30 / ’southern
Alumni reflect on 50 years
Don Brown ’58
hen my home phone, or any reporter’s
phone, rang at midnight, the call was
trouble. An editor, himself alerted, would
say what he knew quickly and send me out
into reality once more. The reality of
Birmingham in the dark summer of 1963 was dynamite,
beatings, shootings, marches, and Klan power, as the city
fought integration with all the muscle and weapons it could
muster. And reporters constantly were on the front line.
So I went that night, through town and out toward
Birmingham-Southern, where I had graduated five years
earlier. Driving the back streets, I stopped a short walk from
the blocks nicknamed Dynamite Hill, a section of College
Hills where black professionals and their families lived in
nice houses. The home of attorney Arthur Shores had been
bombed again. Terrified and angry, the neighbors thronged
around the splintered wreckage, challenged police lines, and
shouted retaliation. A frightening mob had been awakened.
For two hours I wandered about—a white man trying to
be inconspicuous—looking, listening, talking to strangers,
forming another chapter in a continuing series about
violence and hate that seemed to dominate the life of every
reporter and photographer at
The Birmingham News
. I left
quietly, driving carefully out of there, running red lights, not
stopping until I was at the newspaper and writing.
January had set the course for 1963. New governor
George Wallace shouted “Segregation forever!” at his
inauguration. Spring brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to
Birmingham to refuel his movement, which led to church
rallies, street protests, the use of dogs and fire hoses, and
children being arrested. Summer was unending turmoil.
Boycotted downtown businesses were at the breaking point,
bold churches that preached moderation were threatened,
extremists branded this college integrationist, and Chamber
of Commerce leaders conceded their only choice was
to negotiate secretly with King. Ongoing national news
coverage ultimately felled the city to its knees. Outlawed as
the most segregated place in America, “Bombingham” made
concessions that included removing racist signs from public
water fountains and rest rooms.
But Birmingham was far from being at peace with itself.
That became horribly evident on Sept. 15, 1963. The eleven
o’clock service was about to start at 16th Street Baptist
Church, downtown’s anchor black church. Children were
robing to sing when a massive dynamite blast tore open a
basement outside wall and killed four young girls—Denise
McNair, 11; Addie Mae Collins, 10; Carole Robertson,
14; and Cynthia Wesley, 14. Two more teen-agers would
die before midnight in other city-wide violence: Johnny
Robinson and Virgil Ware.
Inspired by the courage of Marti Turnipseed and countless others who sacrificed
for the movement, Birmingham-Southern and the city of Birmingham will co-host
a march in Marti’s honor.
The march will be held Wednesday, April 24, and will mirror the steps the
young woman took as she walked off the Hilltop to join a sit-in downtown. BSC
students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and neighbors are invited to join in the 2.1-
mile walk from campus to Kelly Ingram Park.
The event will kick off at 9:30 a.m. at Birmingham-Southern. Area gospel choirs
will line the route and join the marchers as they progress, and the BSC Concert
Choir will perform at the closing ceremony. BSC President Gen. Charles C. Krulak,
Birmingham Mayor William Bell, and Rev. Spencer Turnipseed, Marti’s brother,
will also speak.
partners with city to mark anniversary of civil rights movement