My family and I moved to Birmingham, Alabama in 1961. My father, Samuel Elliott Harris, M.D., had completed his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, MO. He and my mother, Dixie Gardner Harris, grew up in Birmingham. My mother was the youngest of fifteen children of Billy and Roberta (Carson) Gardner of Lowndes County, AL. My mother’s older sister was Minnie Gardner Gaston who was married to Birmingham entrepreneur A.G. Gaston. My mother moved in with them at the age of eight years old, and she remained with them until entering college. My father and his family lived across the street from my mother in Birmingham. My paternal grandfather, originally from Huntsville, AL, was a physician, Samuel Francis Harris, M.D., having graduated from Meharry Medical College in 1916 or 1918. He was one of five sons, all of whom were educated and successful. My grandmother, Florita Augusta Elliott, was one of eight children originally from Moundville, AL. She taught school until she married my grandfather, and each of her siblings was educated and successful, as well. Her brother, Eugene Elliott, Sr., had graduated from Meharry Dental College in the early 1900s. My mother graduated from Tuskegee Institute, and she received her Masters Degree from New York University in 1952. My family believed in education, and they had instilled in my siblings and me a strong work ethic.
After my father completed his residency program, my parents decided to move the family to Birmingham intending for my father to join my grandfather’s medical practice and ultimately assume it upon my grandfather’s retirement. I was in the third grade when we moved. While in St. Louis, I had heard of the awful treatment of Blacks in the Deep South, particularly Alabama. I remember being horrified at the thought of moving to Birmingham where they hung Black children. (more…)
On Sunday morning, September 15, we attended the early morning service at Shades Valley Presbyterian Church. Dad sat with the four children while Mom sang in the choir, in the balcony behind us. After Sunday school, Dad drove us home, squeezed into the VW beetle. Mom had to stay with the choir for the second service at eleven o’clock, so Dad would prepare lunch for everyone. We changed into comfortable play clothes as soon as we got home.
Before he started the charcoal grill on the back patio, below the kitchen and dining room windows, Dad turned on the radio. (more…)
I can remember when the first black families tried to buy homes on the other side of Center Street, which marked Birmingham’s color line. If you wanted to get a house on the west side of Center Street chances are you were going to have some resistance from white folks. At first, the Ku Klux Klan would burn the doors of the houses that African-Americans moved into. Sometimes members of the Klan would fire shots into the dark of night. Those big cathedral windows were what were being shot at all of the time.
We all knew a dynamite blast was coming when we heard decommissioned police cruisers burning rubber up Center Street. Flying up the hill. (more…)