Mom had a long list of values to instill in us. Probably at the top of the list was: “Always tell the truth.” Just as I entered fifth grade, we moved to Birmingham, where that rule was about to get more nuanced: there was “the truth” and there was “the whole truth.”
Dad moved Mom and us four kids to Birmingham so he could join the civil rights movement. He may have been the only white man in the state whose fulltime job was civil rights. Mom and Dad had cautioned us not to talk about Dad’s work. With our teachers, neighbors, and friends, that piece of the truth could mean trouble. We navigated a fine line, technically never telling a lie but holding back most of what mattered to us. (more…)
Dad had color guard duty, but there was no flag.
It was a pretty simple task: You stood around in the front of Woodlawn Baptist Church to make sure nobody of the wrong color wandered in by mistake. Dad let me stay outside with the men. He liked having me around, and maybe he figured I’d learn something.
Color guard was an important job, because colored folks trying to attend a white church were bound to create trouble. We had one try every now and then – not when I was out there, but I heard about it – and they were advised to go worship with their own kind. (more…)
I was 13 years old in 1963, and a student at Homewood Junior High. I do remember the Sunday the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed. Innocent children were killed in God’s house, in a terrorist act.
Before this, I was going along with the crowd. My father told my mother, my sister and me not to go downtown that summer. Every nut in the United States was congregating down there. (more…)
I lived over the mountain in Homewood. I never realized until recently how isolated we were back then. The day of the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, I remember that some of my friends and I had planned to go to the downtown library after church to work on a term paper we had put off. I guess we saw the news on TV and of course our mothers would not let us go downtown.
I recently saw “4 Little Girls” by Spike Lee at our church, Independent Presbyterian Church. There was so much that I never knew. (more…)
In 2011, I was driving up to Martha’s Vineyard to find out if perhaps I wanted to settle there. I stopped in Birmingham to see friends for a few days – Hank and Martha Black. Hank and I had been friends since the University of Alabama when he was a reporter. Coming home from work, he brought in a tiny advertisement from Weld for Birmingham, asking for sculptors to compete to create a memorial to the four girls who were in the bathroom when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in 1963. Excited, Hank asked me to read it and said that it was for me. Curious, I read it and agreed with him. Here in my hand was a piece that fit my philosophy of life and my small but constant battle for social justice wherever I happened to be. We noted that there were only four days left before the final due date. Usually it takes me and my web master a month or more to create a proposal for a particular competition. Instead, Martha helped me for four days and nights to run around getting details, photocopies, and leather-bound books for presentations. Usually I insert schematic drawings, elevations, site specific details, and of course, drawings of the potential piece, then load it all onto a flash drive or a CD.
Evelyn Allen, mother of our former Alabama First Lady Lori Allen Siegelman, my second Mom, let us spread out all our work on her living room floor in her home on top of Red Mountain, where we had a killer view of Jones Valley. So many people helped bring those bound proposals together. Southside UPS and the Birmingham Public Library’s Southside Branch helped often. They knew my name. I would come into the library and ask, “Where is the Spike Lee movie? I have to have the Spike Lee movie ‘4 Little Girls.’ I need it now, today. When is it coming back?” So, the librarians helped me with my research but I don’t think they really knew what I was doing. Kind. Martha and I drove the six bound proposals and a 3-foot by 2-foot presentation board with the glued-on design downtown to the appropriate address printed in the ad, with 20 minutes to spare. I think we double parked.
It was time to “come home,” because I had run from Birmingham, as soon as I could. (more…)