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Best Public Service "Remembering 1963" Alabama Public Radio

"Remembering 1963"

Please find enclosed materials for Alabama Public Radio’s entry for the Sigma Delta Chi award category of Best Public Service titled “Remembering 1963.”

2013 afforded a singular opportunity to examine the fiftieth anniversary of key events related to the civil rights movement in Alabama and their impact today. The Alabama Public Radio news team produced close to two hours of radio features related to events that occurred in 1963. Included in our entry is APR’s coverage of the anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Reporter Ryan Vasquez tracked down one of the survivors of the attack, while reporter Maggie Martin uncovered letters from prison written by “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss, who was convicted of the bombing. APR reported on iconic sites related to the civil rights movement which are now tourist attractions. The University of Alabama also commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the so called “stand in the schoolhouse door” where segregationist Governor George Wallace tried to prevent two African American students from registering. In a related story, Wallace also banned Tuskegee High School from integrating. Students, black and white who never met each other in class, gathered for their fiftieth reunion and APR was there to cover it.

“Remembering 1963” is respectfully submitted for your kind consideration.

Civil Rights Media

07-31-13

NWS RV01 Runs:

ALL YEAR LONG ON ALABAMA PUBLIC RADIO, WE’VE BEEN LOOKING BACK ON 1963, AND KEY EVENTS THAT TOOK PLACE THEN DURING THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. PERHAPS THE MOST INFAMOUS IS THE BOMBING OF THE 16TH STREET BAPTIST CHURCH. APR’S RYAN VASQUEZ REPORTS ON SOMEONE PERILOUSLY CLOSE TO THE EVENT…

September 15th, 1963 started off just like any other Sunday for Barbara Cross with morning Sunday school class down in the basement of 16th Street Baptist Church. Cross remembers that day’s Sunday school lesson…

BC-18 “Our Sunday school lesson that day was “A Love That Forgives” I’ll never forget that as long as I live. In my class particular we discussed the scripture from Matthew the fifth chapter talking about a godpaying love the godly type of love and a god pay is the Greek word for godly love.”

It was the first time Pastor John Cross, Barbara’s father, initiated Youth Sunday under his ministry. After class the children were getting ready for their other responsibilities that Sunday. Again Barbara Cross…

BC-19 “I remember a good friend of mine came by the classroom and we were going to go to the bathroom together and my teacher stopped me, my teacher’s name was Mrs. Demann, and she gave me an assignment that literally save my life and kept me out of harm’s way.”

Cross was asked to write the names of those who would be moving up to the next age level in Sunday school. It was just a few minutes later that that Sunday would soon be marred by an explosion that would change Birmingham forever.

BC-16 “I remembered I was in the process of writing the names down. The most horrific noise I ever heard in my life. I remember the building shaking. I remembered hearing children screaming.”

Four young girls died, many more injured and a community ripped apart by an act of violence on what was supposed to be a peaceful Sunday. Don Brown was a general assignment reporter for the Birmingham News during the early 60s. He was at a church three blocks away when the bomb went off.

DB-22 “It was after the church service that I told my wife, ‘Take the car on home. I’m going to see what’s happened down the street here.’ And as soon as I saw what’s happened I got a ride to work with a photographer and stayed at work until after midnight that Sunday night.”

local and national media outlets HAVE BEEN CRITICIZED FOR BEING slow to cover the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham.  By the summer of 1963, every major news outlet had someone on the ground. After the explosion that rocked the country, news spread fast. At the Cross residence the phone was constantly busy right after the explosion from reporters to family members like Barbara Cross’ uncle in Virginia…

BC-26 “I remembered my mother telling me he had to interrupt the line because there was a broadcast an NBC report or one of the major networks that said the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama and my uncle said that’s my brother in law’s church you got to get me through to that line I need to make sure my family is okay.”

It wasn’t long until word spread that Sunday knew what had transpired in Birmingham.

CA-09 “ I was preparing to get ready for church because I went to Sunday School and my brother yelled come quick, come quick something has happened in Birmingham.

Charles Avery was living just outside of Chicago at the time, but he never forgot his Birmingham roots.

