In 1983, as a reporter for The Birmingham News, I wrote several stories looking back at the events of 1963. I worked with other reporters to track down many of the school children who had heeded Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to march in downtown Birmingham. Most of them, like Bernita Roberson Sawyer, had been jailed. She was 14 at the time, not much older than me, and had spent five days in jail. They described what it was like to be in jail as children and recalled how those events had shaped their lives as adults. In June, I wrote a 20-year retrospective on Gov. George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” at the University of Alabama. Most of the key figures of that day were still alive, including Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who was still angry 20 years later about being made to stand in the sweltering sun while Wallace made his stand in the shade. Then in September, 20 years after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls, I had a front page interview with Chris McNair, the father of one of those girls, Denise. (more…)
In 1963 I was 13 years old and my family owned a grocery store (Ted’s Big Apple) and home approximately 3 blocks from the 16th Street Baptist Church (6th Ave). The morning the church was bombed I was outside playing in front of my family’s store on 15th Street and 8th Avenue. The blast shook the entire community of Fountain Heights and beyond. The blast and the ensuing emergency vehicles caused me to run the 2-3 blocks towards the sound of the blast. Along the way I stopped by my friend’s house (Fate Morris) and he and I ran to the 16th Street Baptist Church. (more…)
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…)
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…)
I attended Brunetta C. Hill Elementary School and grew up in Smithfield, near the historic A. H. Parker High School.
I was a member of First Congregational Christian Church (United Church of Christ). My church was very much involved in social justice and the Civil Rights Movement. I would attend some of the civil rights meetings with my parents.
In 1963, my family and I moved to the College Hills neighborhood, about 5 blocks from Dynamite Hill.*
One Sunday in 1965, we were at church and had to be evacuated by Birmingham’s SWAT team and Bomb Squad because a bomb was placed outside in front of a church a block south of our church. This was rather traumatic as church was to be a safe and sacred place. That bomb did not explode.** (more…)