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Students reenact Birmingham children's march on its 60th anniversary

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Sixty years ago, thousands of children took to the streets in Birmingham, Ala., to protest racism and discrimination. Today, teens gathered again to reenact that historic moment. Kyra Miles from member station WBHM reports they're learning how to continue the movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting) Fired up.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting) Ready to go.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting) Fired up.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting) Ready to go.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Chanting) Fired up.

KYRA MILES, BYLINE: Hundreds of students march on Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham. They hold signs that read - we shall overcome - and - hands up, don't shoot. Terrence Miller says it's an honor to stand where many other student activists stood 60 years ago.

TERRENCE MILLER: They are giving us the potential, the opportunity and the idea to actually do it ourselves today - kind of feels amazing. I'm glad that they actually took the opportunity and a chance and the risk to do all of that.

MILES: Today is a reenactment of the Children's March of 1963. Back then, thousands of students walked out of their classrooms to get arrested. It was part of a plan by civil rights leaders like James Bevel to force change in America in a controversial way - using kids. Here he is from the "Eyes On The Prize" documentary.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "EYES ON THE PRIZE")

JAMES BEVEL: We wanted to get the Black community in Birmingham involved. And the way you get people involved is get their children involved.

MILES: On what they called D-Days, kids marching were met with intense water hoses and police dogs.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Inaudible).

MILES: The images of children being carted away to jail in school buses shocked the American public. It got the attention of President Kennedy.

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JOHN F KENNEDY: The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.

MILES: And lawmakers couldn't ignore it. The 1963 Children's Crusade was a catalyst for rapid progress in the civil rights movement.

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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting) I said I love being Black.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Chanting) I said I love being Black.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting) I said I love being Black.

KENNEDY: Reverend Gwen Webb was 14 when she marched from 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. She says today gives her hope.

GWEN WEBB: To see all of these young people, our leaders of today, the word of God tells us, train up a child in the way that it should go.

MILES: In this year's march, students still call for equal rights and an end to discrimination. Seventeen-year-old Deon Arnold says they also have battles unique to now.

WEBB: A lot of new issues like social media, the internet, AI, all these new foes that we have to face in the upcoming years - and the biggest one being climate change.

MILES: He says even 60 years later, student activists are at the forefront of change. They're not only the present but the future. For NPR News, I'm Kyra Miles in Birmingham.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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