64 / ’southern
Perhaps because of Methodism’s
progressive tradition, Birmingham-
Southern was always suspected of
liberalism on the race issue. But
as Birmingham’s watershed year of
1963 approached, it was a very timid
liberalism, indeed.
Dr. Henry King Stanford, the popular
president who had stood up to “Bull”
Connor and urged BSC trustees to
integrate, departed for the University
of Miami in 1962. Birmingham
police records show that Connor was
successful in convincing the interim
administrators to suppress activities
among students influenced by Dr.
Stanford’s racial views. Police detective
Marcus Jones spied on students. It was
partly through his confidential written
reports to Connor that the late Marti
Turnipseed’s participation in civil
rights rallies was made known to BSC
officials and she was promptly exiled
from the campus by administrators
led by Dr. J. Ralph Jolly, the longtime
dean of men. So the policy of
intimidation worked to the extent
that her courage and independence
did not infect the rest of us enrolled
at the college at that time. Her story
is told elsewhere in this issue, and
the college’s overdue recognition of
her religiously-motivated idealism is
all to the good. Surely some lasting
campus memorial to her is in order,
including a prominent display of her
posthumously published memoir,
Here Am I ...
BSC could also emulate
the examples of the universities of
Alabama and Georgia in honoring
their civil rights heroes on their web
Why was Marti so alone? Why
did I and approximately 1,000 other
students fail to join the righteous social
revolution that swept Birmingham and
America in May of 1963? Speaking for
myself, the reason was cowardice. I
was among scores, indeed, hundreds
of students who thought George
Wallace was a buffoon and the violent
attacks on Dr. Martin Luther King
Jr. and his demonstrators were both
unchristian and unconstitutional.
More than any decision of my college
years, I regret my obedient decision
to keep my mouth shut and to stay
on campus, as ordered. But I know
that I cannot blame my failure on the
college administrators—chiefly Dr.
Jolly and our erudite dean, Dr. Cecil
Abernethy—who threatened us with
expulsion. As Dean Abernethy said
at convocation, the college was acting
in loco parentis
to preserve our safety.
Most students realized instantly that
the college was copping out on its
classroom ideals, but it was entirely
our own fault that we did not defy our
deans in the cause of justice.
Why was I so fearful? Why was my
story of passivity in the face of an
obviously evil polity repeated millions
of times by millions of white citizens
across the Deep South in those days?
Principally, we were frozen by physical
fear of being beaten or bombed by
the white thugs who represented us in
the eyes of America. Sociologically,
Why was Marti so alone?
by Howell Raines ’64
we feared ostracism, and not just by
our college. Whites who supported
integration were expelled by their
families, or in the case of ministers
like Marti’s father, sent north. Our
fears were reality-based, particularly
in light of the tumultuous events that
played out after the demonstrations in
May. It took armed National Guards
to frustrate Wallace’s “Stand in the
Schoolhouse Door” on June 11, 1963.
Then came the unthinkable—the
murder of four Sunday school students
at 16th Street Baptist Church on
September 15, 1963.
That was the turning point for
educated white Southerners, of
course. Gradually, the “good South”
began to find its voice. But how
very late we were and how easily
we could have been a glorious
part of history! In preparing this
reminiscence, I calculated the distance
from our Hilltop to the site of the
demonstrations—barely more than a
mile. We could have been eyewitnesses
even if lacking the boldness of
character to join the marchers. We
had been brushed at close quarters
by history’s coat-tails and lacked even
the intellectual curiosity to ride them
toward the action.
In late May of 1963, I wrote the
opening essay to the
Southern Accent
recording life on our campus in 1963-
64. The essay contains a few lines that
show, I hope, a groping toward an
honest recognition of the momentous
nature of the crusade declined to join.
“Remember, long after you’ve forgotten
your spring quarter grade point average
or S.G.A. elections or who you dated
that spring, that 10 blocks from you,
America changed.” All of us have
benefited from that change, but few on
the Hilltop helped in its birth.
*Howell Raines is the author of
Soul Is Rested
, an oral history of the
civil rights movement, and is former
executive editor of
The New York Times.
Howell Raines and Bruce Hulberg ’63, who served as copy editor
and business manager, respectively, of
Southern Accent
in 1963.
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