Black children securing the civil rights bag | black joy

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Honestly, I have to catch my breath when I think of all the historic events I experienced in the 90s. Year 2000, September 11, Barack Obama. If you’re a 90s kid, you can Find out which black historical event happened in your year of birth. I learned that the first black woman flew into space just months after I was born in 1992.

Speaking of history, last Monday was the 59th anniversary of the Children’s Crusade, when thousands of school children skipped class in protest against segregation in downtown Birmingham, Ala. Many of the children who helped break the city’s color barrier are still alive today and vividly remember the mark they left in history on May 2, 1963.

In March, I told you about my discussions with Children in Birmingham 1963, an organization of birmingham citizens who were children at vital times in the city’s civil rights history. Talking to the members about what Black Joy was like at the time reminded me of what it felt like to talk to my own aunts and uncles during family meals. Many members can tell you about the horrors of living in a city where white supremacists have dropped dynamite in their homes and churches. But I collected stories about how jazz got people dancing on the streets of Birmingham’s Ensley neighborhood. A pair of sisters have spoken the humor and musicality of their father, whose legacy is immortalized in the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

We are continuing this project this week in honor of the Infantrymen of the Children’s Crusade. Share this newsletter so you don’t leave your friends and family behind as we blast down memory lane with Black Joy.

Skating on Dynamite Hill

Unless you’re Patrick Star and live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of a leaked draft opinion detailing the United States Supreme Court’s vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Although the decision is not final and abortions are still legal, reproductive rights advocates stressed the importance of supporting and donating to local organizations doing the grassroots work.

The annulment of Roe v. Wade, as well as the decline in voting rights, concern Janice Kelsey. The retired educator was 16 when she took to the streets during the Children’s Crusade. Even though she was imprisoned for four days, Janice and her classmates were eager to go to jail to fight for human rights. She doesn’t want the nation to go back to the way things were.

Janice said the movement gave her the tools to stand up for her rights. She encourages others to continue this fight, especially in times like these.

“You don’t have to be a leader in a movement to make a difference,” Kelsey said. “I wasn’t responsible for anything. I was just one of many. As long as it’s something you believe in and do your part, then change can happen and it doesn’t have to come your way.

You can read more about Janice’s role in the children’s march and her advice to today’s generation of freedom fighters. For now though, we’re going to give Janice a chance to reminisce about her favorite happy times growing up in Birmingham’s Titusville neighborhood, which she described as “a great place to feel safe”.

During our interview about the Children’s Crusade, Janice reminisced about her moments of dark joy:

  • Descent from Dynamite Hill: One of Janice’s points of joy seems to be an unlikely location: Center Street, which was Birmingham’s color line at the time. White people would live on the west side of the street. But as black families began buying homes on the west side of the street, the Ku Klux Klan – with the support of law enforcement and government officials – retaliated by bombing the homes of black families. This is the reason why Center Street was nicknamed Dynamite Hill.

But it was also the place of a Christmas tradition. When the kids got skates for the holidays, they turned what had become a bombing ground for white supremacists into a rink of joy. Center Street was cobbled and on a hill – the perfect conditions for skating. The kids were dressing up in their cute sweaters and hitting the pavement. Janice said it was a fun activity to do during their winter vacation.

“You got yourself a piece of fruit, walked out of the house on your skates, and headed that way,” Janice said. “We used to form what we called ‘trains’. You were hanging onto the back of someone’s belt and going down the hill real, really fast. Some people were falling and we were laughing. It didn’t take much to have fun.

  • 1965 prom: In 1963, Janice said all black high school proms were canceled in response to the children’s march. But she was able to catch up on the big day during her senior year of high school in 1964. And her uncle, who lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, made sure she dressed to impress. He sent her a beautiful evening dress. The cream and gold embroidered bodice fit Janice like a glove. Her prom date borrowed her mom’s brand new car so they could drive around in style.

The prom wasn’t as weird as it is today. No limos. No fancy dinners. The dance did not take place in a hotel or an elegant place. Janice and her classmates actually decorated the gymnasium for their own prom. Janice said they really don’t care about all the extra stuff she sees during prom season now.

