1. May 2014 11:58
by Administrator

The REAL face of racism by Ahmad Ward

1. May 2014 11:58 by Administrator | 0 Comments



On April 29, 2014, NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver held what will probably be the most important press conference of his tenure, even though he had only been in the position for 88 days.  During the press conference, Silver banned Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers since 1981 from the NBA for racially charged comments made during a conversation with his female friend. Silver also fined Mr. Sterling 2.5 million dollars (the highest amount under the bylaws of the NBA Constitution) and set the wheels in motion to convince the other 29 owners to force Sterling into selling the team and relinquishing all rights.   The entire situation became a watershed moment for the league and maybe even the country.  Sterling’s comments are reminiscent of times thought long past and ideas that America wishes to forget about.  However, Sterling is by no means a first time offender.

Former General Manager Elgin Baylor charged in a racial discrimination suit that Sterling ran the Clippers with the "vision of a Southern plantation–type structure" asking him to create a team of “poor black boys from the South and a white head coach.” Sterling paid the highest fine ever levied (2.75 million dollars) by the Department of Justice in a housing discrimination suit, for systematically denying rental opportunities to Black and Latino families at his Southern California properties.  In official court documents, he stated that "Black tenants smell and attract vermin."  His estranged wife, Rochelle Sterling, who distanced herself from the remarks, has recently been found to have played a role in the discrimination suit herself. Court documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times show that Mrs. Sterling posed as a Health Department inspector and during a site visit, remarked: “Oh, my God. This is so filthy. I can’t remodel my apartments the way that I want because Latinos are so filthy.” The Sterling’s employees refused rent checks from Black and Hispanic families and then accused them of nonpayment. They refused to do repairs and surprised these tenants with inspections, which opened them up for eviction for violating building rules. 

By all accounts, the Sterlings appear to be horrible people.  As despicable as their comments towards Black and Brown people are, it is the actions against those people that are the true offences.  Some questions should be asked: “Why didn’t the NBA force him out when these actions first came to light?” “How was he able to maintain his status in the community?”  “Why did the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP give this man a Lifetime Achievement Award and set up this year to give him another?”  Hmmm…

This situation happened right after Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who is in a “tug o war” with the Bureau of Land Management gave his opinion on whether Black people were “better off during slavery” in regards to their family structure.  Mr. Bundy, who had been placed as the poster boy for individual rights, was quickly excoriated by the same people who had supported him, once those comments saw the light of day.  Bundy and Sterling may be card carrying racists, but words…as strong as they are, do not hold a candle to deeds, in regards to racism. America has apparently transformed racism into verbal offences without looking at the systematic issues that still hover over this country like a dark cloud.  

As a (possibly jaded) Black man in his late 30’s, Bundy’s and Sterling’s comments are just stupid and run of the mill to me.  It is Sterling’s actions as a property owner, that are much more divisive. It is the notion that some of the core tenets that Bundy ascribes to, are formed in early twentieth century White supremacist doctrine, that is more problematic than his “prescription” for “Negro” people.  Institutionalized racism continues to be the most potent and effective “engine” of the social construct.  Yet, people who know better have been convinced that the vestiges of centuries of sanctioned oppression have all but dissipated in the mythical “post-racial society.”  The biggest example of this currently you ask?   While we have been hanging on every inch of the Bundy and Sterling sagas, a group named Boko Haram kidnapped 234 girls from a dormitory at Chibok school in Nigeria on April 16th and this story has been largely absent from mainstream media outlets.  Ask yourself this question, if 234 students had been kidnapped from a European school, would it have taken two weeks for you to hear about it?  Systematic racism devalues certain members of the human race based on centuries of pattern-based thought.  The very notion that this girls are missing should horrify us, yet they are barely given a first thought, let alone a second.

Adolf Hitler created the concept of "The Big Lie." It is a story so outrageous that nobody of ordinary decency can imagine somebody making it up. The Big Lie is then repeated, loudly, until it becomes something everybody ‘knows.’ “The Biggest Lie” currently in circulation is convincing the populace that institutionalized, systematic racism does not and has never existed. This lie is incredibly successful in spite of what your eyes and ears experience. Donald Sterling’s words mean less than nothing. The “engine” that has allowed him to maintain and prosper, in spite of his actions, means everything.

