And this was only one year
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…)
Yankee with a Southern Accent
My Dad’s Struggle to Do the Right Thing in Racially Charged Birmingham
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…)
One Sunday morning, September 15, 1963
September 15, 1963, was the day I was to move into a room near Birmingham Southern College where I was just starting my sophomore year. My family, who had been very active in the Civil Rights Movement for a number of years, lived in Homewood and we were listening to the radio as we packed up the car with my clothes, books and other things that I would be needing that semester. I was to be rooming that year at the home of one of the BSC art professors with Sena Jeter Naslund, who was later to write the novel Four Spirits about that time and that day.
We were devastated when we got the news of the church bombing and the four children who were killed. The McNairs, one of the families whose daughter was killed that day, were friends of my parents. Although Birmingham Southern was still a “whites only” school at that time, there was a small group of students and professors who supported the Movement and were very engaged. We frequently visited with students and professors at Miles College, the all Black school near BSC. The church bombing was all anyone could talk about for days and, of course, we went to the funeral service at which Martin Luther King spoke. There was an overflow crowd there that day but we managed to get into the top balcony of the church, from which we could hear, but not see, the service below. (more…)
Inspired by our mother, our whole family marched
In thinking back about the Children’s Crusade I have very vivid memories. Even though I was young, I remember very well the terrible things that happened to black people in the 60s. My sister Carolyn Houston was one who did get arrested along with so many others, and she was put in the Birmingham City Jail. She was only 13 years old. My brother James Houston, was one of those who were taken to the Alabama State Fairgrounds.
I remember so well when we picked Carolyn up from the Birmingham City Jail. (more…)