Take Action around 'The Barber of Birmingham'
- Several people in the film recount that poll tests were used to prevent them from voting. Research and publicize current obstacles that disenfranchise groups of citizens. Look at factors like the number of polling stations and voting machines in different districts, voter I.D. laws (and who does or doesn't have the type of I.D. required) and/or how district lines are drawn. Work with local officials to address any inequities you discover.
- Honor civil rights activists by conducting a voter registration drive.
- Visit the website for the Foot Soldier Project for Civil Rights Studies at the University of Georgia. Use the curricular guide to lead a discussion about finding foot soldiers in your community. Write down dates mentioned in The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement and brainstorm names of people in your area who would remember that time. Ask friends, relatives and neighbors for suggestions. You might also contact local community groups, civic organizations or retirement homes. Plan a party to celebrate social justice work in your community and invite these local "foot soldiers" to be the guests of honor.
- Hold a teach-in about the history of the civil rights movement. Invite people from your area to share their personal stories. Consider recording those stories for use in your school district.
Get informed about the issues in the film and lead a discussion in your community.
In the days before and after Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election, an 85-year-old civil rights activist and “foot soldier” looks back on the early days of the movement in this Academy Award®-nominated short. World War II veteran James Armstrong was the proud proprietor of Armstrong’s Barbershop, a cultural and political hub in Birmingham, Alabama, for more than 50 years. In his small establishment, where every inch of wall space was covered in newspaper clippings and black-and-white photographs, hair was cut, marches organized and battle scars tended. Arm- strong, who carried the American flag across the Selma bridge during the Bloody Sunday march for voting rights in 1965, links the struggles of activists of the past with a previously unimaginable dream: the election of the first African-American president.
In this lesson, students will identify and research participants in social justice movements or other types of movements or communities. Students will select images, quotes, pieces of art or videos to represent such figures and organize these items in walls or digital “pinboard” displays that will be presented to the class. This activity is inspired by a wall display in the barbershop of civil rights veteran James Armstrong, as seen in a clip from the documentary The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement.
This multi-media resource list, compiled by Shaun Briley of San Diego Public Library, provides a range of perspectives on the issues raised by the POV documentary The Barber of Birmingham.