A large Confederate flag filled most of one wall of my grandfather’s study in his Birmingham home during the 1950s and 1960s. It was always the first thing I noticed when I walked into the dimly lit room—a startling shout of hot red and star-studded blue against a dark stone wall.
On the opposite wall was a painting of the Princess Pocahontas, who, according to genealogical research by my great-grandmother, was said to be our direct ancestor. I heard once that my grandfather, proud of being related to royalty but uncomfortable with the darkness of the princess’s complexion, had Pocahontas’s skin lightened a bit before he hung the painting.
My grandmother used to take me with her to the grocery store in her old Dodge. When I was about six years old, I remember getting into her car one day and asking her the name of a Black lady we had seen earlier that day. She quickly reprimanded me, “Pam, you never call a colored woman a ‘lady.’” Actually, she probably didn’t say “colored woman,” but something else. I remember feeling smacked down by the reprimand. And I was careful not to repeat that grave breach of etiquette in the following years. (more…)
1963 changed my life. The tensions were growing, and everyone was on edge. Then, Easter morning between Sunday School and church, a couple of us dashed over to the local drug store in Homewood—a block from our very big Southern Baptist Church—to read comics and buy gum. As we walked back to our church, a car filled with African Americans pulled into our front parking lot. They stopped briefly, and I looked up to see what they were seeing. The church deacons were standing at the top of the stairs, their arms locked together as if they were playing Red Rover. Then they slowly walked down the stairs with their arms locked together. Their message was clear—they were not going to allow the African Americans to enter our church to worship with us.
Later my mother said, “Those people didn’t come to worship.” I told her I didn’t think Mr. P and Mr. H came to worship either. They were officers of the large insurance company headquartered in Birmingham, and used their church connections for business. I’ll never forget the look of determination on their hard faces.
In May, the protests began in downtown Birmingham. (more…)
I attended Brunetta C. Hill Elementary School and grew up in Smithfield, near the historic A. H. Parker High School.
I was a member of First Congregational Christian Church (United Church of Christ). My church was very much involved in social justice and the Civil Rights Movement. I would attend some of the civil rights meetings with my parents.
In 1963, my family and I moved to the College Hills neighborhood, about 5 blocks from Dynamite Hill.*
One Sunday in 1965, we were at church and had to be evacuated by Birmingham’s SWAT team and Bomb Squad because a bomb was placed outside in front of a church a block south of our church. This was rather traumatic as church was to be a safe and sacred place. That bomb did not explode.** (more…)
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.