Birmingham holds a unique place in the history of the US’ civil rights struggle and the global struggle for human rights. Anybody who lives in the South has to wrestle with issues of race and Attorney Jim Rotch is no exception. His grappling with the legacy of the past and desire to help create a different future led him to write The Birmingham Pledge. Keep reading to find out what this is and what it has to do with Birmingham in June 2020.
The Birmingham Pledge
According to Teaching Tolerance, a program of the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center,
“The Birmingham Pledge is a grassroots effort to recognize the worth of every individual, by making a personal, daily commitment to remove prejudice from our own lives and to treat all people with dignity and respect.”
Before we tell you where the Pledge came from, we wanted to share the actual pledge with you:
I believe that every person has worth as an individual.
I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color.
I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as others.
Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions.
I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity.
I will treat all people with dignity and respect; and I will strive daily to honor this pledge, knowing that the world will be a better place because of my effort.
The origins of The Birmingham Pledge
According to This is Alabama, attorney Jim Rotch first started thinking about race when an African-American boy joined his Little League baseball team in Ft. Payne, Alabama, back in the 1940s. While the boy was allowed to be on the team, he couldn’t play in the games.
This early experience planted the seed of the desire to do something to address racial prejudice. With today’s calls for social justice and the dismantling of the systems of racism, it’s important to remember that this was an important first step along the journey—simply getting white people to see people of color as humans worthy of dignity and respect.
This passion led Rotch to UVA law school, then to a career in law here in Birmingham. Colleagues encouraged him to get involved in the community, and he participated in the 1991-92 class of Leadership Birmingham.
New friends meant new learning about Birmingham’s racial past, followed by involvement with the Community Affairs Committee (CAC), a group he co-chaired in 1997 with African-American attorney Louis Willie III.
In 1997, Rotch went to a Leadership Alabama retreat in Mobile where the focus was on education. Bill Smith of Royal Cup Coffee gave a presentation and the organizers said their next meeting, in Birmingham, would focus on diversity.
On the drive home, inspiration struck and what became The Birmingham Pledge came to him as a personal credo.
The Pledge heard ’round the world
Encouraged by Willie and the other members of the CAC to share The Birmingham Pledge, Rotch did so at the 1998 annual MLK Unity Breakfast. