We were kids in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. That tumultuous year transformed the nation and shaped our lives. These are our stories.
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My church played a huge impact in my life!
My birth name is Valerie A. Gilmore. In the year of 1963, I was a student at Center Street Elementary School. I was a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church located in the Titusville area of Birmingham where the pastor was Rev. Joseph Ellwanger (a white man). Being a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church played a huge impact in my life. Rev. Ellwanger and his family lived next door to the church, and they were a welcomed and active part of our community. Because of Rev. Ellwanger’s leadership and devotion to ending segregation, though I was a young child, I was able to participate in marches and discussions that opened my eyes to the unjust laws and practices imposed upon people of color.
To this day, I continue to avail myself to opportunities to bring about reconciliation and harmony among the races and all of God’s children. It is my hope that we all will come to the realization that we were created equal and that we should extend love and respect for all mankind.
On Thursday night Dad asked if I wanted to drive into the city with him. He had to drop off something. The VW chugged to the crest of Red Mountain, with the lights of Birmingham spread across the valley below. Down into the city and into the black neighborhood, where I had seldom ventured. We parked in front of the Gaston Motel, where Dr. King and Reverend Shuttlesworth used a second floor office room as campaign headquarters. It was already past my usual ten o’clock bedtime, but crowds of people – mostly black, but a few whites – jammed the small lobby. Read more…
Hatred eliminated the only “sanctuary” in my life
As a child in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, I was witness to the turmoil in the community around the Civil Rights Movement. We had, of necessity, become more aware of hatred based on race way beyond the recognition of the grinding heel of racism we had faced all our lives. The expression of racism that kept us from being able to go to enjoy the rides of Fair Park at the State Fairgrounds in Birmingham or try on clothes at a department store or kept us drinking from a separate water fountain or attending segregated schools was something we knew. We knew the fear of seeing Bull Connor riding around in that white tank ordering us off the streets after the times they bombed Attorney Arthur Shores’ home on Center Street. We had felt the blasts in our homes during the night. Read more…