 Ahmad Ward is Head of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI


13. February 2014 10:41
by Administrator

Do We Need a Black History Month? by Ahmad Ward

13. February 2014 10:41 by Administrator | 0 Comments



It is the middle of the busiest time of the year for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI)--Black History Month.  From the Dr. King Holiday through the second week in March, thousands of people visit our facility and our Education Department conducts numerous presentations throughout the state and the region.   We are happy to have each and every one of those visitors come and learn about the important story of the Civil Rights Movement.  My staff and I enjoy sharing information about various topics for K-12 students, day cares, nursing homes, churches and the like.  Having said all that, truth be told, I would rather not have Black History Month.

Let me explain.  In a perfect world, the accomplishments of all Americans would be taught in schools and widely held as strict American History. African Americans have contributed in major ways to the American fabric over the 400-plus years they have lived here. However, that history, for various reasons, had mostly been obscured until the early part of the 20th Century.   Let’s examine that time period for foundational purposes. 

In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson started “Negro History Week,” to bring attention to the accomplishments of Black Americans and to foster pride in a people who were unaware of their history.  Woodson was born in 1875 to former slaves in New Canton, VA.  Because their family was poor, Woodson was not able to regularly attend school.  At the age of 20, he attended Douglass High School in West Virginia and gained his diploma in two years.  Five years later, he would return to the school as the principal.  He would later graduate from Berea College in 1907, serve as a school supervisor in the Philippines, and gain his Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago in 1908.  Woodson would become the second African American to gain a PhD from Harvard University in 1912, following W.E.B. DuBois.

Woodson and Jesse Moorland founded the Association of the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915.  This organization helped raise awareness about the accomplishments of the Black race.  Woodson believed that publishing scientific facts about the Black race would prove to the world that Africa and its people have played an important role in the creation of civilization.  Woodson initially chose the week of February 12 (Lincoln’s birthday) and February 14 (Frederick Douglass’ birthday) as the official Negro History Week.  Woodson would write several books, including the seminal piece on Black History, The Mis-Education of the Negro in 1933.  Negro History Week would become Black History Month during the bicentennial year of 1976.  Woodson himself said that he longed for a day when a specific time honoring Negro history would not be necessary because America would have incorporated that history into its own.   Unfortunately, that has not happened.

On a regular basis, BCRI’s outreach efforts uncover young people who don’t have basic knowledge of Black history.  Through no fault of their own, our students do not know of the works of an Alain Locke, the spirit of a Bessie Coleman, people like Adam Clayton Powell, Shirley Chisholm, and Mary McLeod Bethune.  There is no grasp of the scientific accomplishments of Ernest Everett Just, Garrett Morgan, Granville T. Woods, Lewis Latimer and Charles Drew. There is no account of the activism of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou Hamer and Shirley Sherrod.   Somebody has to share this information and as uncomfortable as this will be for some people to hear, there are those among us who willfully obscure these things.    There are people who don’t feel like any culture should have its own month.  There are people who don’t think that African Americans have done enough to merit the attention.  There are also people who could care less. 

The beautiful thing about America is those folks can freely feel the way they feel.  That does not change the necessity of having the knowledge in question.    This is why Black History Month and other celebrations such as Hispanic Heritage Month, Women’s History Month, etc.  are still necessary.  The American story is built on the diverse groups of people who make up this country.  That diversity is to be celebrated as a core tenet to American greatness. I don’t think I will see a time when there will not be a need for a Black History Month.  However, I also never thought I would see an African American President either.   Happy Black History Month!

Ahmad Ward is Head of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI




6. December 2013 15:58
by Administrator

The A.G. Gaston Hotel: Once Birmingham's Premier African American Resort

6. December 2013 15:58 by Administrator | 0 Comments

by Marie Sutton


On the eve of Mother’s Day 1963, Alabama’s Ku Klux Klan planted a bomb in the one place where civil rights activists, world-famous journalists and African-American celebrities regularly came for refuge; the only place they could stay overnight in segregated Birmingham: The A.G. Gaston Motel.

Located in the heart of downtown, the Gaston opened its doors in June 1954 and was where African Americans could go for first-class accommodations. The brain-child of Arthur George Gaston, one of the wealthiest African-American men in the country at the time, the motel quickly became more than a revenue stream, but a feather in the cap of the black community.

