• Albert Domm
    • Amos Charles Townsend
    • Ann Jimerson
    • Anne Whitehouse
    • Annewhite Thomas Fuller
    • Barbara Cross
    • Carl Carter
    • Carol Nunnelley
    • Charlotte Clarke Houston
    • Chervis Isom
    • Dale Long
    • Debbie Schreiber Crumpton
    • Deborah Davis Dent
    • Deborah J. Walker
    • Deborah Miller-Smith
    • Diane McWhorter
    • Diane Smith Grych
    • Elizabeth MacQueen
    • Freeman Hrabowski
    • Gail Horne Ray
    • Glenn Ellis
    • Greg Bass
    • Harold Jackson
    • Herman Whitehead
    • Howell Raines
    • Ingrid Kraus
    • Jacquelin Clarke Bell
    • James Nelson, Jr.
    • Janice Wesley Kelsey
    • Jeff Drew
    • Jim Lowe
    • Joyce Kent
    • Judith Schlinkert Toxey
    • Katherine Ramage
    • Kathy Stiles Freeland
    • Kelly Martin Laney
    • L.A. Simmons
    • Lawrence Bentley
    • Marti Turnipseed
    • Mary Bush
    • Melvin Todd
    • Mike Marston
    • Nathan Turner Jr.
    • Rand Jimerson
    • Robert Corley
    • Sam Rumore
    • Shirley Holmes Sims
    • Susie Hale
    • Tamara Harris Johnson
    • Virginia Jones

We were kids in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. That tumultuous year transformed the nation and shaped our lives. These are our stories.

Teachers and students: Visit our Class Room for ideas on using our primary sources and to interview the storytellers. Media, journalists, historians: Visit our Press Room to contact storytellers in your area. Keep checking this site for new stories – or, better yet, sign up for e-mail alerts.

The Making of a Child Crusader

Melvin Todd

Melvin Todd

Age 16 in 1963

Melvin Todd details the indignities of growing up “Colored” in Birmingham in the 1950s and ’60s. At 16, he left school one day to join the Children’s Crusade and was disappointed not to be “jailed for our freedom.”


When I look back over the years of my life, I can recount so many experiences that primed me to become one of the children crusaders for the Civil Rights Movement.  I am sure that my experiences were the same as thousands of other African American children, growing up in Birmingham, Alabama during the 1950s and 60s.

As I recollect and assemble my memories, I see them as a montage of snippets from various movies.  These real life snippets were the events that helped make my contemporaries, and me, willing to risk personal injury, and jail, to bring about changes for a better life for our people.

If I were to make a movie draft of my life, it would include a sound track. Read more…

It did not seem real

Debbie Schreiber Crumpton

Debbie Schreiber Crumpton

Age 10 in 1963

Debbie, only 10 in 1963, now says, “I am grateful for the life experiences as they have taught me much.”


I turned 10 in 1963. I had no idea about what was going on in Birmingham at that time until the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. That Sunday it became real to me. I was in my Sunday School class at First Methodist downtown in a borrowed room at Alabama Power due to construction and renovation of our regular meeting place. There was an explosive sound and then adults running in to save us and escort us back to the main church building. I was scared. At that time the biggest thing we were worried about as children was an attack from Russia. This cowardly act came from our own citizens in our own city! It did not seem real at the time and still doesn’t. Over the last 50 years I have hopefully become more aware and compassionate toward others different from me but still all the same. I feel privileged to have lived through this and to maybe make a small difference in the world around me.

 

Arizona

Chervis Isom

Chervis Isom

Age 23 in 1963

Chervis Isom had grown up in a segregated world, where Jim Crow laws forced separation of the races. The summer of 1961, when he was 21, was the first time he observed those laws being applied against someone he knew and respected. As he says, “It turned out to be a life-changing summer.”


He pointed to large, raised letters near the end of the dusty eight inch steel pipe. With one swipe, I brushed them clean. “Made in Belgium,” I muttered, as if he needed my translation. Then he stalked away. I studied the dozens of identical pipe stacked in the yard. The electric grinder he had given me, now hanging from my hand, seemed wholly inadequate for the job I had been told to do.

As I dithered, trying to figure out the best way to begin, I noticed the colored guy—they called him Arizona—watching me. His neutral face showed no emotion, but I knew he must have been amused to watch a college boy flounder in ignorance and incompetence.

How do I begin? I wondered. Is there a place to sit? If I sit on the pipe, will it roll? There must be a trick to this somehow. Arizona watched quietly. After a few moments, I looked at him. “You done this before?” Read more…

Born with Brown v. Board of Education decision

Gail Horne Ray

Gail Horne Ray

Age 9 in 1963

Gail, age 9, was an active part of Birmingham’s Civil Rights movement, listening to Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, going to marches with her father, and even meeting Rosa Parks. Fifty years later she speaks of being sustained by “our unwavering desire to be free and our faith in God.”


On the day that I was born on May 18, 1954 in Birmingham, Alabama, the newspaper headlines around the country announced that the Supreme Court of the United States had outlawed public school segregation in the case entitled Brown versus Board of Education. Relatives used to tease me and say that when my mother, Quintella Dobbins Horne, a high school teacher, heard that the schools were going to be desegregated, she went into labor. However in 1963, nine years after that decision, after having skipped the second grade, I was in the fourth grade at all-Black Center Street Elementary School.

Until I was approximately eight years old, our family attended Westminster Presbyterian Church. It was pastored by Rev. John W. Rice who was the father of Condoleezza Rice. Condoleezza and I, only a few months apart in age, were in the same Sunday School class. Mrs. Rice was a music teacher and Condoleezza began playing the piano at a very early age. Soon the mothers of other young girls in the neighborhood decided that we should take piano lessons as well, whether we wanted to or not. My Mom also made sure that my younger sister Janet and I took ballet and tap dance lessons. Read more…

’We must be kind”

Nathan Turner Jr.

Nathan Turner Jr.

Age 10 in 1963

The son of school teachers, Nathan had a childhood that was largely protected from racism. Yet there was no escaping the apartheid of Birmingham, Alabama.


In 1963, black people’s hopes and aspirations collided with the heart and mindset of a segregated Birmingham. That confluence led to the civil rights demonstrations and strife that defined the city and Alabama for decades afterward.

That year I was 10.

I lived on Center Way in the (mostly) placid community of South Titusville, in southwest Birmingham. Read more…