19. November 2015 10:02
by Administrator

Spider Martin: Image and Activism by Ahmad Ward

19. November 2015 10:02 by Administrator | 0 Comments

BCRI is privileged to have several subject matter specialists who are great resources for the media, scholars, educators, among others.  One of the most knowledgeable and accomplished is Ahmad Ward, BCRI's Head of Education and Exhibitions.  As an example, The University of Texas recently asked Ahmad to contribute an article about Spider Martin and activism.  Please click the link to go to Ahmad's Blog.

29. September 2015 14:56
by Administrator

"Trey's" Story by Willie Wells, III

29. September 2015 14:56 by Administrator | 0 Comments

September is Sickle Cell Awareness month. I have personally learned a great deal about the disease from working with the exhibit “Sickle Cell on Canvas,” the past two years at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI). After working on this exhibit last year, I also learned a dear friend of mine had the disease and ended up in the hospital while the exhibit was still on display. All I knew was that pain was a key symptom and a crisis sent one with SCD to the hospital frequently.

As we approach the opening of this year’s awareness exhibit, I had the honor of interviewing my friend so I could really understand the disease and shed light on this chronic illness that he lives with every day.

 Kendall Chew, BCRI Education Assistant

“Trey’s” Story


Sickle Cell Disease is a hereditary disease. My dad’s sister has it and he has the trait.  My mom didn’t know she carried the trait as well.

The only reason my parents knew I had it was because I had seizures at a very young age. I was less than a year old. I was with my aunt, my mom’s younger sister.

(Since both of Trey’s parents carry the trait t was inevitable that there children could have Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) or Sickle Cell Trait (SCT). Trey’s brother has the trait.

It’s like any other disease, but African Americans are the majority demographic that gets Sickle Cell. 

What is a day like with SCD?

I have to always be mindful and stay hydrated with plenty of fluids. In my childhood I had the most trouble because as a kid I wanted to play, so I had to learn patience. I work out and that really helps with Sickle Cell. It’s called a Crisis when you have a flare up. 

You have to watch out when the weather changes. When I was in the hospital this past December, I did too much in the cold and wasn’t covered up properly. They had to take my spleen out in 2008, which happens. I was 26, newlywed. It was a crazy time. St. Vincent’s was my second home. You can work out outside you just have to listen to your body.

Sickle Cell Community 

There is a lady at church that has SCD, so we do a walk in the spring at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Fairfield. The national community is based in Baltimore and I have done design work for them in the past, so I stay connected with the SCD community. 

Planning the Future

If my wife had SCD or SCT, when it came to having children, it would be a conversation we would have to have. I have SC (a type of SCD), but if my wife had the trait, our child could have SS, which is the worse kind SCD.

The Body & Sickle Cell

You are susceptible to other diseases like pneuomonia. A regular cold can progress and become fatal if you don’t jump on it properly. Your vision is changed. A lot of people with sickle cell go on disability.(Trey was hospitalized at least once a year until sixth grade).

 I stayed with my pediatrician until college because he knew a lot about the disease. African American doctors seem to know more about it. If you have the trait, you aren’t at risk to getting it, but you could have symptoms.

My First Memory of SCD

I was probably in third grade… I just remember being in a little room in the school, a sick room, and I was probably outside playing and my arms, joints or my legs started to hurt. My parents never treated me like a patient though. I played basketball at the Y. But I was also last during the mile. It was hard for coaches, especially white coaches, to understand why.

One time, I didn’t run a mile fast enough and had to run it again. And I was struggling up this hill. My dad had to come get me and I was hospitalized because of that. I was kneeling by my locker and other students saw me struggling. That was in seventh grade, so I was about 13. I was in the hospital for a week. From that point on I would spend time in handicap P.E. or sit out at general P.E.

Hydration is key to helping the pain. Last time I was in the hospital I got an allergy to an antibiotic I was on. I got off penicillin in high school and I was taking it daily. I try to take folic acid. I always have to have a flu shot. Sometimes stress brings on a flare up and you have to step away from work and relax.

What Can We Do

Always give blood. We need plenty of transfusions. We can’t give blood. Now we have a sickle cell tag for your cars, so support your national and local organizations. We have a Sickle Cell ball in February in Birmingham.

They’re testing a cure in rats, so there could be a cure in our future. I have a heart for the younger generations with SCD and parents of these children. Education is key.

About Willie

Willie Wells, III, is a native of Birmingham, AL and husband to Dr. Valencia Wells. He is the owner of EscapeGFX®. Willie has worked earnestly to get it up and running smoothly. "Art has always been a clear destination for me ever since I was in elementary school. I was not sure what particular field I would go into, but I knew that the creative field would be ideal for me." A graduate of the University Of Alabama, Tuscaloosa with a double major in Graphic Design and Advertising, Willie is a person that is adamant about being punctual and giving the best efforts that he can, and this concept overflows into his company's operations. He understands that there are deadlines that need to be met, and other problems that may spring up, so the clients' work is done with a sense  never discarding the high level of creative design. "The customer is number 1 to me, and we, as a company, will venture many avenues to reach your project's escape from mediocrity."



