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. (more…)
Why was Marti so alone? Why did I and approximately 1,000 other students fail to join the righteous social revolution that swept Birmingham and America in May of 1963? Speaking for myself, the reason was cowardice. I was among scores, indeed, hundreds of students who thought George Wallace was a buffoon and the violent attacks on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his demonstrators were both unchristian and unconstitutional. More than any decision of my college years, I regret my obedient decision to keep my mouth shut and to stay on campus, as ordered. But I know that I cannot blame my failure on the college administrators who threatened us with expulsion. Most students realized instantly that the college was copping out on its classroom ideals, but it was entirely our own fault that we did not defy our deans in the cause of justice.
Why was I so fearful? (more…)
Brooke Hill seniors, on whom we all had crushes, chauffeured us downtown to the Melba Theater for a sneak preview of the movie – the official premiere was taking place the following night. At the beginning of the show, we nodded appreciatively when Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) told his daughter, “Don’t say nigger, Scout,” and we recognized Calpurnia, the family maid, as a dead ringer for the fussy black women of our own kitchens. But soon our minds balked at the racial world of Scout’s South Alabama. For the first time, we came face-to-face with the central racial preoccupation of the southern white psyche, the dynamics that justified and ennobled Our Way of Live: the rape of a white woman by a black man. (more…)
Recollections of an 11 year old
Daddy asked the session of the church to support his stance that the doors remain open to anyone who wanted to worship within.
On Easter Sunday 1963 my best friend, and “blood sister,” Kathy, and I, with a concealed collection of snacks we had bought on our trip to the drugstore between Sunday school and church, headed up to the balcony as usual. Kathy and I did everything together, and we sat wherever we pleased in church since we were almost twelve. (more…)
In 1963, I was a senior at Shades Valley High School in Birmingham, Alabama. That was the year, a bright, intensely idealistic, not very savvy girl learned to retreat.
Put me in context. My parents were immigrants who left Europe with my brother during World War II to escape persecution because their ethnic background was Jewish. I was born in New York, and after years there and in Boston, my parents moved to Birmingham in 1953. I was seven.
My father felt he had behaved in less than courageous fashion in Europe on occasion, and he decided he would not hide his progressive views in Birmingham. He helped start the Alabama Council on Human Relations so that blacks and whites could meet together and communicate, a simple enough proposition which at the time was illegal according to Birmingham city ordinances. (more…)