As a child in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, I was witness to the turmoil in the community around the Civil Rights Movement. We had, of necessity, become more aware of hatred based on race way beyond the recognition of the grinding heel of racism we had faced all our lives. The expression of racism that kept us from being able to go to enjoy the rides of Fair Park at the State Fairgrounds in Birmingham or try on clothes at a department store or kept us drinking from a separate water fountain or attending segregated schools was something we knew. We knew the fear of seeing Bull Connor riding around in that white tank ordering us off the streets after the times they bombed Attorney Arthur Shores’ home on Center Street. We had felt the blasts in our homes during the night. (more…)
In the past few years I have realized that growing up in Birmingham and reaching maturity in the 1960s, I was surrounded by History. At times, it felt like History was literally pulling me into its widening vortex.
I was fifteen in the spring of 1963. As a white Birmingham teenager observing the critical events in our city at a great distance, I was confused. (more…)
For the most part, I was oblivious to the summer of violence that ensued. But one thing I will never forget about those days is one of my rare interactions with white people. I was just about to cross a well-traveled street on my way to the store when a pickup truck whizzed by with two or three white kids in the back who yelled something about “nigger” at me.
Their venom surprised me because it was so unexpected. I remember wondering how they could hate me when they didn’t even know me. Did whoever was driving the truck really intend to hit me? But just how far hatred can take a person toward depravity became more apparent within a matter of days when Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed on Sept. 15, 1963, killing four little girls. (more…)
My background is that of a middle-class child growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s in Birmingham, Alabama at the very time of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Movement, its leaders, and our parents taught us a great deal about values—what’s right and wrong. We learned about the importance of teamwork from the many, many hours we spent in meetings with adults and other young people, talking about the challenges we faced and trying to understand the strategies and legal issues involved. I remember that my childhood friends and I talked with our parents about whether we would be allowed to participate in marches and the likely implications of doing so. I also recall hearing the rumors that teachers and other workers (like my mother and father) would lose their jobs if they marched. We witnessed the courage of fellow students and our families, and we took part in the Alabama Christian Movement’s evening meetings where we learned how spiritual music—from “I Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” to “Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Set on Freedom”—can fortify a people and give them a vehicle for expressing their aspirations and strong belief in lofty goals. (more…)