In 1983, as a reporter for The Birmingham News, I wrote several stories looking back at the events of 1963. I worked with other reporters to track down many of the school children who had heeded Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to march in downtown Birmingham. Most of them, like Bernita Roberson Sawyer, had been jailed. She was 14 at the time, not much older than me, and had spent five days in jail. They described what it was like to be in jail as children and recalled how those events had shaped their lives as adults. In June, I wrote a 20-year retrospective on Gov. George Wallace’s “stand in the schoolhouse door” at the University of Alabama. Most of the key figures of that day were still alive, including Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who was still angry 20 years later about being made to stand in the sweltering sun while Wallace made his stand in the shade. Then in September, 20 years after the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls, I had a front page interview with Chris McNair, the father of one of those girls, Denise. (more…)
My family moved to Birmingham 4/15/62 because our father was sent there by the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway Christian) in Nashville, TN to build a new Baptist Book Store, which he did. My identical twin sis, Leah, and I were 12 years old in April (turned 13 that May) and were enrolled in Mountain Brook Junior High. Our parents had always bought the best house they could afford just within the best school district, and Mountain Brook was it when we moved there. Two horrific dates from 1963 that will forever be etched in our memories were the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the assassination of President Kennedy. Leah and I turned 14 years old in May, 1963.
We were at church at the all-white First Baptist Church close to the black church and our building shook and glass broke out of some windows when the blast went off. (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…)
It was 1963. I was 10 years old. I was in the 5th grade and looking forward to the day. My Mom was taking me downtown, on the bus, for a Dr.’s appointment. I was excited because she had promised me a visit to the lunch counter at FW Woolworths for a chocolate milkshake.
All I can remember is that we were leaving the store to catch our bus home. We came out onto the street and there was a large crowd. All ages, mostly black, children and adults, yelling and screaming and crying. (more…)