The Gaston was the backdrop for African-American culture and celebrations. It was a welcomed haven in a city being crippled by Jim Crow laws. It was where ladies, dressed to the nines, came for sorority meetings, where teens feasted on fine shrimp dinners before prom, where lovers hosted their glitzy wedding receptions and where men took their ladies on first dates to impress. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife Alma spent their honeymoon night there. American novelist James Baldwin smoked cigarettes and chatted with colleagues there. Folk singer Joan Baez feasted on breakfast with famous photographer Bob Adelman. Civil rights icons Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young and the like were regular patrons.

And, since Birmingham blacks weren’t allowed to eat in area restaurants during the ‘50s and early ‘60s, the Gaston featured a fine dining bistro as well as a New Orleans-style bar and lounge with a packed jukebox and a stage that was graced by some of the greatest performers of all time. The Gaston was a must-stop on the Chitlin Circuit with doors that revolved and featured Sam Cooke, Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and the list goes on.

In the wee hours of the night on that Mother’s Day in ‘63, the KKK’s bomb detonated in the two-story motel. It was planted beneath room 30 where Dr. King regularly stayed. His suite was dubbed the “War Room,” because it was there where he, along with a laundry list of civil rights activists, regularly met to strategize some of Birmingham’s most historic events.

King had checked out of the motel before the explosion, and the KKK’s plan to silence him and shut down the Gaston were unsuccessful. In the end, though, what would close the doors of the motel would be wrapped in irony. When integration began legal, and blacks had a choice of venues, many chose otherwise.

Author's Note: The Gaston was an oasis for a people bereft of justice, but its stories are little known. I’ve set out on a journey to find those stories and will tell them in a book slated to be released in October 2014. If you have stories of the Gaston, email me at marieasutton@yahoo.com


Marie Sutton is a former journalist who works in higher education.




22. November 2013 08:59
by Administrator

The End of Innocence by Ahmad Ward

22. November 2013 08:59 by Administrator | 0 Comments


“I remember where I was when…”     Most baby boomers can still tell you exactly where they were when they heard President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.    That November day in Dallas, TX changed the landscape of the country for years to come.   United States’ history had long been built on the idea of “American exceptionalism.”   According to us, all countries looked up to and wanted to be like the USA.   The Kennedys were the poster children for this ideal in the early 1960’s.  John Fitzgerald Kennedy hailed from a powerful Northeastern family and had the looks, charisma and background to be the head of “Camelot.”  His family was young, beautiful, and decidedly American.   JFK’s presidency became the first to have an official White House photographer and the images taken from his time in office adorned every major US magazine.  These were the glory days, even as the country struggled with Vietnam, an untenable racial situation and the burden of the Cold War and the “Soviet Menace.” 

And then November 22, 1963 happened…

The murder of JFK ripped the golden blinders off of the nation and exposed a stark reality.  No one was safe.   Despite the fact that American history is rife with violence against brother, neighbor and stranger, somehow a large number of the country saw no real issues.   In the middle of segregation, war and internal strife, there was a patriotic cloud that covered the eyes of Americans who were either on the fence in regards of those issues or blissfully unaware.  There are myriad conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination, which will not be named here.  Kennedy’s proposed Civil Rights Act is often seen as one of the reasons he was killed.  The following are few of the bloody events that happened from that point in November through the rest of the decade:

1964       June 21: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, Freedom Summer activists,  are abducted and killed by the KKK in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

1965       March 7: Bloody Sunday: In Selma, Alabama nonviolent activists begin their march from Selma to Montgomery in protest for the right to vote. After they cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge they are attacked by state troopers.

March 11: Rev. James Reeb, a volunteer marcher from Boston, is beaten to death in Selma,Alabama.

August 11: a riot breaks out in Watts, an African-American suburb of Los Angeles, California, after a fight erupts between a white traffic officer and an African-American man accused of drinking and driving. The officer arrests the man and some of his family members who had arrived at the scene. Rumors of police brutality, however, result in six days of rioting in Watts. Thirty-four people, mostly African Americans, die during the riot.

1966       June 6:  James Meredith embarks on a "March Against Fear" from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, to encourage black Mississippians to register to vote. Near Hernando, Mississippi, Meredith is shot. Others take up the march, joined on occasion by King.

