ALEX Lesson Plan


Birmingham, Fall 1963

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Alabama Department of Archives and Hist
System: Informal Education Partner
School: Informal Education Partner
The event this resource created for:Alabama History Education Initiative
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 33750


Birmingham, Fall 1963


This lesson is the fourth in a four-part series on the struggle for civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama, and the nation in 1963. The focus of this lesson is the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Student will analyze photos from this tragedy and relate the bombing to future events.

This lesson was created as a part of the Alabama History Education Initiative, funded by a generous grant from the Malone Family Foundation in 2009.

Author Information:Bonnie Shanks, Alabama History Education Initiative Consultant; Rebecca Gregory, Alabama History Education Initiative Consultant; Alabama Department of Archives and History

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
Social Studies
SS2010 (2010)
Grade: 11
United States History II: The Industrial Revolution to the Present
14 ) Trace events of the modern Civil Rights Movement from post-World War II to 1970 that resulted in social and economic changes, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, the March on Washington, Freedom Rides, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, and the Selma-to-Montgomery March. (Alabama) [A.1.c., A.1.d., A.1.f., A.1.i., A.1.j., A.1.k.]

•  Tracing the federal government's involvement in the modern Civil Rights Movement, including the abolition of the poll tax, the nationalization of state militias, Brown versus Board of Education in 1954, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965
•  Explaining contributions of individuals and groups to the modern Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr.; James Meredith; Medgar Evers; Thurgood Marshall; the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); and the civil rights foot soldiers
•  Appraising contributions of persons and events in Alabama that influenced the modern Civil Rights Movement, including Rosa Parks, Autherine Lucy, John Patterson, George C. Wallace, Vivian Malone Jones, Fred Shuttlesworth, the Children's March, and key local persons and events (Alabama)
•  Describing the development of a Black Power movement, including the change in focus of the SNCC, the rise of Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panther movement
•  Describing the economic impact of African-American entrepreneurs on the modern Civil Rights Movement, including S. B. Fuller and A. G. Gaston (Alabama)
Insight Unpacked Content
Strand: Economics, Geography, History, Civics and Government
Course Title: United States History II: The Industrial Revolution to the Present
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
  • Describe the differing approaches to achieving equal rights for African Americans in the United States, the government's involvement in with the movement, and major events of the movement.
  • Assess the impact of these efforts to achieve civil rights for African-Americans.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • desegregation
  • poll taxes
  • civil rights
  • economic impact
Students know:
  • Major events of the African-American Civil Rights Movement from the end of WWII through 1970.
  • The federal government's involvement in the modern Civil Rights Movement.
  • The contributions of individuals to the cause of civil rights for African-Americans.
  • Involvement and contributions of groups in the cause of civil rights for Africa Amiercans.
  • Differences among philosophies of the various organizations who were working for civil rights.
  • The lasting impact of the modern Civil Rights Movement.
Students are able to:
  • Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media.
  • Evaluate an author's premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information related to historical events.
  • Read and comprehend historical texts independently and proficiently on various topics related to hitorical events.
Students understand that:
  • There were differing approaches to achieving equal rights for African Americans in the United States, the government's involvement in the movement, and impact of these efforts to achieve civil rights.

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SS.AAS.11.14- Understand the purpose and goals of the civil rights movement from post-World War II to 1970; identify influential people, events, and outcomes of the civil rights movement.

Local/National Standards:

National Standards for History, 1996 Standards in History for Grades 5-12 (p. 121) Era 9, Standard 4 – The struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties 4A – The student understands the “Second Reconstruction” and its advancement of civil rights.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, (Bulletin 111, 2010) Standard 5 – Individuals, Groups, and Institutions (p. 139) Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions.

National Standards for Civics and Government, (1994) Standard II – What are the foundations of the American political system? (p. 99) Students should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions about issues concerning the disparities between American ideals and realities.

Primary Learning Objective(s):

The student will be able to:

• Analyze photos showing the aftermath of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

• Evaluate the outcome of the bombing on Birmingham, Alabama, and on the nation.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

Compare and contrast the coverage of the bombing from three different newspapers. (objective for extension)

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

31 to 60 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

• PowerPoint, “Birmingham, 1963, Fall Despair”

• The attached Tearing Down Barriers is provided for use with all four lessons on Birmingham in 1963. However, it can also be used if only one of the lessons is taught.

• Copies of the newspaper articles from the New York Times, the Birmingham World, and the Montgomery Advertiser are needed if the extension is assigned. 

