing.


Short Stories of the Civil Rights Movement: An Anthology

By Margaret Earley Whitt,

Book cover of Short Stories of the Civil Rights Movement: An Anthology

Why this book?

This is the authoritative anthology of short stories that reflect on the Civil Rights Movement. Arranged in sections that highlight aspects of the movement, the stories by some of America’s best fiction writers, range from the thought-proving to the gut-wrenching. Among my favorites are Eudora Welty’s “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” and James Baldwin’s “Going to Meet the Man.”


We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March

By Cynthia Levinson,

Book cover of We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March

Why this book?

I wanted a good middle-grade book to introduce my son to the Birmingham Children’s March.   Doing so was important to me since his mother grew up in Birmingham, a little girl in 1963.  Levinson’s book features the stories of four children, one who was my wife’s schoolmate, who marched and were fire-hosed. With historical photographs and interviews, the book is an inviting and moving introduction for middle-graders to the why and how of the Movement and the bravery of the youngest activists.


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