Broke free from the pack
I grew up in Birmingham with nine brothers and sisters, went to St. Barnabas and John Carroll, graduated 8th grade and entered high school in 1963. But my most striking memory of that era had to have happened later, probably after the Civil Rights bill was signed on July 2, 1964.
I used to ride public transportation home from basketball practice, travelling from the Southside to East Lake. I had to transfer from one bus to another in downtown Birmingham, getting on a bus whose route had already taken it through areas of the city mostly inhabited by African Americans. At some point (not sure exactly when), the bus company had been required to remove the signs that read “Colored to the Rear.”
I remember getting on a bus one evening and seeing that almost every seat was occupied, but mostly by one African American, rather than two, which meant a lot of empty spaces. However, rather than “sit down next to a Negro,” a small group of Southern whites—of all ages—stood uncomfortably together in the front of the bus, jammed against each other like sardines in a can.
I remember, after paying my fare, that I jostled my way through the crowd, broke free from the pack, took a seat next to an elderly black man, and then looked up toward the front of the bus to see almost every white head turned in my direction and staring directly at me.
(When I think of that moment today, it reminds me of the final scene from The Graduate when Benjamin and Emily hop on the bus together.)
I’ve described this experience to friends and family over the years, always with the realization (lost on me at the time) that I had lived through historic times. I cannot read any account of the events of that era—from the Children’s Crusade to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church—without a profound appreciation for the countless numbers of ordinary people who risked so much and sacrificed so greatly to change the world we lived in.
In August 2014, Mike Diccicco wrote this story expressly for Kids in Birmingham 1963.