CA-14 “When we heard it on the news we were almost compelled to get in the car and come to Birmingham then at that moment we were so excited and wanted to get back home”

Avery sensed what many were feeling…. Former Birmingham news reporter Don Brown says something big was about to happen …

DB-12 nervousbreakdown “If you could equate the feeling around the city those next few days to somebody having a nervous breakdown. Birmingham was having a serious nervous breakdown.”

Two young men were killed later that day and the National Guard was brought in to keep the peace in the days following the bombing. As national and international media ramped up their coverage they echoed what Brown would while covering the Young Men’s Business Club in Birmingham.

DB-25 “One of the lawyers whom I respected got up and told his colleagues “Birmingham is dead” this was after the church bombing. And that was the feeling that the national media and Birmingham itself had left itself with when we saw what we had done at the 16th Street Baptist Church and I say we because everybody in Birmingham was blamed for that.”

50 years later now and Chuck Morgan’s words still ring in the city. Birmingham isn’t dead but it still carries the scars of September 15th with it. It’s a constant reminder in the parks and monuments to Civil Rights leaders and at 16th Street Baptist Church where it comes up in this first Sunday service.

Pastor September 15th “We’ve got a lot coming up in the next coming month as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the church. But let me just say this, for us at 16th street don’t wait until September 15th to give God some praise every day is a day of thanksgiving. You might not be here September 15th …(fade out).

The church has taken on civil rights history as a ministry offering tours of the church and basement where the bomb went off. Pastor Arthur Price Junior …

AP-23 “We’ve increased our tour ministry when we got here and we have great volunteers who don’t mind telling the story. We produced the documentary chronicling the events of 1963 and the bombing of the church and trials of bringing the perpetrators to justice so every year we know that people make a pilgrimage to come to Birmingham to see what happened here 50 years ago.”

It’s not uncommon to find visitors from all over taking in a church service on any given Sunday…

Barea college welcome…fade out clapping

Pastor Price says he has already received calls from over 350 people to attend service on the 50th anniversary this year including from the White House. On that day they will recreate the service from September 15th including the Sunday school lesson that day “A Love That Forgives.”

BC-Chapter 5 Matthew (Barbara Cross – Matthew Chapter 5 fade up then fade out)

An ironic lesson from 50 years ago and what could be a fitting reminder 50 years later. I’m Ryan Vasquez, APR News in Birmingham.

PRISON LETTERS/MM

SEPTEMBER 2013

ALL YEAR LONG ON ALABAMA PUBLIC RADIO, WE’VE BEEN MARKING THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF KEY EVENTS IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA. ONE OF THE MOST POIGNANT HAPPENED ON SEPTEMBER 15, 1963. THAT’S WHEN MEMBERS OF THE KU KLUX KLAN PLANTED A BOMB AT THE 16TH STREET BAPTIST CHURCH IN BIRMINGHAM. THE EXPLOSION KILLED FOUR AFRICAN AMERICAN GIRLS. AN EXHIBIT AT THE BIRMINGHAM PUBLIC LIBRARY GIVES AN UNUSUAL WINDOW INTO THOSE EVENTS. THE LIBRARY IS DISPLAYING LETTERS…NOT FROM THE VICTIMS, BUT ONE OF THE BOMBERS. ALABAMA PUBLIC RADIO’S MAGGIE MARTIN TAKES A CLOSER LOOK …

FIFTY YEARS AGO, A BOMB EXPLODED AT THE 16TH STREET BAPTIST CHURCH IN BIRMINGHAM. FOUR YOUNG GIRLS WERE KILLED IN THE BLAST. IT WOULD TAKE FOURTEEN YEARS BEFORE THE FIRST KLANSMAN WAS TRIED AND CONVICTED IN THE BOMBING. ROBERT CHAMBLISS WAS FOUND GUILTY OF HIS PART IN THE ATTACK

AMBI OF PRISON DOOR SLAMMING SHUT

HE WOUND UP HERE. AT THE SAINT CLAIR COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, ABOUT FORTY MILES NORTHEAST OF BIRMINGHAM.

IT’S HERE WHERE CHAMBLISS WROTE LETTERS TO HIS FAMILY DURING HIS TIME IN PRISON.

AMBI OF CART BEING PUSHED DOWN

THE HANDWRITTEN LETTERS, AND THE PICTURES THEY PAINT FROM THAT TIME, CAN NOW BE FOUND AT THE ARCHIVES DEPARTMENT AT THE BIRMINGHAM PUBLIC LIBRARY.  

 “APRIL 20, 1979. YES MOMMIE YOU TOLD ME AND TOLD ME YOU CALLED THE GOVERNOR. MOMMIE I ASK YOU AGAIN DID YOU TALK TO THE GOVERNOR. DID YOU CALL MY LAWYER.

MOMMIE IS CHAMBLISS’ WIFE IN A LETTER READ BY LIBRARY ARCHIVIST JIM BAGGETT…

WHAT DID HE SAY. WROTE THE GOVERNOR A NICE TWO AND A HALF PAGE LETTER. THE REASON HE SENT THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR’S STAFF OVER HER TO TALK TO ME TELL OUR LITTLE BABBY TO WRITE ONE. PUT IN YOUR LETTER SO IT WON’T COST HER POSTAGE. ANSWER SOON, YOUR LOVING HUSBAND, R.E. CHAMBLISS.”

BAGGETT HAS BEEN STUDYING THOSE FIFTY YEAR OLD LETTERS IN DETAIL...

“CHAMBLISS IS ALMOST ENTIRELY FOCUSED ON HIMSELF IN THESE LETTERS. THERE’S A LOT OF SELF-PITY AND HE PRESENTS HIMSELF AS A VICTIM AND HE NEVER ACKNOWLEDGES ANY INVOLVEMENT IN THE BOMBINGS. THERE’S NO REMORSE. THERE’S NO ACCEPTANCE OF RESPONSIBILITY AT ALL.”

IN 1963, CHAMBLISS WAS BETTER KNOWN BY HIS NICKNAME, DYNAMITE BOB. PROSECUTORS AT THE TIME CALLED HIM SKILLED BOMB MAKER,  RESPONSIBLE FOR SEVERAL RACIALLY MOTIVATED ATTACKS IN BIRMINGHAM, THOUGH THE NUMBER ISN’T CLEAR.  BAGGETT SAYS ONE ELEMENT WAS RACE—NOT THAT OF HIS VICTIMS. BUT, RATHER HIS OWN…  

“HIS SELF WORTH COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THERE’S THIS WHOLE OTHER GROUP OF PEOPLE HE CAN LOOK DOWN UPON AND DOMINATE. SO I THINK THIS ACCOUNTS FOR A LOT OF THE REASON THAT PEOPLE LIKE CHAMBLISS REACTED SO VIOLENTLY TO CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVITY. IT WASN’T JUST AN ATTACK ON THE SOCIAL SYSTEM THAT THEY LIVED IN THAT WAS SEGREGATED. IT WAS AN ATTACK ON THEIR WHOLE SELF IMAGE, THEIR OWN SELF WORTH AND HOW THEY SAW THEMSELVES.”

OTHERS OBSERVERS OF THE SIXTEENTH STREET BAPTIST CHURCH BOMMING HAVE A MORE STRAIGHTFORWARD ASSESSMENT OF CHAMBLISS.

“THE THING THAT I RECALL MOST ABOUT HIM IS JUST A DEEP SENSE OF MEANNESS. SOMEONE WHO HAD SUCH A DEEP HATRED.”

DOCTOR ART DUNNING IS A PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA. HE WAS ONE OF JUST A FEW AFRICAN AMERICANS TO ATTEND THE TUSCALOOSA CAMPUS IN 1966, THREE YEARS AFTER THE STAND IN THE SCHOOL HOUSE DOOR. HE AGREES WHITE SUPREMACISTS WERE THREATENED BY THIS CHANGE IN SOCIAL ORDER, AND THAT’S WHAT SPURRED THE VIOLENCE.

“I DO THINK THAT CHAMBLISS’ OTHER WORLD SAW THIS SORT OF SOCIAL ORDER CRUMBLING WHERE JUST BY HEREDITARY ADVANTAGE THAT CERTAIN THINGS, I DON’T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING JUST BE BORN IN A CERTAIN GROUP, I HAVE THIS DISTINCT ADVANTAGE. I THINK THAT WAS DISTURBING TO THEM.”

