Nobody pressured her. Nobody dared her to do it. Her
decision was hers to make.
On April 24, 1963, in a watershed moment in her life,
Birmingham-Southern sophomore Martha
“Marti” Turnipseed chose to join seven
black students who were sitting in for
justice at a segregated Woolworth’s food
counter in downtown Birmingham.
Little did she know that Birmingham
Police Commissioner “Bull” Connor had
spying detectives everywhere. As soon as
Marti returned to campus several hours
later, she received an urgent summons
to appear before college officials. The
next day, the college’s acting president
asked Marti to withdraw from school
It was a blow for the young woman, a third-generation
BSC student who wrote that it was her dream to graduate
from the same college as her father and grandfather, both
Methodist ministers. But she knew that she had done the
right thing—even if many on the Hilltop disagreed.
Rev. Noel “Twinkie” Koestline ‘66, Marti’s friend and
roommate, says she’ll never
forget the day when she
and another friend, Barbara
McBride, helped Marti pack
up her things. The next day,
Koestline and McBride found
themselves sitting in an
office in Munger before the
Acting Dean of the College,
the Dean of Women, and
three other administrators.
The young women, who had
met in a college youth group
for Methodist students, had
become good friends, all connected by their commitment to
civil rights.
“We were given a moral lecture that ‘the college was
doing the best it could and wanted to help race relations
in the city and state, but that we were trying to move too
fast and were making it harder and worse for them,’”
recalls Koestline, a retired Methodist pastor who resides
in Southold, N.Y. “Barbara and I were placed on social
probation and told not to cause any more trouble for the
college and its relationship with the community. We were
viewed with suspicion after that, and we felt other students
distancing themselves from us.”
Just two days earlier Marti, Barbara, and former BSC
student Sam Shirah had ventured off campus to attend a
rally at First Baptist Church in Ensley, where Rev. Martin
Luther King Jr. spoke. They made a stir; local civil rights
activist Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth introduced
them and called them up to speak. Before the
evening was out, Marti pledged to join in the
sit-in the next day, becoming the first white
student in Birmingham to do so.
“Marti had a strong devotion to racial justice
in Alabama and was willing to put herself on
the line for it,” Koestline says.
Born in Greenville, Ala., Marti later moved
with her family to Montgomery, Mobile,
Rochester, N.Y., and then Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Koestline remembers her as a slender woman
with a wiry build who was strong and full of
“Marti took plenty of art classes and visited the studio a
lot, had a keen sense of humor, and was often the life of the
party,” Koestline remembers. “She could be very intense
and focused, and she was not afraid of others’ labels of her.”
She hadn’t always been an activist, says her brother, Rev.
Spencer Turnipseed, her closest living relative.
“My sister lived life in the way
a kid does who embraces its
goodness,” remarks Turnipseed,
who pastors Point Washington
United Methodist Church in Santa
Rosa Beach, Fla., in
the Alabama-
West Florida Conference. “She
was as normal as any growing girl
you could ever meet. She was not
fixated on doing any overt social
and political acts that would shake
up the world.”
Turnipseed says his sister’s
philosophy and actions were
influenced by her own personal experiences with the
Jim Crow South. She came to believe that Birmingham-
Southern should have stayed true to its most basic Christian
tenets of justice, service, love, and mercy, and that the
college should have been a leader in the city on moral
“She was pretty outspoken about it too,” he says. “She
believed in promoting the dignity of each person, regardless
of skin color, class, or background. Her views just didn’t
mesh with the times she was in.”
“She knew she did the right thing,” Turnipseed continues.
“She also knew that the reaction to her decision to join the
sit-ins at Woolworth could be antagonistic on the part of
Sowing a seed of conscience
An alumna’s passionate stand remembered
Rev. Spencer Turnipseed
“I was supportive
of my sister then
and was proud as
can be—still am.”
(Continued, next page)
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