By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
The Morgan Project, a Birmingham-based social justice initiative, will host a panel discussion and book release reception on Feb. 23 at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, for the recent re-publication of legendary civil rights lawyer Charles Morgan Jr’s 1964 book “A Time to Speak,” which had previously been out of print for years.
Panelists include Doug Jones, a former Alabama senator who also prosecuted two of the people who bombed the church; Dr. Carolyn McKinstry, a survivor of the bombing; Lisa McNair, sister of Denise McNair, one of the four children killed in the bombing; and Charles Morgan III, who is the author’s son.
In 2020, following the civil unrest surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and others either killed by police or out of hate, a group of members of the current YMBC founded the Morgan Project to introduce evidence-based lessons and lead public conversations of history with a focus on Alabama.
Julie Gabis, who handles public relations for the Morgan Project, said “A Time to Speak” gives an example of the boldness that is necessary to make positive change. “It’s just easier to be quiet than to actually speak up, and [Morgan] was brave, and he spoke up, and it ended up costing him his law business in Birmingham,” as well as living in the city, Gabis said.
Morgan is known for a speech he gave Sept. 16, 1963, the day after the church bombing that killed the girls.
Morgan, who was a white member of the civic group known as the Young Men’s Business Club (YMCB), stood before the group and lay the blame for the bombing at the feet of everyone in Birmingham who didn’t actively fight against hate.
“Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, ‘Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?’ The answer should be, ‘We all did it.’ Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it,” Morgan said during his speech to the YMBC, founded as the Young Men’s Business Club but now includes all members.
While Morgan was pushed out of Birmingham into Atlanta for his words, he later established the southern office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and continued to have a distinguished law career.
“A Time to Speak,” originally published in 1964, recounts Morgan’s experiences growing up in Birmingham and explains how and why politics at the time did not work for Black people. He died in 2009.
The book was before its time, and that shows “the power of an individual who’s willing to stand up for what’s right,” said Charles III, Morgan’s son.
“My father wrote the book almost 60 years ago, and I dare anybody to argue that any of the things he was talking about were incorrect,” the son said.
Morgan said the book gives readers a stronger understanding of the era when it was written and an appreciation for the progress made in race relations. “I want people to appreciate what it looked like back then, what life was like back then for Black people, particularly for young Blacks and…to see how far we’ve come,” Morgan said.
“It’s just a time that we should be celebrating the advances we’ve made and trying to continue to advance . . .,” Morgan added.
The Morgan Project focuses on addressing the systemic problems that Black Americans deal with, including economic opportunity, access to healthcare and myriad other issues. It aims toward a goal of reducing America’s systemic racism through creating educational plans and providing materials like “A Time to Speak” to students.
Martha Cook, a YMBC member and Jefferson County district court judge, was the first to propose the idea of doing something as an organization to address racism in the wake of Floyd’s death.
“I just reached a point where I thought: I am not going to be one of those people who sits back and says that’s just an anomaly… It happens daily, we have got to do something,” Cook told the Birmingham Times in 2020.
Gabis, who handles public relations for the project, also told BT in 2020, “we wanted to call it The Morgan Project because if you see something wrong, you speak up based on [Morgan’s] principles. We know we’ll never fully eradicate racism, but we can continue dialogue about it.”
Currently the group is conducting an essay contest for high school students to write about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and Morgan’s subsequent speech, and the group also regularly facilitates speaking engagements and panel discussions with leaders and people with informative experiences.
What: Book release of “A Time to Speak”
When: Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022.
Time: 5 p.m.
Where: Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
Location: 1530 6th Avenue N, Birmingham AL 35203
Reception: Afterwards, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute – 520 16th St N, Birmingham, AL 35203
Panelists: Lisa McNair, Charles Morgan, III, Dr. Carolyn McKinstry, former Sen. Doug Jones. Moderator: Dr. Tondra Loder-Jackson
More info: Visit https://www.morganproject.org/