AMBI OF CART ROLLING DOWN THE AISLE

BACK AT THE BIRMINGHAM PUBLIC LIBRARY, JIM BAGGETT PULLS OUT ANOTHER OF CHAMBLISS’ LETTERS. IT’S ALSO ADDRESSED TO HIS WIFE, DATED APRIL 25, 1979.

Fade up prison ambi

“I DON’T TRUST MY LAWYER. THEY ARE GIVING BIG MEETINGS ALL AROUND TAKING UP BIG COLLECTIONS. WHAT ARE THEY DOING WITH THE MONEY. HE SAID IT’S BEING PUT IN THE BANK FIRST NATIONAL BANK IN NORTH BIRMINGHAM IN YOUR NAME. I CAN’T SLEEP BUT ABOUT THIRTY MINUTES AT THE TIME. I HARDLY EVER LAY DOWN TILL 11 OR 12 O’CLOCK. MOMMIE I GOT PLENTY TO TELL YOU WHEN AND IF I EVER GET OUT. IT WOULD MAKE YOU ALL WANT TO KILL SOMEBODY.”

CHAMBLISS WROTE DOZENS OF LETTERS OVER THE NEXT SIX YEARS. HE NEVER DID SUCCESSFULLY GET OUT OF PRISON AS HE HAD TRIED TO FOR AS LONG AS HE WAS INCARCERATED. CHAMBLISS DIED IN PRISON IN OCTOBER 1985. THERE’S STILL A CONNECTION BETWEEN THE PRISON AND THE 16TH STREET BAPTIST CHURCH BOMBING. ONE OF CHAMBLISS’ ACCOMPLICES, THOMAS BLANTON, IS STILL SERVING A LIFE SENTENCE THERE.

AMBI OF JAIL DOOR CLOSING

MAGGIE MARTIN, APR NEWS IN BIRMINGHAM.

SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR/PAT

JUNE 7, 2013

ALL YEAR LONG ON ALABAMA PUBLIC RADIO, WE’RE OBSERVING THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF PIVOTAL MOMENTS IN THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS. 1963 SAW THE CHILDREN’S MARCH AND THE BOMBING of the 16TH STREET BAPTIST CHURCH IN BIRMINGHAM. BUT FOR NEXT FEW DAYS, ALL EYES ARE ON TUSCALOOSA AND THE FIGHT OVER STUDENT DESEGREGATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA. APR’S PAT DUGGINS HAS MORE ON WHAT

BECAME KNOWN AS THE STAND IN THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR…

class fx faDE UP…

pat: PROFESSOR STEPHEN BLACK IS ON A STROLL THROUGH HISTORY.

Black fx up… “As you can imagine the whole campus is in an uproar…”

pat: INSTEAD OF USING A CHALK BOARD, HE’S TAKING HIS CLASS TO SITES ON CAMPUS RELATED TO THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT…

black fx up …“there was a cross burning about where the arby’s is here…”

pat:  NEXT TUESDAY MARKS FIFTY YEARS SINCE THE STAND IN THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR. THAT’S WHEN GEORGE WALLACE TRIED TO KEEP TWO AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS FROM ENROLLING AT THE TUSCALOOSA CAMPUS IN 1963. THE NAMES OF VIIVAN MALONE AND JAMES HOOD ARE ETCHED IN CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY. BUT THEY WEREN’T THE FIRST…

bLACK: tHINGS WERE SAID TO HER, THINGS WERE THROWN AT HER. bUT, THINK OF YOUR DAY TO DAY, WHAT DO YOU DO? YOU GO TO CLASS…(FADE)

pat: HE’S REFERRING TO AUTHERINE LUCY. SHE ENROLLED IN TUSCALOOSA IN 1956. BLACK SAYS THE RECEPTION WASN’T WELCOMING…

bLACK: ONE OF THE IMAGES YOU’LL SEE ON THE NEXT PAGE IS A GROUP OF PRO-SEGREGATIONIST FOLKS. THEY’RE BURNING IN EFFIGY A COPY OF THE BROWN VERSUS BOARD EDUCATION DECISION. …(FADE)

Pat: IN 1963, HOOD AND MALONE WANTED TO FOLLOW IN LUCY’S FOOTSTEPS.  DR. CULPEPPER CLARK DOESN’T NEED A WALKING TOUR ABOUT THAT. HE’S AUTHOR OF THE BOOK THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR…

cLArk: “it was an iconic moment. it pitted the kennedy administration against the south’s most defiant supporter of segregation , alabama governor george wallace.:

newsreel footage from  tuscaloosa fades  up…

Pat: Culpepper clark…

clark: the kennedy administration were fearful that if they had to move him forcibly from the door, by that I mean lay hands on him, they’d have an arrest scenario that would lead to a

constitutional crisis over the tenth amendment

pat: the tenth amendment of the u.s. constitution sets out which powers are held by the federal government and which ones are held by the states.

Clark: and they certainly wanted to avoid that, and eventually, wallace did step aside.

newsreel footage fade up…

vivian malone: well, i’d like to say I’m glad to say that registration is over, and everything is over now, and now we can get down to studying . that’s our main purpose here,and i’m happy that it’s all over now, and all we have to do is get our books and start studying…”

John f. kennedy---- “good evening my fellow citizens…”

Pat: President John F. Kennedy…

JFK: “this afternoon, following a series of threats, and defiant statements, the presence of alabama national guardsmen was required on the campus of the university of alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the united states district of the northern district of alabama. that order called for the admission of two clearly quaLIFIED CANDIDATES WHO HAPPEN TO HAVE BEEN BORN NEGRO…”

PAT: BEHIND THE MEASURED WORDS FROM BOTH PRESIDENT KENNEDY AND GOVERBNOR WALLACE, THERE WAS CONCERN. DR. CLARK SAYS IT WASN’T OVER WHAT WAS GOING ON BETWEEN THE WHITE HOUSE AND THE ALABAMA GOVERNOR’S MANSION,BUT HOW THE PUBLIC MIGHT REACT…

cLARK: tHE UNIVERSITY AND GOVERNOR WALLACE WERE DETERMINED NOT TO HAVE ANOTHER OLE MISS CRISIS AS occurred IN SEPTEMBER 3, 1962 WHERE THERE WAS A SHOOTOUT WITH A COUPLE OF DEATHS…

PAT: THERE WAS REASON FOR CONCERN. ONE DAY AFTER THE STAND IN THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR. MISSISSPPI NAACP ORGANIZER MEDGAR EVERS WAS GUNNED DOWN IN FRONT OF HIS HOME.

DEDICATION CEREMONY FX FADE…

PAT: FOSTER AUDITORIUM WHERE THE STAND TOOK PLACE HAS BEEN RENOVATED, AND THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA SAYS PROGRESS HAS BEEN MADE SINCE THEN…

MORE FX

PAT: FIFTY YEARS LATER, THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA WELCOMED MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TO A CEREMONY WHERE THE ORIGINAL DOORS WHERE GEORGE WALLACE STOOD IN SUPPORT OF SEGREGATION HAVE BEEN PRESERVED.  CONGRESSMAN AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTVIST JOHN LEWIS OF GEORGIA WAS PART OF THE DELEGATION…

LEWIS: I JUST FELT LIKE REACHING OUT AND TOUCHING THE DOORS. BUT THEY WERE SO SACRED, I COULDN’T TOUCH…”

pAT: LEWIS MADE HIS COMMENTS BESIDE A CLOCK TOWER IN FRONT OF FOSTER AUDITORIUM. THREE OF THE FACES LOOKS OUT ON THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAM CAMPUS./ THE FOURTH LOOKS BACK ON FOSTER AUDITROIUM WHERE THE STAND IN THE SCHOOLHOUSE DOOR TOOK PLACE FIFTY YEARS AGO. PAT DUGGINS APR NEWS IN TUSCALOOSA…

CIVIL RIGHTS TOURISM 3 / INGOLD

FEATURE

   ALL YEAR LONG ON ALABAMA PUBLIC RADIO, WE’RE LOOKING BACK ON PIVOTAL MOMENTS IN THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS. MANY OF THE LANDMARKS IN THE BATTLE AGAINST SEGREGATION AND VOTER DISCRIMINATION ARE NOW TOURIST ATTRACTIONS. ALABAMA PUBLIC RADIO’S STAN INGOLD HAS BEEN TAKING US AROUND TO THESE SITES, AND TODAY—HE WRAPS UP IN BIRMINGHAM…

