We were kids in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. That tumultuous year transformed the nation and shaped our lives. These are our stories.
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“Coming Together.” What better day than Thanksgiving for a national news story on the Kids in Birmingham 1963 event.
In September, 25 of us “Kids,” the children of segregated Birmingham, came together to connect with each other and to welcome the city’s rising generations to join us. NBC national correspondent Rehema Ellis interviewed Kids for this NBC Nightly News story, broadcast on Thanksgiving Day. Read 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 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. Read more…
I was born in Birmingham in 1954. My family lived in the Titusville neighborhood and I attended Center Street Elementary. My family were members of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. My family was also very involved in the Civil Rights Movement. My uncle, Bernard H. Williams, had attended Morehouse College with Dr. King and they were Frat Brothers. My mother and grandmother were very close friends of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a Birmingham pastor who had taken many brave actions to push for changes in the Jim Crow laws. Many of the people in this group were and still are very close friends.
I remember 1963 vividly, mainly because of how violent it was, but also because of the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church. Denise McNair, one of the girls who was killed, was one of my playmates, and we attended the same school at the time.Our families were very close, with her dad being our milkman and family photographer and her mom being my 3rd grade teacher that September.
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. Read more…
September 15, 1963, was the day I was to move into a room near Birmingham Southern College where I was just starting my sophomore year. My family, who had been very active in the Civil Rights Movement for a number of years, lived in Homewood and we were listening to the radio as we packed up the car with my clothes, books and other things that I would be needing that semester. I was to be rooming that year at the home of one of the BSC art professors with Sena Jeter Naslund, who was later to write the novel Four Spirits about that time and that day.
We were devastated when we got the news of the church bombing and the four children who were killed. The McNairs, one of the families whose daughter was killed that day, were friends of my parents. Although Birmingham Southern was still a “whites only” school at that time, there was a small group of students and professors who supported the Movement and were very engaged. We frequently visited with students and professors at Miles College, the all Black school near BSC. The church bombing was all anyone could talk about for days and, of course, we went to the funeral service at which Martin Luther King spoke. There was an overflow crowd there that day but we managed to get into the top balcony of the church, from which we could hear, but not see, the service below. Read more…