Home Opinion Birmingham Imposters False Claims Dog Iconic 1963 Civil Rights Images

Birmingham Imposters False Claims Dog Iconic 1963 Civil Rights Images


letters to the editorBirmingham’s  Civil Rights Icon Imposters Proliferate

The real “guy in the picture”  being attacked by a Birmingham police dog, according to a Jet Magazine interview done in February 1963. and a subsequent Oral History interview done by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, factually confirmed the student in the Hudson’s AP picture actually is  Mr. Walter Gadsden, a then 10th grade Ullman High School (not Parker High School) student as some national media have erroneously reported). Civil rights protesters were set upon and viciously attacked by Birmingham, Alabama  police dogs on May 3, 1963 in downtown Birmingham. The photographic image of one of those students became  universally acclaimed world-wide, symbolizing the courage and sinew of then young African American students determined to be free of racist oppression in a city termed “America’s Johannesburg.”
A young man believed to be an Ullman High School student, Walter Gadsden, according to an October, 1963 news story appearing in a 1963 Jet Magazine interview with  the then 10th grade student, was photographed at the moment of the dog attack. Associated Press photographer Bill Hudson shot that photo and has been seen all over the world, especially during civil rights anniversaries.
As decades passed and memories fade, commemorative anniversaries of “The Birmingham Campaign, Project C,” as  coined by civil rights organizers, the identity of the real life person attacked by the Birmingham police dogs on May 3, 1963, and other iconic images of those “fire hose, dog bite, and church bombing days” have become dogged by continued “historic identity theft.”
According to “senior reporter” Greg Garrison of The Birmingham News/AL.com,  “Walter Lee Fowlkes, 72, who died last year known to friends and family as “Lee,” died on Feb. 13.  He had suffered from dementia in recent years and was not able to do interviews. Civil rights attorney Demetrius Newton, who represented Rosa Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and later became the first Black speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, the Birmingham News/AL.com reported last February that . . . Walter Lee Fowlkes, the young man attacked by dogs on May 3, 1965.”  More particularly AL.com claimed Fowlkes was the person captured in the famous Bill Hudson photo behind AL.Com’s “Unsung Hero”  story.  Interestingly, AL.com held its news story more than a year before Newton and Fowlkes’ deaths. It is not known whether Garrison actually interviewed Mr. Newton about Fowlkes’s identity claims.
Citizens For better Schools & Sustainability, upon learning of the “Unsung Hero” story, requested of AL.com a retraction, and correction, of its errant news article.  The publication to date has not retracted its news story regarding the Fowkles/Gadesden identity issue. Our review of the historic record clearly debunks AL.com’s contention that Mr. Fowlkes was the person in Bill Hudson’s famous civil rights photo of 1963 demonstrations. Birmingham Municipal Court arrest records show that Fowlkes was arrested on May 3, 1963, the day of the showdown between police dogs and demonstrators but Fowkles was not the person in Hudson’s famous photograph.
Citizens For Better Schools & Sustainable Communities expresses great umbrage with The Birmingham News/AL.com’s coverage of its “Unsung Hero” rewrite of Birmingham Civil Rights history.
Fowlkes’ unfounded claim is but the latest misappropriation of an authentic 1963 student civil rights demonstrator’s identification. Last year the Detroit News exposed Birmingham’s Carolyn McKinstry as having misappropriated the historic identity of the young demonstrator who was blasted by Bull Connor’s fire hoses.
As journalists, AL.com has a duty to print the truth accurately. We call on AL.com to immediately retract its “Unsung Hero” article of February 23, 2014. That article paints Mr. Gadsden in a false light by repugnant innuendo; insinuating Mr. Gadsden as an imposter.
Knowing the past sordid history of false civil rights identity claims recently made in Birmingham, we must require punctiliously reporting on this subject. Even cursory review of the public record, even visual examination of May 5, 1963 press photos of that day, would clearly establish that Fowkles, whom Garrison begrudgingly now admits was “unable to do interviews” for his “Unsung Hero” article, was not the “guy” (i. e., young man) in Bill Hudson’s iconic photo.

Judge Ware  Carolyn McKinstry  Michael Dizzar  Walter Lee Fowlkes
The Detroit News report, by Francis X. Donnelly, said McKinstry admitted that it was not her in the photo when contacted on Sunday. “Now the Detroit News has published a story saying that one of Birmingham’s most prominent civil rights activists, Carolyn McKinstry, 65, has for years been claiming to be the girl in a famous Life magazine photograph of demonstrators being blasted by water from a firehose, while Mamie Chalmers, 71, the actual person in the photograph, lives in Detroit.” A former Western-Olin High School student named [  ] Charlmers.
With this hisory well known to the The Birmingham News.AL.com, prior to the Fowlkes story’s publication, the “Unsong Hero” story is journalisticly incredulous. True, Fowlkes was among the May 3, 1963 demonstrators. He was not, however ” the young man” captured for history in Bill Hudson’s famous Associated Press photo.
Garrisons’ Fowlkes-Newton alleged interview is further questioned by AL.com’s subsequent “blogs” electronic “update” of Garrision’s original February print report “Unsung Hero, which AL.com has taken the original report offline.
Citizens for Better Schools & Sustainable Communities immediately contacted Mr. Garrison asking for retraction of his “Unsung” story due to its historical inaccuracy regarding the Bill Hudson photo and identification of Mr. Gadsden’s high school, Ullman High.
The passage of time can dull memories and recollection of pertinent details, and mistakes can be made in recounting historic events. In journalism, however, “A mistake does not become an error” unless it refuses correction. Citizens For Better Schools & Sustainable Communities has called on AL.com to correct its “Unsung Hero” error.  We have also requested the Associated Press (AP) and the New York Times to update their reports on Birmingham’s “Children Campaign,” which spread the AP Hudson photo of Bull Connor’s police dog attacking a young Walter Gadsden to record that Mr. Gadsden attended Ulllman High School, not Birmingham’s venerable Parker High.
Such curative corrective action will both properly respect Birmingham’s real civil rights history and properly place appropriate credit where it is due. We are also mindful that this May 17th is the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, now under unrelenting assault by “conservative” forces, national and local (through “tuition vouchers” and “charter schools” – “Jim Crow” by another name). Our history (Not “his” story.)
President John F. Kennedy in an address at the Waldorf Astoria to the National Press Association said:  And so it is to the printing press – to the recorder of man’s deeds, the keeper of his conscience, the courier of his news – that we look for strength and assistance confident that with your help man will be what he was born to be: free and independent.”
Knowing the real truth of Birmingham’s 1963 “Children Campaign.” This is our history – not “his story.”
The real guy in the picture, again, according to the  Jet Magazine interview in 1963 and Birmingham Civil Rights Institute oral history, was Walter Gadsden, who attended Ullman High School in 1963. Ronald Jackson, a classmate of Gadsden at Ullman, says it is Gadsden in the picture. There were other demonstrators attacked by dogs, including Walter Lee Fowlkes, who city records show was arrested May 3, 1963.

Ronald E. Jackson
Birmingham, AL