Just three and a half years after surviving my unhappiest year, 1963, the Birmingham News interviewed four young adults to speak about changes in the New South. In its May 21, 1967 edition, while a student at Miles College, I was recorded saying, “the South is improving, but you learn that you must struggle to achieve something. You learn that nothing really comes easy.”
Indeed, life during the fall of 1963 was far from easy in one old, hateful southern city: Birmingham, Alabama. I was a senior at Ullman High School eagerly awaiting graduation in its winter class. Cynthia Wesley was a fourteen-year-old student at Ullman; I was two years older. We first exchanged flirting glances. Then, through our friends, we passed little innocent notes to each other. After these notes, our friendship blossomed. She was so smart, happy, and full of hope. I still remember her smile that melted away all my shy defenses. (more…)
One day of 1963 that stands out for me is the day I saw the dogs and water hoses turned loose on Negroes, as, if we were lucky, we were called then. I asked my mother why would they do that, but she said not to worry since we lived in Detroit. I started reading everything I could in regard to this matter, even though it was not taught or mentioned in school. Even though I was only 8 years old, living in Detroit and my parents wisely would never allow me to be involved anyway, I am very sorry I did not do more to protect the people in Birmingham in 1963. (more…)
I can remember when the first black families tried to buy homes on the other side of Center Street, which marked Birmingham’s color line. If you wanted to get a house on the west side of Center Street chances are you were going to have some resistance from white folks. At first, the Ku Klux Klan would burn the doors of the houses that African-Americans moved into. Sometimes members of the Klan would fire shots into the dark of night. Those big cathedral windows were what were being shot at all of the time.
We all knew a dynamite blast was coming when we heard decommissioned police cruisers burning rubber up Center Street. Flying up the hill. (more…)
In 1963, I was eleven. I lived in Central City, a housing project in downtown Birmingham, with my mother. This project was all white. The demonstrations were to us an inconvenience. We couldn’t spend Saturday at Woolworths, Kress’ or the other downtown stores. I couldn’t go to the Alabama Theater. I was a member of the “Flying G Club.” This was started by Guaranty Savings and Loan. If you deposited at least twenty-five cents in a savings account you got a ticket to the Alabama Theater to see a morning program that included a show.
Yet one routine stayed, going grocery shopping with my mother on Thursdays. We went to the A &P store on 8th Avenue and 18th Street. We had a small buggy we would roll on the route from our apartment at 6th Terrace between 22nd and 23rd streets to the store. I remember walking by a helmeted National Guard solider with a weapon (a rifle, I think) posted on the corner of 8th Avenue and 19th Street. (more…)
For the most part, I was oblivious to the summer of violence that ensued. But one thing I will never forget about those days is one of my rare interactions with white people. I was just about to cross a well-traveled street on my way to the store when a pickup truck whizzed by with two or three white kids in the back who yelled something about “nigger” at me.
Their venom surprised me because it was so unexpected. I remember wondering how they could hate me when they didn’t even know me. Did whoever was driving the truck really intend to hit me? But just how far hatred can take a person toward depravity became more apparent within a matter of days when Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed on Sept. 15, 1963, killing four little girls. (more…)