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….