Marching for freedom led to many days in jail
What I remember most about our marching in 1963, was my being jailed after leaving Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, making it to City Hall, and being thrown in the paddy wagon with all guys! Being kept at the Fairgrounds, and later being sent to the County Jail, for taking part in trying to stop one of the police officers from raping one of the girls. I was kept in a sweat box for days upon days, and kept in jail over a month before my family located me! They kept saying I was too young to be there, but they tried to lose me. (more…)
Worlds Apart: Growing Up in a Bubble in Birmingham
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…)
My church played a huge impact in my life!
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.
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…)