CCB to mark the 60th anniversary of the Birmingham church bombing with new website, programs

Sara Schwebel
Sara L. Schwebel, Professor and Director of the Center for Children's Books

On September 15, 1963, four little girls had their lives cut short in a bomb blast at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This tragic event, which drew international attention to the civil rights movement in the U.S., is a pivotal moment in The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963, the Newbery Honor-winning book by children's author Christopher Paul Curtis. Next week, several organizations, including the iSchool's Center for Children's Books (CCB), are partnering on events for young people in Birmingham to mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing.

Together with the National Park Service (NPS), the CCB has launched a new Books to Parks website on The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963. According to CCB Director Sara L. Schwebel, the Books to Parks initiative links award-winning, widely taught works of youth literature to lands and historic sites protected by the federal government. Schwebel developed the content for the website with CCB research assistants (and recent MSLIS graduates) Joshua Altshuler and Mia Walter in partnership with colleagues at the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The site includes a reading guide for each chapter of the book with archival images and fact check sections that connect the story to history and introduce primary sources for students to use in answering questions about the book.

"Students browsing through the resources learn to interrogate their perceptions of peoples and places, in particular outlooks of the South. Birmingham reflects a distinct and relevant historical landscape in terms of the civil rights movement in 1963. But users of the site also discover Birmingham's similarities to Flint, Michigan, as a city shaped by race relations, community, and culture," said Altshuler, who is now a visiting reference and instruction librarian at Lawrence University.

Watsons Go to Birmingham event flyer

The CCB is collaborating with the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, 16th Street Baptist Church, NPS, and other organizations on an event to be held on September 14 for 4th-8th grade students, centered on The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963. Christopher Paul Curtis will address students from the sanctuary of 16th Street Baptist Church at the start of the day, which will include hands-on, curriculum-based activities, such as listening to music of the 1960s, playing games like jacks and hopscotch, reading poetry by Langston Hughes, and mapping out the route that the Watsons took from Flint to Birmingham.

"We are thrilled to join with many partners in Birmingham to bring Christopher Paul Curtis, The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963, and young people together during the city’s 2023 Forging Justice Commemoration Week," said Schwebel. "As the Books to Parks website launches, we look forward to supporting local partners in their plans for an annual event linked to Christopher Paul Curtis' novel. Also in the works: a bus trip from Michigan to Alabama that enables a group of Flint schoolchildren to trace the Watson family's road trip South."

The CCB will hold a watch party on Thursday, September 14, at 9:00 a.m. in the 4th floor multipurpose room of 614 E. Daniel Street. 

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