My Dad’s Struggle to Do the Right Thing in Racially Charged Birmingham

David Sher


Intro Text

I grew up in the South in the 1950s.

‘Negroes’ drank from water fountains labeled ‘Colored’; used separate restrooms from whites; and were relegated to sit in the back of buses.

My father owned a small retail store in downtown Birmingham.

We lived on the Southside of Birmingham and I often took the Highland Avenue bus downtown to meet my parents or friends.

My parents taught me and my brother and sister to be respectful, so one day I remember asking my father if it was okay to give up my bus seat to an elderly black woman. He sternly warned that I would risk being hurt by some hateful people.

My dad was kind and respectful to his employees, but at that time there were laws against ‘colored’ office workers and salespeople.

When it became clear that the Civil Rights law was going to pass and rules prohibiting ‘colored’ employment were about to change, my dad took the opportunity to hire a black office worker—likely among the first in a white owned retail store in Birmingham. (more…)

School first

Harold Jackson


Intro Text

In 1963 I was 9 years old, in the third grade, and not paying much attention to the conversations of all the adults who were apprehensive because the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth had asked King to help lead the local civil rights movement.

Shuttlesworth, whom I interviewed years later as a reporter, was head of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, an organization formed out of necessity after the state banned the NAACP. (more…)

Easter Sunday 1963

Katherine Ramage


Intro Text

Recollections of an 11 year old

Daddy asked the session of the church to support his stance that the doors remain open to anyone who wanted to worship within.

On Easter Sunday 1963 my best friend, and “blood sister,” Kathy, and I, with a concealed collection of snacks we had bought on our trip to the drugstore between Sunday school and church, headed up to the balcony as usual. Kathy and I did everything together, and we sat wherever we pleased in church since we were almost twelve. (more…)

What do you want little Niggra?

Freeman Hrabowski


Intro Text

My background is that of a middle-class child growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s in Birmingham, Alabama at the very time of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Movement, its leaders, and our parents taught us a great deal about values—what’s right and wrong. We learned about the importance of teamwork from the many, many hours we spent in meetings with adults and other young people, talking about the challenges we faced and trying to understand the strategies and legal issues involved. I remember that my childhood friends and I talked with our parents about whether we would be allowed to participate in marches and the likely implications of doing so. I also recall hearing the rumors that teachers and other workers (like my mother and father) would lose their jobs if they marched. We witnessed the courage of fellow students and our families, and we took part in the Alabama Christian Movement’s evening meetings where we learned how spiritual music—from “I Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” to “Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Set on Freedom”—can fortify a people and give them a vehicle for expressing their aspirations and strong belief in lofty goals. (more…)

Strength to pursue our ideals

Ingrid Kraus


Intro Text

In 1963, I was a senior at Shades Valley High School in Birmingham, Alabama. That was the year, a bright, intensely idealistic, not very savvy girl learned to retreat.

Put me in context. My parents were immigrants who left Europe with my brother during World War II to escape persecution because their ethnic background was Jewish. I was born in New York, and after years there and in Boston, my parents moved to Birmingham in 1953. I was seven.

My father felt he had behaved in less than courageous fashion in Europe on occasion, and he decided he would not hide his progressive views in Birmingham. He helped start the Alabama Council on Human Relations so that blacks and whites could meet together and communicate, a simple enough proposition which at the time was illegal according to Birmingham city ordinances. (more…)