In 1963, black people’s hopes and aspirations collided with the heart and mindset of a segregated Birmingham. That confluence led to the civil rights demonstrations and strife that defined the city and Alabama for decades afterward.
That year I was 10.
I lived on Center Way in the (mostly) placid community of South Titusville, in southwest Birmingham. (more…)
One day in 1963 that stands out for me is when Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Ralph Abernathy, James Farmer, and Rev. Abraham Woods came through our home so that they could get back down to St. Joseph Baptist Church without being seen in the area. This was one of the nights that Attorney Arthur Shores’ home was bombed. They were in the neighborhood trying to make sure that Attorney Shores and his family were okay. The police also heard that Dr. King was in the area, and if they had caught him that night, they would have put him in jail. (more…)
I was 7, maybe 8, when I begged my father to take me to see a movie called The Shaggy Dog and had to enter the downtown Melba Theater through an alley stairway that led to the balcony where black folks had to sit. The place was filthy. I was embarrassed and sorry I had talked my dad into taking me. It was the last time I ever asked such a favor.
Our social life revolved around the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. There was something going on there seven days a week; potluck dinners, plays, music, activities for the kids. One Emancipation Day, Jackie Robinson, the first black player welcomed into the major leagues, came to speak to the congregation. It was a wonderful place where everyone felt at home, safe.
That changed on Sunday, September 15, 1963, when an exploding package of dynamite, put in place the night before by Ku Klux Klan members, killed four girls in the church basement. (more…)
In the fall of 1963, we were shocked by the vicious and cowardly bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, one of Birmingham’s most prominent African American churches. We soon learned that four innocent young African American girls had been killed; I was devastated to hear that one of them was a good friend and classmate, Cynthia. I’ll never forget that Sunday morning in church at Sixth Avenue Baptist, when our minister, Reverend Porter, announced that our sister church had been bombed. Congregation members immediately left their seats, in a state of shock, because our relatives and friends belonged to that church. (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…)