By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Terry Collins still remembers hearing disc jockeys deliver coded messages urging he and other Birmingham high school classmates at the time to start marching.
The deejays used their radio shows 60 years ago to disseminate key information about planned demonstrations to youth protesters as a means of misdirecting police. For instance, on May 2, 1963, Black kids all over Birmingham heard radio legend Shelley Stewart announce, “Kids, there’s going to be a party at the park. Bring your toothbrushes because lunch will be served.”
This was a coded call for a mass demonstration; you need your toothbrush when you go to jail.
It was after that “clarion call,” Collins said that he and thousands of Black children in Birmingham filled downtown streets and began steps to help dismantle segregation.
“I’m standing in line to get in the paddy wagon [after being arrested and the police announce], ‘We’re not taking any more,’ and I had to go home, but I came prepared to go to jail. I had a little wash towel and a toothbrush,” Collins recalled.
On Thursday, Collins remembered the fight for freedom as the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau (GBCVB) unveiled a nationwide motorcoach commemorating 60 years of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement that led to landmark legislation for Civil Rights in the U.S. and forever changed the world.
The GBCVB unveiled a custom-wrapped, Civil Rights-branded 56-passenger motorcoach at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that will travel the country, serving as a nationwide commemoration of the events of 1963 and encouraging people around the country to visit Birmingham.
The motorcoach is wrapped with an image of the Sixteenth Street Church as well as Revs. Fred L. Shuttlesworth, Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr. taking part in Good Friday demonstrations in 1963.
John Oros, president and CEO of GBCVB, said visitors “from all over the globe” visit Birmingham because of 1963.
“Today, and every day, we must continue to remember those who participated in changing our history, and honor how they changed the lives of so many future generations by giving them the priceless gift of hope,” he said. “This campaign is an opportunity to share that message across the country.”
Sara Hamlin, vice president of tourism for the CVB, said the motorcoach will serve as a “traveling billboard.
The unveiling serves as the kickoff for the CVB’s year-long initiative to commemorate the 60th anniversary and places like Sixteenth Street Baptist and Kelly Ingram Park, where many of the demonstrations were held, are “sacred ground,” Hamlin said.
“It’s very important for individuals to come and learn about what happened in Birmingham, which is American history actually, and not just Civil Rights [history],” she said.
Rev. Arthur Price, pastor of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, said he hopes the bus “serves as a reminder that here in Birmingham, we are continuing to teach lessons, we are continuing to touch lives, and we will continue to transform the world,” Price said.
For more on the CVB’s commemorative project, visit https://60.birminghamal.org.