By Pat Byington
On May 2, 1963, thousands of children in Birmingham, trained in the tactics of nonviolence, marched throughout the city, calling for desegregation. Hundreds were arrested on the first day. On the second, Birmingham’s Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor ordered police to spray the children with powerful water hoses, hit them with batons and threaten them with police dogs. Despite the violence, the children continued to march days afterwards.
Television footage and photographs of the brutal response to the non-violent protests was seen on broadcasts and in print all over the world.
Earlier this week, Bham Now met and marched with the Foot Soldiers of 1963 (and today’s 2019 marchers) thanks to the annual Children’s Crusade “Project C” re-enactment organized by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Below are excerpts from interviews with the heroes.
John Alexander, Jr.
At 13 years old Alexander marched on the third day after he saw the water hoses and batons used on protesters the day before. He was gathered up and thrown in a jail at Fair Park.
“Fifty-six years later, looking at Birmingham the way it was then and where it is now, we’ve made progress but there is still a lot of work to do. A lot of things have changed over time. We’ve got to keep telling this story, so people know how they got to where they are now. It was not always easy for us as black people. We are celebrating and doing a reenactment to let the nation know, we are still here and still moving forward.”
Myrna Carter Jackson
Jackson actually marched before the Children’s Crusade, a little less than a month earlier on April 11 with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. She was incarcerated before the May protests.
“Today, in a sense, has a double motive. One, is to make us remember and the other, show us how far we’ve come and how much we’ve got to go. We are not there yet — regretfully so. I hate to use the expression, the more things change, the more they remain the same. I think it can be used at this point.”
Gloria Washington Lewis-Randall
According to Lewis-Randall, marched on the first day and was held at the Fairgrounds for two weeks. Both she and Jackson were prominently featured in the 2004 Academy Award winning short documentary Mighty Times – The Children’s Crusade.
“I felt the sting of the water hoses, the calls from the dogs, I felt the anguish and the emptiness from the children and the fear that we felt when we marched out. I was put in jail and a sweatbox in Jefferson County jail. Stayed there for over two weeks. I’ve always been active and supportive for all civil rights – every color, race, every creed and every religion, because that is God’s law, but it is also in the constitution.”
On May 10th, at St. Paul United Methodist Church around 300 to 400 Birmingham students met and walked with the 1963 Foot Soldiers and civic leaders.
The gathering for the reenactment reminded a new generation of Birmingham students how young people their age courageously made a difference and helped defeat racial segregation.
Along with the commemoration of the events that happened 56 years ago, the 1963 Foot Soldiers wanted to clearly send an additional message.
The work for equality is not done – there is still work to be done.
For more on your guide to the modern, mobile Birmingham, visit www.bhamnow.com