Meeting and marching with the Foot Soldiers of Birmingham 1963 and today (Photos)

2019 Children's Crusade reenactment in Birmingham
2019 Children's Crusade reenactment in Birmingham
2019 Children’s Crusade reenactment participants in Kelly Ingram Park at Birmingham, Alabama. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

56 years ago this month they changed the world.

On May 2, 1963, thousands of children in Birmingham, trained in the tactics of nonviolence, marched throughout the city, calling for desegregation. Hundreds of children were arrested on the first day. On the second day, Birmingham’s Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor ordered police to spray the children with powerful water hoses, hit them with batons and threaten them with police dogs. Despite the violence, the children continued to march days afterwards.

Television footage and photographs of the brutal response to the non-violent protests was seen on broadcasts and in print all over the world.

Earlier this week, Bham Now met and marched with the Foot Soldiers of 1963 (and today’s 2019 marchers) thanks to the annual  Children’s Crusade “Project C” re-enactment organized by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Below are excerpts from interviews with the heroes.

John Alexander, Jr.

Foot Soldiers Birmingham Alabama 2019
1963 Foot Soldiers William Merriweather, III and John Alexander, Jr. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

At 13 years old Alexander marched on the 3rd day after he saw the water hoses and batons used on protesters the day before. He was gathered up and thrown in a jail at Fair Park.

“56 years later, looking at Birmingham the way it was then and where it is now, we’ve made progress but there is still a lot of work to do.

A lot of things have changed over time. We’ve got to keep telling this story, so people know how they got to where they are now. It was not always easy for us as black people. We are celebrating and doing a reenactment to let the nation know, we are still here and still moving forward.”

 

Myrna Carter Jackson

Foot Soldiers Birmingham Alabama 2019
Gloria Washington Lewis-Randall and Myrna Carter Jackson at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute breakfast with the 1963 Foot Soldiers. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Jackson actually marched before  Children’s Crusade, a little less than a month earlier on April 11 with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.  She was actually incarcerated before the May protests.

“Today, in a sense, has a double motive.  One – is to make us remember and the other, show us how far we’ve come and how much we’ve got to go.

We are not there yet.- regretfully so.

I hate to use the expression, the more things change, the more they remain the same. I think it can be used at this point.”

 

Gloria Washington Lewis-Randall

1963 Foot Soldier Gloria Washington Lewis-Randall in front of St. Paul United Methodist Church.
1963 Foot Soldier Gloria Washington Lewis-Randall in front of St. Paul United Methodist Church. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

According to Lewis-Randall, marched on the first day and was held at the Fairgrounds for two weeks.  Both she and Jackson were prominently featured in the 2004 Academy Award winning short documentary Mighty Times – The Children’s Crusade.

“I felt the sting of the water hoses, the calls from the dogs, I felt the anguish and the emptiness from the children and the fear that we felt when we marched out. I was put in jail and a sweatbox in Jefferson County jail. Stayed there for over 2 weeks.

I’ve alway been active and supportive for all civil rights – every color, race, every creed and every religion, because that is God’s law, but it is also in the constitution.”

Reenactment 2019

On May 10th, at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church around 300 to 400 Birmingham students  met and walked with the 1963 Foot Soldiers and civic leaders.

Inspirational and purposeful – the gathering for the reenactment reminded a new generation of Birmingham students how young people their age courageously  made a difference and helped defeat racial segregation.

Along with the commemoration of the events that happened 56 years ago, the 1963  Foot Soldiers wanted to clearly send an additional message.

The work for equality is not done – there is still work to be done.

Photo and Video Gallery from the 2019 Reenactment

Scenes for the 2019 Children's Crusade reenactment
2019 Children’s Crusade reenactment on May 10 2019. Photo courtesy of Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
2019 Children's Crusade reenactment on May 10 2019
2019 Children’s Crusade reenactment on May 10 2019. Photo courtesy of Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
1963 Foot Soldiers meeting 2019 Foot Soldiers
1963 Foot Soldiers meeting with 2019 Foot Soldiers in Kelly Ingram Park. Photo courtesy of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
1963 Foot Soldiers meeting with 2019 Foot Soldiers in Kelly Ingram Park
1963 Foot Soldiers meeting with 2019 Foot Soldiers in Kelly Ingram Park. Photo courtesy of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

 

 

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.