Birmingham, Alabama was once known as “the most segregated city in America.” It can be argued that the 1963 demonstrations in Birmingham and the fierce resistance they provoked changed white attitudes towards civil rights and ultimately led to the most comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in American history.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which opened in 1992, was built to serve as a monument to–and a resource about–the thousands of people who were dedicated to the philosophy of non-violence and risked their lives in struggles and confrontations all over the South.
It was with a mixture of emotions that I first visited the Institute on Dr. King’s birthday, January 15, 1993. I was born in Birmingham and grew up there during the civil rights era, a white child in Mountain Brook, a nearby all-white suburb. I left many years ago and moved north. But back in 1963, I was a nine-year-old elementary school student, and even though I did not participate in the demonstrations, they have indelibly marked my life.
My first conscious awareness of segregation came when I was about six.