“It was a time to laugh, to dress up and be with people I loved and who loved me,” she said. “We were so proud of the little things we had.”

How Black Liberation Survived Hate

Cecil Guyton was barred from participating in the Children’s Crusade, but he didn’t have to travel to downtown Birmingham to experience the power of black activism.

Although he was only eight years old at the time of the march, Cecil was aware that he was growing up as a child of the movement. Also from the Titusville neighborhood, he had family members standing arm-in-arm with civil rights captions. His mother, Rosebud, and his grandmother were close to the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a minister and architect of many protests in Birmingham. While attending Morehouse College in Atlanta, his uncle, Bernard Williams, befriended a classmate who would later be known as the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Cecil saw King in several times while visiting his uncle’s house.

Cecil’s family regularly attended the movement’s meetings held at different churches, including 16th Street Baptist and Cecil’s home church, Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. Rosebud, an educator from the area, has always had an activist spirit and has become very politically involved in Birmingham.

“She became part of the movement because none of us wanted to live under Jim Crow,” Cecil said. “My mom and aunt were educated black women and most of their friends were also educated. So they didn’t have the fear that other black people in the community might have had. »

One of the ways Cecil’s community resisted discrimination was through joy. Sure, segregation limited much of their lives, but it just encouraged adults in her community to create safe spaces to commune with one another. Black social clubs were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Cecil’s family was part of Club Egelloc, which was the word college spelled backwards. Club Egelloc parties were for adults only, but there were plenty of activities for kids, like picnics, barbecues, and birthday parties. Through their membership in the club, Cecil’s family became close to the family of Denise McNair, one of the girls killed in the church bombing along with Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson.

These fun times added some distance between the children and the trauma that happened around them. They rode bicycles and played baseball in the streets. They passed the time by making mud pies.

“I actually think parents pulled off one of the greatest tricks of all time by allowing us to grow up not realizing that we were growing up in such a dangerous environment,” Cecil said. “They made our lives as normal as they could be under those circumstances, and I think it was amazing that they did that in unison.”

Black children have been able to live their best lives thanks to the constant supervision of black parents in their communities. Black men gathered on street corners at night to keep a watchful eye on KKK members planting bombs in the neighborhood. The danger of challenging white supremacy did not scare the adults in their neighborhood. The danger of losing their freedom – their human rights – encouraged them to take a non-violent stand.

“I believe Neighborhood Watch actually started with Birmingham,” Cecil said. “It was a concerted effort and one of the nicest things you can see because we did it on defense rather than on offense. And it wasn’t just one or a few households. Almost every household blacks were involved in this.

Civil rights leaders were treated like family in Cecil’s neighborhood. Due to his uncle’s closeness to King, Cecil had closer access to a man who was leading a national movement. He remembers playing with King’s children in church and describes King as a compassionate man who gave the best hugs.

“He has always been very welcoming with the children. I remember standing under him with his arm around me as he talked to the adults. I adored her,” Cécile said. “After Martin gave his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ sermon, I remember running to the front of the church to hug him. It wasn’t like I was a weird kid. He knew exactly who I was. He called me by my name. That’s how close our families were.

As for Shuttlesworth, he was always welcome at Sunday dinner with Cecil’s family. Even when Shuttlesworth left Birmingham and founded the Greater New Light Baptist Church in Ohio, Cecil’s family would visit Shuttlesworth Church on a trip to Ohio to visit Cecil’s great-uncle. Shuttlesworth returned to Birmingham after retiring from ministry in 2006.

Cecil was able to thank Shuttlesworth for all he did for the movement before his death in 2011. He said Shuttlesworth was proud to have stood up to those who bombed his home and church.

“He said. ‘I survived them all. George Wallace. Bull Connor. They are rolling over in their graves. We beat them,” Cecil said. “And they beat them. They defeated them with love and with peace.

I hope your week is filled with love, peace and dark joy. See you this Friday!

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