        (SOUNDS OF PEOPLE MILLING ABOUT)

            OUTSIDE THE OLD BIRMINGHAM JAIL, THE FOCUS OF ATTENTION FOR TODAY’S CROWD IS WHAT’S HIDDEN BENEATH A LARGE FLAG OF THE STATE OF ALABAMA. IT’S A HISTORIC MARKER TO REMEMBER AN EVENT FIFTY YEARS.

            KID READING FROM THE LETTER…

            SCHOOL STUDENTS TAKE TURNS READING FROM THE LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JUNIOR PUT PEN TO PAPER BACK IN 1963 AFTER HE WAS ARRESTED FOR PROTESTING AGAINST SEGREGATION.

SEGMENT FROM BELL SPEECH

 BIRMNGHAM MAYOR WILLIAM BELL WAS THERE, WELL AS GOVERNOR ROBERT BENTLEY…

“WE ARE CELEBRATING THE FIFITH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. THIS IS JUST A PART OF THAT, AND WE’RE GOING TO CONTINUE THROUGHOUT THE YEAR TO CELEBRATE THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. ITS VERY IMPORTANT, ITS IMPORTANT FOR ALL THE STATE OF ALABAMA, ITS IMPORTANT FOR BIRMINGHAM AND WE’RE EXCITED TO BE A PART OF IT.”(17SEC)(17BENTLEY)

        BUT FOR MANY IN THE CROWD, BELL AND BENTLEY WERE JUST THE WARM UP ACTS. THE KEYNOTE SPEAKER. BERNICE KING IS THE DAUGHTER OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR….

(CLIP FROM HER SPEECH)

 LATER WE SPOKE WITH KING, WHO SAYS ITS IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE TO HEAR AND UNDERSTAND THE MESSAGE HER FATHER PRESENTED IN HIS LETTER FROM THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL AND HOW THIS SITE CAN HELP WITH THE JOB OF MAKING IT ALL REAL…

            “IT LEADS YOU, OK LET ME GO AND READ ABOUT THIS LETTER.  THE LETTER I THINK SPEAKS TO ALL GENERATIONS, IT SPEAKS TO ALL PEOPLE, BECAUSE EVEN IF THE SPECIFIC SITUATION IN BIRMINGHAM CHANGED, AS MY MOTHER SAID, STRUGGLE IS A NEVER ENDING PROCESS, FREEDOM IS NEVER REALLY WON, YOU EARN IT AND WIN IT IN EVERY GENERATION.”(19SEC)(19KING)

            ROAD NOISE FROM KELLY INGRAM PARK…

            ON THIS QUIET SUNDAY, OTHER LANDMARKS CONNECTED TO THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT SIT NOT FAR FROM THE SITE OF THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL. LOWRY PARK WAS THE SITE OF DEMONSTRATIONS, INCLUDING THE SO CALLED CHILDREN’S MARCH. ACROSS THE STREET, THINGS ARE A LOT MORE LIVELY…

            (CHOIR SINGING)

            TODAY, THE SIXTEENTH STREET BAPTIST CHURCH IS BUSTLING WITH ENERGY, BUT FIFTY YEARS AGO, THE MOOD WAS DIFFERENT. THIS WAS THE SITE OF ONE OF THE MOST TRAGIC EVENTS OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT…

            “ THEY PLANTED 22 STICKS OF DYNAMITE, PUT SOME DIRT OVER IT, PUT A TIMER ON IT AND IT WENT OFF AT 10:22 RIGHT AS SUNDAY SCHOOL LET OUT AND THE CHILDREN WERE CHANGING FOR YOUTH DAY CAUSE IT WAS YOUTH SUNDAY, THEY WERE GOING TO SING IN THE CHOIR. SO WHEN THE BOMB WENT OFF IT CAUSED SUCH AN IMPACT THAT IT KILLED FOUR OF THE FIVE GIRLS IN THE BATHROOM.”(17SEC)(PRICE2)