1967       July: riots break out in northern cities, including Buffalo, New York, Detroit, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey.

1968       April 4: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated at the Loraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee, fighting for the rights of sanitation workers.

1968       June 5: Robert F. Kennedy is shot at close range in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the state primary race for presidential candidacy.  The following day he was pronounced dead and the nation mourned.

1969       December 4: Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther party, is shot and killed by police during a raid. A federal grand jury refutes the police's assertion that they fired upon Hampton only in self-defense, but no one is ever indicted for Hampton's killing.1964       June 21: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, Freedom Summer activists,  are abducted and killed by the KKK in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Granted, these events would have likely happened whether Kennedy was alive or not.  The point is the assassination (along with the murder of four children in 16th Street Baptist Church months earlier) caused people to accept that maybe their country wasn’t as perfect as they once thought.  The country experienced these other instances and emerged changed and inquisitive about the real direction of their home.   We were unable to run from the hard truths of our history and standing in the world.  Maybe….just maybe the “Greatest country in the world” still had growing to do.

Kennedy was not the only one who died on November 22, 1963. The “innocence” of America expired as well.


Ahmad Ward is the Head of Exhibitions and Education at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute








2. August 2013 07:34
by Administrator

"What's a Racist?" by Ahmad Ward

2. August 2013 07:34 by Administrator | 0 Comments


 "What's a racist?”

That is the question my inquisitive eight year-old daughter asked me, as we watched a story on the Today Show, about Philadelphia Eagles Wide Receiver, Riley Cooper, who was caught on video using the “N-word” at a Kenny Chesney concert.   The first word out of my mouth was “wow.”   It occurred to me as I was ironing my shirt for work, that we have discussed the Civil Rights Movement, but had not used that word in her presence.  As I tried to explain the things that constitute racial attitudes and actions and tried to use examples, the next question was: “What’s N*gger?”  At that point, my wife and I just looked at each other in amazement.  This word that had lived with us like an unwanted relative all of our lives.  This word that has been used to demoralize, stigmatize and degrade.  THAT word that has been part of a pop culture tug-o-war over the last twenty years of the Hip Hop generation…….had not touched her little world.

During a week where Mr. Cooper’s drunken rant went viral,  an unarmed  black man looking for a cigarette in his mother’s car IN his mother’s driveway was nearly killed by Florida police officers because he “didn’t comply,” a national politician said that undocumented immigrants had calves the “size of cantaloupes” from smuggling drugs across the border, and a close friend’s wife overheard a conversation at her workplace in which Brazil nuts were referred to as “N*gger toes”……comes my little angel’s question.

“What’s a racist?”

Part of me felt glad that she had not had to deal with that notion.  Part of me felt like my wife and I had done a decent job of enforcing the idea that “everybody is equal” to her and her little sister.  However, part of me felt like I had done her a disservice.  Although I have tried to be frank with her about how black people and other minorities have been treated throughout history.  Although I have explained to her that some people will hate her just because of her skin color, I wondered if I had left out too much.  In my effort to shield her from the ugliness of racism, have I not started equipping her with the tools she will need to cope with it?  Since the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, the scab of racism has been peeled off in a new way.  Everyone from TV pundits, “leaders” and politicians are debating whether or not “it” still exists.  Even as I am writing this piece, I see Internet “commentators” condemning the 60 year old that was shot looking for his cigarette, because “he was acting suspicious looking through his car” or “why was he outside at 3 am?”

Everything happens for a reason, so I feel the events of the last month are happening so we can take yet another look at race in America.  Because this country refuses to have honest conversations about systematic racism and the specters of race and class structure, it is cursed to continue to struggle with this issue.  As for me and my house, it starts with answering that particular question in detail from here on out.

“What’s a racist?”  

 Little girl, for the life of me….I wish I didn’t have to tell you.


Ahmad is the Head of Education and Exhibitions, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute


16. July 2013 10:37
by Administrator

Connecting the Dots “Slavery is Human Trafficking Evolved” By Sunnetta “Sunny” Slaughter

16. July 2013 10:37 by Administrator | 0 Comments


I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves”. ~ Harriet Tubman



When most people think about slaves and slavery, a few images come to mind: black men, women and children standing on the auction block being checked, poked and gazed upon like property, the overseers managing the cotton fields and the substandard living conditions..  Slaves were kept uneducated and fearful of their master. Although they outnumbered their owners by hundreds, sometimes thousands, slaves endured the abuse and harsh conditions with few even trying to escape. They walked around freely, cooked in homes, cared for the children of their owners, had no access to sufficient medical care, ate what they were given, worked for little to no pay at all, and even the children worked long days and nights. Yes, from that history we have evolved.


