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.
Our family attended Birmingham’s First Methodist Church in 1963. The Children’s building was under construction, and all the school age children were attending Sunday School in the Alabama Power building just a block away from the 16th Street Baptist church.
I remember hearing the bomb explode on September 15, 1963. All of our parents were a block away in the main sanctuary building and I remember them running into our Sunday School room in panic because they didn’t know where the bomb was.(more…)
My family moved to Birmingham 4/15/62 because our father was sent there by the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway Christian) in Nashville, TN to build a new Baptist Book Store, which he did. My identical twin sis, Leah, and I were 12 years old in April (turned 13 that May) and were enrolled in Mountain Brook Junior High. Our parents had always bought the best house they could afford just within the best school district, and Mountain Brook was it when we moved there. Two horrific dates from 1963 that will forever be etched in our memories were the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the assassination of President Kennedy. Leah and I turned 14 years old in May, 1963.
We were at church at the all-white First Baptist Church close to the black church and our building shook and glass broke out of some windows when the blast went off. (more…)