17. September 2015 09:41
by Administrator

Reflections by Andrea L. Taylor, President & CEO, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

17. September 2015 09:41 by Administrator | 0 Comments


  Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 2015 

Today marks the 52nd year since the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four little girls, in an act described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” that also injured 22 others.

We stand on sacred ground. I feel a presence here that is similar to the experience in other places visited where horrific events occurred such as Hiroshima, Japan where the first atomic bomb was dropped, killing 174,000 people, or Goree Island and the Door of No Return where millions of Africans were enslaved and shipped to America.

Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were ages 11- 14 when they were slain. If they were alive today, they would be ‘baby boomers,’ part of the post-World War II generation, who have witnessed unimaginable political, social, economic and technology changes.  Most likely they would be parents, grandparents or even great grandparents…they would be active church members, artists, entrepreneurs, librarians, scientists or teachers…and valued members of their community. 

Instead, their lives ended during a tragedy that transformed a nation.

Just three weeks before their deaths, actor Ossie Davis had described the 1963 March on Washington as “A year of ecstasy and triumph.” They may have even watched the historic event on television or listened on the radio and been inspired by Dr. King’s visionary “I Have a Dream” speech about a better future for “little black boys and girls.” I recall my own attendance at that historic March and the realization that it too was a turning point in a struggle that captured the attention of the entire world and still offers lessons about liberation for people around the globe.

They were surely familiar with Dr. King and his battle against discrimination in Birmingham including the Children’s Crusade launched in May 1963 to desegregate lunch counters, restrooms and other public facilities. They were surely aware of the reign of terror by Police Chief Bull Connor and segregationist Governor George Wallace.

As a baby boomer born in the North, I vividly recall the national impact of the slaying. Indeed, Addie, Cynthia, Carole and Denise are linked to all who gather here this morning and to the republic.  Some among us may still bear the scars of that bombing and we must pray for healing in every sense.

Sadly though, black church violence is part of America’s history and is an ongoing story in the North and South. The most recent tragedy in Charleston (Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church) reflects “a pattern of random racialized violence against religious institutions,” says Valerie Cooper, associate professor of black church studies at Duke University. As we now know, this follows a prior burning of the same church in the 1800’s involving a controversy surrounding Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s organizers and a leader of a major slave rebellion in Charleston.

The irony is that the events that took these lives happened in a church…a place where you thought you’d feel safe.

Yet, the church has often been a target as the place where civil rights leaders and the community convene. History shows that black church arsons are a recurring theme when 73 black churches were burned, firebombed or vandalized in the 1990s and President Clinton created the National Church Arson Task Force.  

Fast forward to 2008 when a church in Springfield, Massachusetts burned hours after the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. In the late 1990s, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute collaborated with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's "Lift Every Voice" program to provide support to African American churches that had been burned.

We must still educate citizens and work to promote peace and goodwill.  As an adult who now occupies an office overlooking the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, I’m reflecting on the tremendous debt of gratitude that I and millions of others in the North, South, East and West owe to Addie, Cynthia, Carol and Denise for their sacrifice which is priceless.

Every day at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute begins for me with a moment of silence for these four little girls: when I open the blinds and gaze through the window at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and at the painting on the wall behind my desk entitled “The Flowers of the Fall of 1963,” by artist Ronald Scott McDowell (2007) that depicts the four girls and the two young boys, Virgil “Peanut” Ware, 13 who was shot and killed by a white youth while sitting on the handlebars of his brother’s bike, and Johnnie Robinson, 16, shot and killed in the back by a policeman for allegedly throwing rocks at a car on that same September day in 1963. 

Looking back, we know that children played a key role in the civil rights movement – in the home, in the streets and in the jails; inspiring adults to break down barriers to equal access, withstanding hoses and dogs and serving jail time, often with hardened criminals.

Because of their courage and sacrifice, we have indeed made progress. Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an immediate by-product followed by passage of the Voting Rights Act a year later.

Birmingham today welcomes visitors at the Fred Shuttlesworth International Airport, Mayor William Bell, the city’s fourth African American elected to this office continues to promote urban revitalization and Police Chief A.C. Roper is spearheading innovative community policing programs. Subsequent legislative and policy changes are linked to this era of the civil rights movement and to Birmingham in the 1960’s.

However, we must avoid the risk of complacency and continue to enlighten each generation about civil and human rights by exploring our common past and working together in the present to build a better future, which is the mission of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

These history lessons can help us to process the modern day acts of senseless violence such as the death of Trayvon Martin and countless other young black men or the slayings of nine individuals at a Prayer Meeting in Charleston.

During our lifetime, there are too many examples, all over the world, where children have become iconic global symbols of inhumanity…Anne Frank, Emmett Till, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, Virgil Ware, Johnnie Robinson, and recently the Syrian refugee boy whose body washed ashore while his parents were attempting to flee from persecution and violence.

These senseless deaths of innocent children diminish us all and remembering is important as a reminder to keep the passion for justice alive and to never forget the price that has been paid for our freedom and dignity. To that end it is incumbent upon each of us to make the most of every day, to savor each moment, to love and respect one another in a genuine effort to build community and to let our light shine, let it shine, let it shine, as a beacon of hope and peace.