The visual picture of chains, battered and broken bodies and innocence hung from a tree is a constant reminder of families dismantled and human lives that were forever changed.  The buying, selling and exchange of slaves was not a secret.  The rape, torture and sometimes murder of slaves was not a secret and rarely classified as a crime. The sexual exploitation and intimidation of slaves was not a secret, much less a crime. Not even when given the opportunity of escape would slaves run for their Freedom! Yes, from that history we have evolved.  


"As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem, is the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery." ~ Martin Luther King


But if we start resting comfortably on the pedestal that we have somehow arrived and humanity is far removed from the stench and stain that was tolerated, participated and most often ignored, then we shouldn’t get comfortable at all.  The term has changed; the victims vary in race, gender, age, ethnicity and social class.  There are laws on the books. People are more aware and yet others have no idea at all.  This is not only a women’s or children’s issue.  It’s a victim’s issue and it’s happening in Alabama, in Birmingham and throughout cities and neighborhoods across the country.   It is a billion dollar industry and profit is available on all sides.  Yes, we have evolved and its name is Human Trafficking!


It is easy to infer a connection between the slavery of yesterday and the human trafficking of persons today. Although the criminal activity surrounding the trafficking of persons is still extremely lucrative; it has become more organized.  The use of technology allows perpetrators to snatch victims from the comfort of their home (figuratively speaking).   The creation of false documents is more prevalent than ever, especially with respect to international victims coming and domestic victims going. The ability to sell, trade and barter victims from any location can sometimes make it more difficult for law enforcement and for the advocates who work with escaped or rescued victims.


There is significant victimization and collateral damage associated with human trafficking and it resonates deep within the psyche of its victims, often showing up as the Stockholm syndrome or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Due to the vast nature of sexual and labor exploitation, the visual perception tends to be less accurate than the reality.  Even more difficult is trying to convince the world that slavery still exists and the dehumanization of victims is a daily occurrence here in America and across the world.  I can hear the echoes of many voices …


“It’s happening everywhere but not in my city, not in my neighborhood.”

“The victims look like anyone other than me, anyone other than the people in my circle, the people in my class.” 

“They are foreigners brought from some other countries, they are prostitutes who are willing and able (surely they couldn’t be forced to do this and not escape).” 

“They are taking good jobs from me and those I know.”

“They don’t even have a right to be in this country”

“It’s their fault! It’s their fault! It’s their fault!”


I would be remiss if I let you forget about the perpetrators.  Who are they? They are your Wall Street executives, elected officials, blue collar workers, street pimps and hustlers.  They are men, women and even the children who attend school with your children (“groomers” as we call them).  They are “the demand” and the victims are “the supply”.  


Imagine how many lives would be saved it we just stopped ignoring what we see.   If we stopped making excuses and worked on developing solutions.  Human Trafficking is not new; it’s just the evolution of an old crime that many ignored then and are continuing to ignore now.   




Sunnetta “Sunny” Slaughter is a local and national motivational speaker, law enforcement instructor, facilitator and consultant.  Slaughter is a subject matter expert in victimization and crimes against persons (domestic violence, sexual assault, teen dating violence, human trafficking and child abuse).  Slaughter is a federally certified law enforcement instructor and consultant for the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, GA.  She has worked with various United States Attorney’s Offices, the FBI in Birmingham and Huntsville, the Office of Victims of Crime and the Technical Training Academy in Virginia.  She also specializes in public relations/ marketing and event management services. You can reach her at  https://www.facebook.com/sunny.slaughter

25. April 2013 10:35
by Administrator

Reconciliation and Forgiveness in the US Civil Rights Movement by Rami Khouri

25. April 2013 10:35 by Administrator | 0 Comments

 For more information on the upcoming symposium click here:  http://bcri.org/education_programs/symposium2013.html

As we and others gather today in Birmingham, Alabama to commemorate the events of 1963 that gave the civil rights movement a great push forward towards achieving equal voting and other rights for all Americans, I think this moment is an opportunity to remember some of the core values and principles of the non-violent protests and civil disobedience campaigns that characterized the movement, and led to its ultimate success. I was reminded of that recently upon reading the news of the death of a certain Mr. Elwin Wilson, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, a racist who ironically would ultimately stand out as an icon of what the civil rights movement was, and is, all about.