        ARTHUR PRICE JUNIOR IS THE CURRENT PASTOR AT THE CHURCH; HE SAYS FOUR LIVES WERE LOST IN THAT BLAST…

            “AS A RESULT OF THIS CHURCH BEING THE PLACE, THE SO CALLED HEADQUARTERS, WE BELIEVE IT WAS TARGETED FOR THE BOMBING TO SEND A MESSAGE TO THE CIVIL RIGHTS WORKERS OF THAT TIME, THAT THEY WERE GOING TO TRY AND STOP THE MOVEMENT.”(11SEC)(PRICE1)

            THE BRICK BUILDING WAS OPENED IN 1873. PASTOR PRICE POINTS OUT ONE OF ITS MOST RECOGNIZABLE FEATURES-- THE “WALES WINDOW,” CALLED SO, BECAUSE IT WAS PAID FOR BY DONATIONS FROM CHILDREN FROM WALES AND THE WINDOW WAS CONSIDERED CONTROVERSIAL WHEN IT WAS UNVEILED…

            “ITS  A BLACK MAN SUFFERING IN THE SOUTH SIMILAR TO HOW CHRIST SUFFERED ON THE CROSS AND IT HAS ONE HAND PUSHING OUT OPPRESSION AND THE OTHER OPEN IN FORGIVENESS THERE ARE BULLETS GOING IN THE CHEST. THE INSCRIPTION IS FROM MATTHEW 25:YOU DO IT TO ME, IF YOU DO IT TO THE LEAST OF THESE YOU DO IT TO ME.”(17SEC)(17PRICE4)

THE CHURCH BRINGS IN AROUND FORTY THOUSAND VISITORS A YEAR, WHO COME TO SEE THE BUILDING AND LEARN ABOUT THE EVENTS ASSOCIATED WITH IT.

(STREET SOUNDS)

            THE BIRMINGHAM CIVIL RIGHTS INSTITUTE IS ACROSS THE STREET. AHMAD WARD IS THE HEAD OF EDUCATION AND EXHIBITIONS AT THE INSTITUTE,.  HE SAYS THEIR OBVIOUS MISSION IS TO EDUCATE AND INFORM PEOPLE OF WHAT HAPPENED, BUT HE SAYS THERE IS MORE TO IT THAN THAT…

        “we have an unwritten goal to improve relations, between religions, races, creeds, gender. So besides our physical exhibition component, we do a lot of programming, we have conference, we have teacher workshops, we provide outreach, we got out to schools and talk, and we cover a lot of different bases that all relates back to civil and human rights.”(24sec)(unwritten)

        SOME OF THE EXHIBITS ARE MEANT TO BE UPLIFTING, WHILE OTHERS ARE DESIGNED TO BE DISTURBING. ONE EXAMPLE IS CALLED THE CONFRONTATION ROOM…

(SOUNDS FROM THE CONFRONTATION ROOM)

        THE SELF GUIDED TOUR THEN GOES THROUGH THE PROGRESSION OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT, FROM MONTGOMERY, TO BIRMINGHAM TO WASHINGTON D-C. WARD SAYS ONE OF THE PRIZED EXHIBITS IS THE DOOR FROM MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR’S JAIL CELL WHEN HE WAS ARRESTED IN BIRMINGHAM.

            “king makes the decision to get arrested easter weekend, hence the jail cell door here. This is the one thing we probably shouldn’t let anyone touch but we let everyone touch it. But to me this is the most valuable thing we have because of its historical significance.”(15sec)(door)

        THIS SITE DRAWS IN NEARLY ONE HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND VISTORS A YEAR FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND ALL OVER THE WORLD. THEY COME TO ALABAMA TO SEE WHERE THE FOOT SOLDIERS AND LEADERS OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT MARCHED AND BLED, WERE IMPRISONED AND MADE THEIR STAND TO ENSURE EQUAL RIGHTS FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS TO COME.

…I’M STAN INGOLD…A-P-R NEWS…IN BIRMINGHAM


 

Tuskegee High 50th Reunion/MM

September 2, 2013

All year long on Alabama Public Radio, we’re looking at the 50th anniversary of key moments in the civil rights movement. One of the biggest fights in the movement was the effort to desegregate schools. That included Tuskegee High School.  In 1963, a lawsuit was filed and a federal court ordered the school to desegregate. 13 black students were chosen to integrate the school and anticipated starting classes with their white peers on September 2nd. APR’s Maggie Martin recently went to Tuskegee to talk with former students as they look back 50 years after the desegregation of the high school.

