“Because I was one of the taller kids, it was difficult for me to fit when the police squeezed us in the paddy wagon.” Myrna Carter Jackson was only 18 years old in 1963, the most momentous year in the history of civil rights in Birmingham, Alabama. The 15 members of our group sat spellbound as we listened to her recount stories of her participation in the Children’s March and other activities of the Movement. Hundreds of children would gather at the 16th Street Baptist Church. “Rev. Dr. King, Rev. Abernathy, John Lewis, and Andrew Young would speak to the kids and teach us about non-violent techniques.” She recounted how they lined up the kids in pairs. Then Andrew Young sent a group of pairs down the church steps with instructions to march straight down 6th Avenue. They were soon set upon by the infamous “Bull” Connor and firemen with hoses. “That was the decoy group,” she said. Then Young sent Myrna and her group out and told them to turn left and head down 16th Street where they made their way unnoticed to their destination of the Five and Dime for a lunch counter demonstration.
Myrna felt the hand of God at workin her civil rights experiences. For example, when she was jailed for several days along with hundreds of other children arrested for marching, she learned that the jail guards offered the regular inmates better food and privileges if they would beat up the children protesters. Not one of the inmates lifted a finger to harm a child. Also, children would be released at random from the jail in the middle of the night. “We knew the Ku Klux Klan was out there “waiting for us.” Yet the Movement leaders always arranged for someone to pick them up and no children were harmed.
In speaking with us about the pardon the mayor of Birmingham offered in 2009 to some 2,500 people arrested during the 1960s protests, she said,”Pardon me? No, pardon you.” She remains active in civil rights issues and organizations to this day, now at the age of 72.
Other highlights of the day:
- Worship at 16th Street Baptist Church – site of the 1963 bombing that killed four young Sunday School girls
- Tour of the Civil Rights Institute Museum
- Meeting with Rev. Bob and Jeanne Graetz in Montgomery – Bob was a white Lutheran pastor of an all-black church in Montgomery, a friend of Rosa Parks, active in the bus boycott and civil rights organizations in Montgomery. They were awarded the Jim Siefkes Award for their work on GLBTQ issues. Still active, they are in their 80s.
- Effective civil rights demonstrations of the 60s were non-violent on the part of the demonstrators and often technically illegal.
- Church communities were the key places to gather, organize, be inspired and gain courage to participate in the demonstrations.
- Myrna noted, it is critical that we get to know each other. Otherwise our imaginations play tricks on us and we develop fear of one another.
- Information on the Children’s March: http://www.biography.com/news/black-history-birmingham-childrens-crusade-1963-video