He was one of many white southerners who beat up the Freedom Riders, white and black young men who integrated bus services and bus stations throughout the south in the spring of 1961, often subjecting themselves to vicious beatings. Among the Freedom Riders he once assaulted were Albert Bigelow, a white man, and John Lewis, a black man, who were in a whites-only waiting room at the Greyhound bus station. Lewis later became a prominent civil rights activist and U.S. Democratic Congressman from Georgia.

Elwin Wilson said he had an awakening after Barack Obama was elected president, and telephoned a local newspaper in 2009 to admit that he had beaten Freedom Riders and other activists, and apologized for his deeds. When he learned that Lewis had become a U.S. Congressman, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet him and apologize in person, and ask forgiveness. Lewis quickly expressed his forgiveness, and the two men made several media appearances after that to promote social reconciliation and forgiveness.

Lewis later said in an interview that Wilson's was the first apology he had ever received for the violence committed against him during the civil rights movement; he added that he did not hesitate for a moment to accept it. Upon learning of Wilson's death earlier this year, Lewis said that accepting the apology and expressing forgiveness, "is in keeping with the philosophy of non-violence. That's what the movement was always about, to have the capacity to forgive and move toward reconciliation."

The sheer human courage and drama of both Wilson's apology and Lewis' forgiveness are a timely reminder of the underlying goals of the civil rights movement and any other quest for social justice: not just to achieve equal individual rights for all, but to heal past grievances and wounds, and therefore to be able to push society forward to a condition of well-being, stability, and dignity for all citizens.

23. April 2013 06:08
by Tammi Sharpe

Selective Buying Campaign

23. April 2013 06:08 by Tammi Sharpe | 0 Comments

Hear about the "Selective Buying Campaign" directly from one of the main activists involved in organizing this civic disobedience tactic. He will be one of the panelist discussing the 1963 Birmingham Civil Rights Movement this Thursday on the opening day of the 2013 Youth Symposium. This session will also be webcasted.

22. April 2013 07:37
by Administrator

Birmingham and the Arab Spring by Rami Khouri

22. April 2013 07:37 by Administrator | 1 Comments

Those who took part (and continue to take part) in the civil rights movement in the USA, especially the seminal Birmingham events of 1963, should appreciate how deeply their sentiments, actions and ethics resonate around the world until this day. Birmingham activism was not just a pivotal historical moment in one location; it marked the birth of a style of non-violent resistance that was born and successfully applied there, but that endures in the hearts of subjugated people across the world. What Birmingham gave to the world turns out to be universal and timeless, transcending religions and cultures. Those school children who marched two-by-two and then stood out in the cold prison yards in the rain, and sang freedom songs, and came back to do it again a few days later....those children who are adults today continue to provide examples for people around the world who also yearn to be free and whole.

I will speak more at the symposium next week in Birmingham about some core parallels I see between the civil rights struggle and the various struggles for rights, dignity and full citizenship by various Arab populations in recent years, in places like Palestine, Lebanon, Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and others, some going back to the 1930s and 1950s. We will explore together the mutual lessons of how citizens achieve their rights, and, equally importantly, how those rights are preserved forever under the rule of law, and not eroded over time.

The Arab uprisings today in half a dozen countries are the most recent example of citizens subjugated by their own authorities who respond by resisting oppression and seeking full rights. But the activism of citizens in the rich Gulf state of Kuwait is the one that strikes me as most dramatic in reflecting some of the same attitudes and activism techniques that we saw in Birmingham, including mass non-violent defiance and a willingness to "fill the jails." Kuwait is meaningful because the demonstrators are mostly wealthy, with all their basic needs fully taken care of by the Kuwaiti government—and still they dare the state to arrest them for demanding their rights. I mention the several reasons for grasping the symbolism of Kuwait in the excerpt below from my syndicated column today; the link to the full column is also below.