[AMBI OF CROWD]

High school reunions can be exciting if not a little nerve-wracking. But tonight’s gathering at the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center has a different vibe. For the former students here, it’s not so much a reunion as it is a reflection. They’re looking back on what was supposed to be the first day of classes on September 2, 1963. Former student Willie Wyatt Junior was one of the 13 black students integrating Tuskegee High School.

 “I thought well, okay, there’s going to be three to four hundred other kids in the school, How am I going to make friends? How am I going to be accepted? Is there anything that’s going to happen that’s going to cause me to react and respond? So that was a thought running through my head.”

But Wyatt never made it to the first day of class. No one did. That’s because Alabama Governor George Wallace intervened to stop the school from desegregating. Wyatt vividly remembers what happened that morning.

 “The school was surrounded by state troopers. And the 13 of us who boarded the bus got to the driveway of the school and Captain Prior of the Alabama state patrol got on the bus and gave us all a copy of the executive order from the governor denying admission to this school.”

Jane Hornsby Kourkoulis also recalls the events that unfolded on September 2nd. She would’ve started her senior year that day and was supposed to be one of Wyatt’s classmates. Tonight is the first time they’ve ever met. Kourkoulis tells Wyatt that her concerns for the school year were very different from his.

 “In retrospect to think of the courage it took for you 13 to do that, to make history. And, you know, my little petty annoyances about not being able to go to school with the same people I’d gone to school with all my life and you know, word about the prom, football games and things like that. And here were these courageous 13.”

Former student Rebecca Wadesworth Sickles is also at tonight’s event. She was supposed to start her junior year at Tuskegee High. She remembers a scene similar to what Wyatt described earlier-state troopers swarming the school campus. Sickles recalls that while she and her siblings felt intimidated, her mother did not.

“At one point, she [Sickles mother] turned around and asked all of us ‘do you students want to go to school?’ And we all said ‘yes ma’am.’ And so she walked up to the nearest trooper who was standing stone-faced and said ‘please give a message to Governor Wallace that these students want to attend school.’ And of course, he said nothing.”

Sickles was one of the few white students to go back to Tuskegee High when it reopened about a week later. She describes the school atmosphere as “eerie,” but her time at Tuskegee High would be cut short.

 “It was scary for me and I’m sure it was scary for those few black students that were in there. And one day in the middle of the school day, my daddy came to take me out. He said he was afraid of me to stay there.”

Sickles’ family sent her to live with her aunt and uncle in Alexander City. She wasn’t the only white student to be pulled out of Tuskegee High. In just a matter of days, all the white students had withdrawn from the high school. Their families transferred them to two nearby Macon County schools-Shorter and Notasulga.  The move forced Tuskegee High School to close in January 1964, and a federal court ordered some of the black students to go to Shorter, and some to attend Notsulga.

Many were caught off guard by the turn of events, but no one more so than Anthony Lee and his family.

We had the understanding and we had prepared for a very smooth transition.”

Lee was one of the lead plaintiffs in Lee v. Macon County Board of Education. It was the 1963 court case that forced Tuskegee High School to desegregate in the first place. So, what played out September 2nd was not what Lee or his family was expecting.

“The events that had happened that day just caught us by surprise because we thought we had prepared for everything and everything was supposed to be a very smooth transition until the closing and things like that happened.”

With the help of civil rights attorney Fred Gray, Lee v. Macon County Board of Education was expanded as a blanket desegregation order for more than a hundred school districts in the state.

But that decision wouldn’t be handed down for nearly four years, long after Anthony Lee and his classmates would be set to graduate high school. Lee, and fellow senior classmate Willie Wyatt Junior, didn’t get to graduate in ’64. They had been transferred to Notasulga and just a few days before graduation, the school was burned to the ground. The two men of the original 13 who integrated Tuskegee High School wouldn’t receive their diplomas until 48 years later. Maggie Martin, APR News in Tuskegee.