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…)
The Making of a Child Crusader
When I look back over the years of my life, I can recount so many experiences that primed me to become one of the children crusaders for the Civil Rights Movement. I am sure that my experiences were the same as thousands of other African American children, growing up in Birmingham, Alabama during the 1950s and 60s.
As I recollect and assemble my memories, I see them as a montage of snippets from various movies. These real life snippets were the events that helped make my contemporaries, and me, willing to risk personal injury, and jail, to bring about changes for a better life for our people.
If I were to make a movie draft of my life, it would include a sound track. (more…)
“We lived in a bubble”
In 2011, I was driving up to Martha’s Vineyard to find out if perhaps I wanted to settle there. I stopped in Birmingham to see friends for a few days – Hank and Martha Black. Hank and I had been friends since the University of Alabama when he was a reporter. Coming home from work, he brought in a tiny advertisement from Weld for Birmingham, asking for sculptors to compete to create a memorial to the four girls who were in the bathroom when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in 1963. Excited, Hank asked me to read it and said that it was for me. Curious, I read it and agreed with him. Here in my hand was a piece that fit my philosophy of life and my small but constant battle for social justice wherever I happened to be. We noted that there were only four days left before the final due date. Usually it takes me and my web master a month or more to create a proposal for a particular competition. Instead, Martha helped me for four days and nights to run around getting details, photocopies, and leather-bound books for presentations. Usually I insert schematic drawings, elevations, site specific details, and of course, drawings of the potential piece, then load it all onto a flash drive or a CD.
Evelyn Allen, mother of our former Alabama First Lady Lori Allen Siegelman, my second Mom, let us spread out all our work on her living room floor in her home on top of Red Mountain, where we had a killer view of Jones Valley. So many people helped bring those bound proposals together. Southside UPS and the Birmingham Public Library’s Southside Branch helped often. They knew my name. I would come into the library and ask, “Where is the Spike Lee movie? I have to have the Spike Lee movie ‘4 Little Girls.’ I need it now, today. When is it coming back?” So, the librarians helped me with my research but I don’t think they really knew what I was doing. Kind. Martha and I drove the six bound proposals and a 3-foot by 2-foot presentation board with the glued-on design downtown to the appropriate address printed in the ad, with 20 minutes to spare. I think we double parked.
It was time to “come home,” because I had run from Birmingham, as soon as I could. (more…)
What do you want little Niggra?
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…)