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…)
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…)
In 1963, my family and I lived on the North side of Birmingham, on the infamous “Dynamite Hill.” My father was Executive Vice President and Manager of Citizen’s Federal Savings and Loan Association, the city’s sole black owned financial institution. My mother was a teacher and administrator at Miles College, the local Historically Black College (HBCU). My parents shielded my sister and me from the civil rights struggle as long as they could. For example, when a bomb went off in the night, my mother would say, “That was a truck backfiring. Go back to sleep.” And when we would drink from water fountains labeled, “White,” while shopping downtown, she would pretend not to notice, and call us quietly to her side. Ours was a happy childhood, despite the tension, violence and turmoil brewing around us.
Education was extremely important in our household. My father had earned a Bachelor’s Degree and a Law Degree at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) through the GI Bill. He and my mother met at NCCU in the late 1940s and were married after they both graduated. In 1963, my mother had an opportunity to pursue a Master’s Degree at the University of Indiana on scholarship. My parents decided she would go to Bloomington on her own for a year with my sister and me in tow to complete the course work. We left my father in Birmingham and moved to Indiana late summer, 1963. (more…)
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…)