Technology Resources Needed:

• Computer with internet access

• PowerPoint (v. ’97-2003) - If you have a newer version, a viewer (free) can be downloaded from the internet.

• Digital projector


Background information for teacher:

• An excellent resource for teachers is  But for Birmingham by Glenn T. Eskew, Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. 

• A copy of the September 15, 1963, New York Times article describing the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church can be found at


• The entire text of Martin Luther King’s eulogy for Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, and Cynthia Diane Wesley can be found at

• The students should have an understanding of:

o Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments

o Jim Crow

o Plessy v Ferguson

o Brown v Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas

o Montgomery bus boycott

o Little Rock school integration

o Freedom Riders


Engagement/Motivation Activity:

Show the students the picture found at EC=7.

This photograph from the Alabama Department of Archives and History was taken by Anthony Falletta of the Birmingham News on September 15, 1963. Ask the students the following questions:

o “What do you think is happening in this picture?”

o “What could have caused the damage pictured in the photograph?”

o “Who do you see in the picture?”

o “Are any of those pictured acting in an official capacity? How do you know?”

o “What type of building do you think is pictured on the right side of the photograph?”

o “What type of building do you think is pictured on the left side of the photograph?”

o “Are there any clues as to the date the picture was taken?”

Tell the students that in this lesson they will learn about the events that led to this photograph being taken and about the aftermath of those events.

Step 1 Show slides one through three of the PowerPoint, “Birmingham, 1963, Fall Despair.” Ask, “Are there any foreshadowing words on slide three? If so, what are they?” Ask student to remember the content of slide three as they view the remainder of the PowerPoint.

Step 2 Show slides four and five. Ask the following questions:

• “What ‘political or social objectives’ do you believe the Klan hoped to achieve with this bombing?”

• “Why do you think the Klan chose this particular church for this act of violence?”

• “Why was the fuse time-delayed?”

• “Can you think of any other examples of domestic terrorism which have occurred in the United States?”

Step 3 Show slides six through eight. Allow time for reflection. Tell the students that these four young girls had gone in the restroom after Sunday school to get ready for the Sunday worship service. The restroom was directly under the dynamite. Ask the students, “What do you think these girls were talking about in the minutes before the blast?” Tell the students that dozens of church members were injured by flying debris, and at least twenty were so badly injured that they required hospitalization.

Step 4 Show slides nine through thirteen. Allow time for reflection after each slide. Ask the following questions:

• “What can you tell about the magnitude of the blast from these pictures?”

• “Who do you see in the picture? What are they doing?”

• “If you had been a photographer or reporter, what would your thoughts have been as you surveyed this scene?”

• “If you had been a member of that church, what would have been your reaction to the bombing?”

Tell the students that the minister of the church, the Reverend John H. Cross, picked up a megaphone and told the angry crowd to go home. Some sources say he then recited the Twenty-Third Psalm; others sources report that he prayed the “Lord’s Prayer.”

Step 5 Show slides fourteen and fifteen. Ask the students, “What irony is pictured in each of these two photographs?” Tell the students that the stained glass window shown on slide fifteen was the only stained glass window in the church that remained in its frame.

Step 6 Show slide sixteen. Ask the students, “Why do you think the police officer was never charged with a crime?”

Step 7 Show slides seventeen and eighteen. Ask the following questions:

• “How did Michael Farley’s and Larry Joe Sims’s attendance at a segregationist rally affect their later actions?”

• “Can you give other examples of unintended consequences or tragic results of someone’s actions?”

• “What event overshadowed the deaths of Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware causing their deaths to be less well known?” Step 8 Show slide nineteen. Give students the opportunity to discuss “Bull” Conner’s comments.

Step 9 Show slide twenty. Give students time to predict how the outcome of Kennedy’s assassination might be related to the outcome of the church bombing.

Step 10 Show slides twenty-one and twenty-two. Ask the following questions:

• “Do you agree with King that good can come from evil? If yes, give an example.”

• “What does the phrase ‘but for Birmingham’ mean?”

Step 11 Show slide twenty-three. “How is the event pictured on this slide an outcome of the events in Birmingham in 1963?”

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Assessment Strategies

• Suggested essay question for unit test: Explain specific examples of how the events in Birmingham in 1963 led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

• Grade the Tearing Down Barriers handout for accuracy. 


Hand out copies of the three newspaper articles (URLs given above) which reported the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Allow students in groups or individually to read the articles and to give examples of how the reporting is similar and how it differs. 



Allow students to take copies of the PowerPoint home for additional study.

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.