Dawoud Bey’s Birmingham Project addresses the history of the tragic day, September 15, 1963, in Birmingham Alabama, when six young African Americans were killed in acts of racial violence—four girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and two boys in separate but related incidents. The series of black-and-white diptych photographs pair portraits of African Americans the same ages as the victims of the 1963 killings with pictures of adults at the ages that the victims would have been in 2012.
a. Ask students to look closely at Bey’s photographs on page 12 and compare the sitters. What do they notice about these people? What kind of expressions do they have? How are they posing? How would students describe their gestures? What are they wearing? What is similar or different about them? If they could speak, what do you think they would say? Why do you think Bey might have chosen to reflect upon a past incident by photographing people today? Ask your students to use the resources below to research and discuss Bey’s Birmingham Project and the events that took place in 1963. What specific information had an impact on your students? Compare the Birmingham events of the 1963 to current civil rights issues such as discrimination, affirmative action, same-sex marriage, and immigration.
The Birmingham Project photographs on Dawoud Bey’s website.
The Birmingham Project exhibition at the Birmingham Museum of Art, September 8-December 2, 2013.
Articles about Bey’s Birmingham Project.
Interview with Sarah Collins Rudolph.
Birmingham, Alabama and the Civil Rights Movement in 1963.
Ask students to choose a local, national, or international current event and brainstorm five questions they would like to ask an adult and a peer about the event. Have students interview an adult and a peer, and record or write down their responses to the questions. Share the interviews with the class. Were their interviewees’ responses similar or different? In what ways?