A Film by Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday
Scene Selection • Closed Captioned
Grades 6 – Adult
Academy Award Nominee
Broadcast on PBS’ POV Series
"Starred Review. DVD Pick of the Month. A moving 20-minute capsule of the civil rights movement, particularly in Alabama, brought to a personal level by Armstrong’s sustained narration. Footage of speeches by Dr. King and President Obama, and a brief narrative of the civil rights time line since 1870 pack a lot of information into this worthwhile film."
–School Library Journal
“A stirring tribute to the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement, black Southern activists like the film’s focal character, James Armstrong.”
- New York Times
"The Barber of Birmingham is an important and deeply moving film for the ages. For more than 200 years, the struggle to expand the right to vote has been critical to fulfilling the promise of our nation, and that struggle continues to this very day. No one who sees this film will ever take the right to vote for granted again.”
– Wade Henderson, president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
“Today’s students were born long after the Civil Rights Movement. The Barber of Birmingham animates what could be an uninteresting, abstract historical concept. This is storytelling and history at its best; every student deserves the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by the barber.” – Whitney Olson, History Channel Educator Award; Director National History Day, Sonoma County
“As an historian and educator, I can't imagine teaching Civil Rights without The Barber of Birmingham. Not only does this film have significant historical value, it is also undeniably relevant. The Barber of Birmingham inspires and empowers students to recognize the role of individual actions in the past, present, and future.”
– Stacy Sempson, Middle School Teacher, Woodside Elementary
"A moving and accessible portrait of an honorable man who did honorable things in the context of an unhonorable social system. Audiences will appreciate the epic scale of the civil rights movement as seen through the eyes of one ordinary man."
- Anthropology Review Database
"Engrossing.... Puts a face on the civil rights movement and underscores the dedicated work of those who risked their lives to secure rights. Archival footage interweaves smoothly with Armstrong's vivid recollections."
– Booklist (ALA)
AWARDS / FESTIVALS
Academy Award Nominee, Best Documentary Short
Official Selection, Sundance Film Festival
Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University
Award in Journalism
Winner, Short Documentary, Ashland Independent Film Festival
Winner, Audience Choice Award, Hollywood Shorts Film Festival
Winner, Best Documentary, Short Woods Hole Film Festival
Official Selection, AFI/Discovery Silver Docs Festival
Official Selection, Mountain Film in Telluride
Official Selection, True/False Film Fest
Official Selection, 15th Annual DocuWeeks
Academy Award-nominated The Barber of Birmingham movingly portrays the unsung "foot soldiers" of the civil rights movement through the personal story of 85-year-old barber James Armstrong, who carried the American flag in the epic 1965 "Bloody Sunday" Selma voting rights march, and spearheaded efforts to integrate public schools in Alabama.
Armstrong was one of thousands of average Americans who risked jail and their lives in the fight for racial equality and the right to vote. "The worst thing a man can do is nothing," says Armstrong in the film.
An Army veteran, he was the proprietor of Armstrong's Barbershop, a political and cultural hub in Birmingham, Alabama, for more than 50 years. Every inch of wall space in his shop was covered with inspirational clippings and photographs of his heroes, including Martin Luther King, Jr., who had his hair cut by Armstrong.
In addition to participating in the Selma march and being jailed in other protests, Armstrong filed a ground-breaking lawsuit in 1957 that challenged school segregation and led to his two sons enrolling as the first black students at previously all-white Graymont Elementary in 1963. One of his sons reflects back on what it was like as a child during those difficult days.
Notably in the film, Armstrong celebrates an event he never believed he'd see in his lifetime -- the election and inauguration of the first African-American president. "This is what I went to jail and marched for," he says.
The Barber of Birmingham vividly illustrates the history and impact of the voting and civil rights movement through James Armstrong’s journey, supplemented by commentary from prominent civil rights veterans as well as historical footage from the 1965 Selma march, Armstrong's campaign for school integration, and Dr. King's famous "I've been to the mountain top" speech.
ALSO FEATURED IN THE FILM:
•Amelia Boynton Robinson, Voting rights activist credited with initiating the Selma march
•Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, co-founder of SNCC and an early leader in Selma for voting rights
•Rev. C.T. Vivian, ally and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
FREE DOWNLOADABLE GUIDES PREPARED FOR THE NATIONAL PBS BROADCAST
LESSON PLAN: EXPLORING THE HEROES OF SOCIAL JUSTICE MOVEMENTS
Aligned with Common Core Standards for grades 6-12.
Developed by Cari Ladd, M.Ed., former PBS Interactive director of education.
COMMUNITY EDUCATION & DISCUSSION GUIDE
25 page guide with background info on the civil rights struggle, James Armstrong, resources and discussion questions.
OTHER FILMS ON RACE-RELATED TOPICS:
STOLEN EDUCATION The untold story of how Mexican-American school children challenged discrimination in Texas schools in the 1950’s.
THE BLACK FATHERHOOD PROJECT An exploration of fatherhood in Black America, providing historical context for an issue at the core of the Black experience today.
FINDING THE GOLD WITHIN An intimate look into the lives of six young Black men as they transition from high school to college, determined to disprove society’s racial stereotypes and low expectations.