I conclude these reflections with a poem by a friend and former poet laureate of Ohio, James Kilgore, entitled “That Black Reef,” to remind us of the precious gift of life.


That Black Reef

They tell us each evening,

Sometimes by fire,

Sometimes by dancing earth,

And sometimes by burning winter winds,

That he who is three may be halfway there

And he who is one hundred may be seven

Years from shore.

We cannot know how soon the waves

Will leave us on the beaches

Of that dark land;

We cannot know how many days or nights

We have to love or hate;

We cannot know how many summers or


We have to weep or laugh upon the waves

Before the boat sails

Or drifts

To that black reef.

       James Kilgore


Thank you. This is the day!

Remarks made by BCRI President and CEO Andrea L. Taylor on September 15, 2015 during the commemoration of the 52nd anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

9. September 2015 16:35
by Administrator

Honoring the Memory of Reverend Gilmore, Part I by Elizabeth Spenst

9. September 2015 16:35 by Administrator | 0 Comments

Reverend Thomas Gilmore died earlier this month in Birmingham after a brief illness.  We honor the memory of Reverend Gilmore, Civil Rights Movement veteran and Greene County’s one-time sheriff without a gun, by sharing portions of his June 20, 2000 interview for the BCRI Oral History Project.[1]  This is a post in two parts.

Part I

Thomas Gilmore was born in Forkland, Alabama where the Tombigbee and the Warrior Rivers come together and flood the region every year. Gilmore grew up with his grandmother, aunts, and uncles on a 40 acre farm that his grandmother always reminded him had been bought by his great grandparents who had come out of slavery.  

My folk owned the land and I was always told, ‘Boy, you are not growing up on white property.  This is our property.  Soon as you get big and older, you get you some, because mama may have, papa may have, but God bless the child that has his own.’ (12)[2]  The home was held together by a strong, firm, small lady who was tough as iron and as smart as she could be. She was very wise for someone with a fifth grade education and was able to see her children rise to the highest. (13) It was a small farm that really did not supply all our needs. So we found ourselves working on the plantation and with other people to subsidize what we needed. So, we did frequent the plantation. I know that life.  But it’s a different life when you’ve got somewhere to go back to. (14) I grew up in a deep rural society all around the plantation psychology or syndrome, but I was blessed to just come to understand…you can grow up in the project, but you don’t have to have the project grow up in you. (15)

Gilmore encountered the same discrimination and racism faced by all of the black people in his community growing up. When he got older he became involved with the movement for civil rights, and he credits the murder of his contemporary Emmett Till as the moment that prompted him to join the cause.

Perpetual debt. It really was racism and a very wicked and diabolical system.  I think that while it was practiced here, it was practiced all around and it was sort of understood by the government who did not protect its citizens from that kind of evil. It made you grow quick. Even children felt it, because it interfered with the things that they wanted. They wanted new clothing when they went into school. So, it affected the whole household. (15)


On his middle school experience:  My grandmother always pushed me out on the road to walk a mile to the store for her. These puny looking white boys stopped me and said, ‘Hey, boy, you got any sisters?’ I said, ‘No, there are no girls in here.’ They said, Can you get me one?’  I told them I couldn’t. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth about that time. White men used to take advantage of black women, and white women used to use black men at that time.  (17)  The thing that really brought me around to… know in my own heart that things were not right anywhere for Blacks was when Emmett Till was murdered. We were the same age.  That’s the first time that I gave serious thought to the world and to relate it to me. I saw myself as Emmett Till, thinking the same thing could happen. From that day on I wanted to do something. (17).


Gilmore attended Greene County Training School for high school. He played football and enjoyed his experience there, but he felt the call to become a minister and fight for civil rights. Gilmore accepted the call to be a preacher in 1959 and went off to college in Selma. When he was going into college, Davey Pruitt was shot by a white person and Gilmore was involved in trying to get the case into court. They got the case to the Grand Jury, but that was all.

Gilmore engaged with the religious life of people in his community in the time before he went to college. About 15 people, his grandmother and a few other ladies from the community, would meet with him to talk about the Sunday School lesson on Saturday afternoon for 30 minutes. They would play softball and have some cookies and Kool-Aid.

Describing life at the time of high school: Whites were strong enough to try to box you into your world. Every now and then you would step out of it.  (18)  I accepted the call to be a preacher. I was impacted by the poor people that were up on the plantation that went to school with me for most of my life. I wanted to at least convey some civil rights into them. (19)

** Special thanks to Elizabeth Spenst, Yale University sophomore and BCRI volunteer, for thoughtfully selecting these quotes from Reverend Gilmore’s 22-page interview transcript.

[1] Interview with Reverend Thomas Gilmore conducted by Dr. Horace Huntley, BCRI Oral History Project, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, Alabama, June 20, 2000. 

[2] The number in parentheses is a reference to the number of the page on which the quote appears in the Gilmore interview transcript.

Elizabeth is a sophomore at Yale University