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…)
I grew up in the South in the 1950s.
‘Negroes’ drank from water fountains labeled ‘Colored’; used separate restrooms from whites; and were relegated to sit in the back of buses.
My father owned a small retail store in downtown Birmingham.
We lived on the Southside of Birmingham and I often took the Highland Avenue bus downtown to meet my parents or friends.
My parents taught me and my brother and sister to be respectful, so one day I remember asking my father if it was okay to give up my bus seat to an elderly black woman. He sternly warned that I would risk being hurt by some hateful people.
My dad was kind and respectful to his employees, but at that time there were laws against ‘colored’ office workers and salespeople.
When it became clear that the Civil Rights law was going to pass and rules prohibiting ‘colored’ employment were about to change, my dad took the opportunity to hire a black office worker—likely among the first in a white owned retail store in Birmingham. (more…)
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…)
Margaret Brown lived in Titusville, a neighborhood in Birmingham. Two months before I was born in 1949, she was hired to come and live with my family, and work in our home six days a week as a maid, or “the help,” as folks in Mountain Brook would have said back then. I would imagine that Margaret had dreams like any other young woman: a husband, a family of her own, perhaps. She probably knew she was abandoning those dreams when she took the offer to come cook, clean, and do the laundry for my family. I can only imagine what Margaret was thinking when she boarded the #50 Crestline bus in downtown Birmingham, leaving her world and heading for “The Tiny Kingdom.” (more…)
[Alert: This piece includes language that may be offensive to many — the “N” word. We have retained the author’s original language, which reflects the ugliness of the Jim Crow years, since this is an eye witness account. The story contains important information on redlining, segregation, and the effects of these policies that persist today.]
My buddy and I had ridden our bikes several blocks to the northwest – farther than we were supposed to. The sun was going down, and we knew it was time to head home. But we looked at the forbidden land just a hundred feet or so away.
That was where they lived, and it was pretty much where they stayed. From years of hearing stories, I imagined streets where chaos ruled. Where knives flickered in every direction, and people lived in ramshackle huts. Where a white man would be dead in minutes if he dared stepped over the line. In my imagination, there was an eerie glow over the neighborhood. (more…)