Press Release - Detail
Contact:  Chanda Temple, Director of Public Relations
Birmingham Public Library                   
Phone: (205) 444-9279 (cell)

Birmingham Reading Program to Share City's Civil Rights Movement History in the Classroom and Community

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA - The Birmingham Public Library, Birmingham City Schools and the City of Birmingham are partnering in a fall reading program that's exposing Birmingham fourth graders to the civil rights movement. The school system is working with the city and library to engage students in the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement and to promote literacy in the classroom and community. In August, the school system saw to it that every fourth grade student received a copy of “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963.’’

Birmingham Mayor William A. Bell, Sr., Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon and BPL Director Renee Blalock distributed books to fourth grade students at Martha Gaskins Elementary School in late August to help kick off the program. The school was one of 28 Birmingham elementary and K-8 schools to receive the book, which looks at a family’s life in Flint, Michigan and their road trip to Birmingham in 1963.

Bell, Witherspoon and Blalock hope that by reading the book, students will feel a connection to the city’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement, want to read more about it and spark discussions of how to be a moving force for Birmingham’s future. Bell has designated Sept. 11-15 as Empowerment Week, which is designed to engage, educate and empower through a series of events. The reading program and events surrounding Empowerment Week are just some of the ways the city, the schools and the library are helping students touch a piece of history.

Teachers have planned various educational exercises around the book; volunteers will read a portion of the book to students and generate discussion about the book on Wednesday, Sept. 11 as part of Empowerment Week’s Day of Service; and several teachers, parents, students and library employees will see the film version of the book when it premieres at the Alabama Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 12. On Sunday, Sept. 15, fourth graders will participate in a children’s march at Railroad Park to mark an important moment in Birmingham’s history.

“This is an opportunity for the public library, the school system and the city of Birmingham to work together, share a bit of history, share some culture and share the joy of reading,’’ said Witherspoon.

Once students have finished reading the books, they will share what they’ve learned and their books with other students. The concept is borrowed from the library’s Read It Forward program, where a person reads a book and instead of keeping it, they pass it on to someone else. 

During the week of Sept. 3, the library’s 18 locations provided free copies of the book to patrons as part of the Read It Forward program.
Blalock said that BPL will also share books with Birmingham’s Sister Cities in Israel and the Ukraine. “We did the program in the spring as part of the library’s 50 Years Forward commemoration. It was such a success and we are thrilled at the opportunity to do it with the city,’’ she said.  The book “helps people understand what it would have been like to have been a child in Birmingham in 1963. It’s been a very popular book,’’ Blalock said.

ID numbers are at the back the free books provided at library locations. People can log the number onto the special page Read It Forward page on and check back to follow the book's travels.

Birmingham attorney Eric Guster heard about the program, purchased a set of books, registered them with BPL's Read It Forward program and distributed them during a mission trip to India in early September. Comedian Roy Wood Jr. took the book on a fall national comedy tour across America to promote the BPL program. Both said they want to help show the nation and the world about Birmingham’s commitment to education and change.

BPL launched Read It Forward in May 2005, modeling it after a successful teen reading program used by the Las Vegas-Clark County Public Library in Nevada. Due to its Birmingham success, the program has continued, said Janine Langston, literacy outreach and youth services coordinator for the library.

Bell said he hopes the book will inspire students to use their imagination and show students that a book can take them anywhere in the universe.

Book synopsis: The book, written in 1995, tells the story of a loving African-American family, living in the town of Flint, Michigan in 1963. When the oldest son begins to get into a bit of trouble, the parents decide he should spend some time with his strict grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama. The entire family travels to Birmingham by car, which is known as the Brown Bomber. During their visit, tragic events take place that affect them collectively.

Birmingham and BPL activities recognizing “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963” and the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement :
  • On Monday, Sept. 9 at 6 p.m., Central will host a panel discussion on the Gov. George Wallace’s role in Birmingham’s civil rights struggle and his continuing influence on American politics and race relations today.
  • Central's Youth Department will show "The Children's March'' on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m. in the Story Castle, second floor. Birmingham foot soldier Brenda Williams will speak.
  • To celebrate the quest for freedom and equality, national folk musicians Kim and Reggie Harris of New York will perform at 13 branch locations, between Monday, Sept. 9 and Friday, Sept. 13. Visit for a complete schedule.
  • “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963” has been made into a television movie and will be shown at the Alabama Theatre the evening of Thursday, Sept. 12.  The movie will also air on the Hallmark Channel on Friday, Sept. 20. 
  • Birmingham students will participate in a children’s march at Railroad Park on Sunday, Sept. 15, which is the 50th anniversary of the 1963 deadly bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. It’s also the closing day of Empowerment Week. For more information about Empowerment Week, please visit 
  • The Birmingham Chapter of Jack and Jill Inc. will donate 250 books and a reading bench on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 10:30 a.m. at Smithfield Library in memory of Carole Robertson, one of the four girls killed in the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1963. The organization has named the day Carole Robertson Day. Mayor William A. Bell, Sr. and Judge Carole Smitherman are slated to speak. One of Carole’s cousins, attorney Gaile Pugh Gratton, will also speak.
  • The Birmingham Children's Theatre will present the play "The Watsons Go to Birmingham,'' Oct. 7-18, at the BJCC. Call 458-8899 for general ticket information or visit Tickets for public performances are $9 for children and $11 for adults.
  • BPL is partnering with the Junior League of Birmingham to present "From Page to Stage'' reading and literacy workshops on the book on Sept. 21, 22, 28 and 29. Children attending the workshops will receive two free tickets to see the play on Oct. 6. (The following Birmingham Public Library locations will host the workshops: East Lake and West End, Sept. 21, 11 a.m.; Avondale and Central, Sept. 22, 2:30 p.m.; Southside, Sept. 28, 11 a.m.; and Springville Road and Five Points West, Sept. 29, 2:30 p.m. The workshops, ideal for ages 7 to 12, will also take place at libraries in Bessemer and Gardendale on Sept. 28 at 11 a.m.)“The Watsons Go to Birmingham'' author Christopher Paul Curtis will be at UAB's Hulsey Recital Hall for a free reading and book signing on Thursday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.
  • Coloring sheets of the Watsons and their car, the Brown Bomber, are available for download at The Brown Bomber is a main character in the book. 
  • People who pick up copies of the book from Birmingham library locations, can read the book and track the travels of their book by looking up the Read It Forward number at the back of the book, logging it into a tracking system with the library and keeping tabs on the book on the library’s website at  They are also encouraged to post comments to the library’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
  • Check out this sneak peek of the movie:
Page Last Modified: 6/15/2021 9:51 AM