“A parallel important new political dynamic is the convergence among demonstrators of several opposition groups that had formerly mostly worked on their own, including Islamists, tribalists, nationalists, youth groups, human rights activists, and “bidoun” Kuwaitis who lack full nationality and rights. This kind of multi-constituency, non-violent, mass civil disobedience and open defiance of the emir and the police reminds me of the civil rights protests by schoolchildren in Birmingham, Alabama 50 years ago. There, thousands of youngsters who marched peacefully and sang protest songs in defiance of police orders also took their toothbrushes with them, knowing they would go to jail for at least a night. When the packed jails of Birmingham and adjacent towns eventually could hold no more protesters, and peaceful demonstrators demanding nothing more than their civil rights showed by their behavior that they were prepared to be jailed over and over again, the racist power elite gave up and negotiated an end to the protests by recognizing the citizens' demands.

It is not clear if mass civil disobedience will move Kuwait in a similar direction. What is clear is that we witness in Kuwait an unprecedented situation of anti-autocracy mass civil disobedience by elements of a population that is not poor, hungry or lacking in basic services. Unlike Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, these protesters do not demand the overthrow of the regime, but rather seek constitutional reforms that give citizens their basic rights to participate in decision-making and hold power accountable.

The modern Arab security state has always responded to such movements with massive police action, including imprisonment, exile or even withdrawing nationality (as has happened in several GCC states in the past few years). Tens of thousands of Kuwaitis seem to be challenging this modern Arab legacy, suggesting instead that genuine security and stability must be anchored in that one phenomenon that the Arab world has never seriously tried to create: a satisfied citizenry that shapes state policies, enjoys the protection of the rule of law, and is the source of the legitimacy of public authority."

The full column is at http://www.agenceglobal.com/index.php?show=article&Tid=3015

Indeed, the struggle goes on, across the world, often reflecting and remembering Birmingham.

15. April 2013 06:46
by Tammi Sharpe


15. April 2013 06:46 by Tammi Sharpe | 0 Comments



While pictures provide a glimpse into the experience of the protesters, the below excerpts from individual protesters allow one to gain a closer look at the different experiences.  These are quotes from individuals who were youth in 1963.  Some discuss some of the logistical aspects of protesting providing insights into how the principles of non-violence were upheld.  Others describe in detail their emotions—fears and excitement— and how they overcame intimidation.  Many were arrested and a few describe in vivid detail what if felt like to have a fire hose directed at you.  

Bernard Johnson:  Western Olin High

[W]e left the church and we had to go to our destination by route of alley ways. …After we traveled probably two and a half blocks we were in the middle of the alley way.  The police entered one end of the alley and blocked us off and the fire truck came through the other end.  The fire truck came with the pressure of the fire hoses….There was probably 12 of us.  We were in between buildings in the alley way so there was basically nowhere to run or escape.  The fire hose had so much pressure, at the time I suppose I weighed 130 pounds or so.  The pressure actually lifts you off the ground if you’re close enough to it.  I was thrust from the ground and I imagine I went up at least 5 feet and came down on a wrought iron fence, the fence that had the spears and when I came down I was caught in the crotch on the fence.  At this time the police had turned the dogs loose up the alley and the dog is coming up to where I am on this fence and they have this man eating look, these police dogs.  So, this was in back of a funeral home that this fence was attached and that was the only opening that was throughout this alley.  Fortunate enough I was hung but ripped my pants from the fence and [I] fell on the other side of the fence from where the dog was.  That was how I managed to escape. 

Donald Hauser:  Freshman, Parker High School

[I]t was really nice.  It was exciting for a fourteen year old; it was really something.  We marched all the way down Eight Ave and the crowd got bigger as we went down the Avenue.  We came straight down  and when we got to the back of the church at Sixteenth Street we made a right and then a left and came into the front and it was a humongous crowd already…We went into the church and sat all that day singing.

Rallis Jones Jr.:  Sophomore, Carver High School

[At the church] we had a briefing…We were told what was to be expected.  They explained to us that the march was a non-violent demonstration.  If anybody had any type of weapons at that time to bring them forward…We had pocket knives and stuff like that….[T]hey took up all the pocket knives and they told us that we were probably going to jail….It was exciting but scary, because we knew that the policemen were outside.  Inside the church it was a good feeling, because we felt safe….It was good to be participating.  I felt a part of the Movement.  I was sort of caught up in it.  Especially when hearing all these leaders speak to us, motivating us and telling us how we didn’t have to worry about anything.

