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 10 years old and believed life in the South was unfair to blacks. I grew up in the West Princeton-Rising neighborhood and was number 8 of 11 children. My father worked for United States Steel (USS) and my mother was a homemaker.
Lomb Avenue divided West Princeton-Rising from West End, which was the white neighborhood. We had to cross that Ave when doing neighborhood shopping. The white kids would name call and throw rocks at us.
Two of my sisters and one brother, attended A. H. Parker high school during the year of 1963. They were given very stern instructions, that morning of the Children’s Crusade, not to leave school for any reason. My brother evidently didn’t hear those instructions because he did participate. Thankfully for him he was not arrested. That evening we all watched the evening news and my siblings were pointing out some of their classmates.
I saw then that the blacks in Alabama were standing for something. It made me see that equality could be made possible for blacks but only if they fought for it.
Veronica Jackson wrote this story expressly for Kids in Birmingham 1963 in December 2020.
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…)
In 1963 I had never thought about why my school was attended by whites only. The only black person I knew was Spicy, the woman who came to our home one day a week to iron.
Then, one Spring day when I was a Junior at Woodlawn High School, every class received an announcement that there would be a march of black students, and that these students would pass in front of our school. We were instructed to remain inside. We were instructed to be quiet.
My teacher was wise enough to know we would not be able to stay in our seats, so we were allowed to go to the window when the black students passed by like a parade. There was no sound, no shouting, no raised hands. Just silence. I watched a group of about 50 male and female students, just like me except for the color of their skin, walk in unison. I knew from other events at that time that they wanted an equal education, an equal opportunity to succeed. That touched my heart.
That day—that silent march of teenagers—changed me. I saw people with hopes and dreams and desires—just like me.
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…)