We were assigned different groups and some of us were given signs and we had a leader leading us toward town…..We were walking down on the sidewalk by the park.  As a matter of fact, we didn’t get far before we were arrested.  We left the church and started walking toward the park, the paddy wagons pulled up and the policemen were there.     

John Henry Lee:  Freshman, Immaculata High School

I remember people like Andy Young and James Bevill and so forth…They told us how we were to march and what to respond.  They anticipated things that the police would do.  We were instructed “When you are holding your signs and everything, they’ll come and try to scare you and snatch your sign and try to intimidate you.  So you just let it go and defeat that purpose."  They anticipated that and some other things about how we were supposed to orderly proceed in the march. 

We left that church and they [the police] didn’t anticipate us coming from that direction.  This was a new tactic, I guess.  So we made a pretty good distance because they didn’t know where we were coming from.  People were coming from different directions….At some point they [the police] discovered that we were coming from this way and then they came and stopped our line and lined us up in front of some store and started to arrest my group.  

Floretta Scruggs Tyson:  Sophomore, Ullman High School

I was kind of nervous…because I really didn’t think I was going to jail but I was getting prepared to [be arrested]….[I]n the Movement they were teaching us the non-violent act and what to do in case we went to jail….I took things out of the house like underwear, toothbrush, toothpaste in case I went to jail…..So my friends and I went on to the church and when we got there it was a bunch of other people there and we had already been assigned to what we were going to do.  So we got in our little groups…they were still teaching us, telling us what to do in case something should happen.  So we listened and then it was time to march.  Well, we got maybe about a half a block from the church and we were arrested.  There were a lot of paddy wagons out. 

Miriam McClendon:  Sophomore,  Wenonah High School


When we go to Kelly Ingram Park we were split up in different groups and each group had an assigned area.  My group’s assigned area was the Atlantic Mills Thrift Store…..[At the store] [w]e had out our little signs and we formed our little circle and we started marching and singing…..[The store manager] immediately called the police….[and we were all arrested.] 

Aldridge Willis:  Junior,  Fairfield High School

We had come to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to get formal instructions as to how to conduct ourselves.  From listening to people we were not to fight back or strike back but we were to offer ourselves up to prayer and for song services…..


I witnessed these fire hoses.  They were so powerful and when they turned them up into the trees those fire hoses would just cut limbs like an invisible hand.  They just cut limbs, knocked down trees like an invisible hand. ….  [Then someone threw a bottle] at the fireman that was spraying the water upon the demonstrators and hit the fireman upon the head.  Then the fireman turned the hoses on us…we were cut down.  My body was picked up…because of the force of the water my legs were knocked out from underneath me.  I fell to the ground…  [P]eople [were] running and screaming and so forth.   

Willie Eatman:  Parker High School

When we got to the church the first thing they ask you is to register because your name needs to be on a register.  If you did go to jail or get hurt, that way you can be accounted for.  I tell the people that I was with to go ahead and sign in and once we get inside the church then they’d have a group of people over here for carrying signs, and a group of people for marching, a group of people going to different parts of the city for different things.  For instance, one day they gave me a sign to go down to the city hall, me and another guy.  They didn’t want but two people.…

So we had to take a sign and put it up on our car and walk down like there was nothing going on even though the police was sitting out in front of city hall and they kept on looking at us.  And one of them asked.  ‘What do y’all niggers think you’re doing?’  We didn’t say anything, we just kept on walking real slow in front of the building.  Then another man said, ‘They’re lost. Those niggers don’t know what’s going on.’  About the time we got middle ways to the steps…I thought they were going to shoot me…because they reached for their guns.  I got the sign out and I ran off to the City Hall shouting “We Shall Overcome, We Shall Overcome….” They grabbed me, threw me down and carried me back…and put me in a cell for a minute.  Then they said ‘He’s underage.’  So they couldn’t hold me.  They told me Nigger, you go home, you go home.  I mean go home. We catch you again.  We gonna lock you up.’  So I turned around and walked right back down to the church and grabbed another sign.    

We’d leave the church, we’d line up in front of the church and we’d go down Sixth Avenue and then down Nineteenth Street.  Then we’d turn and come back down Fourth Avenue….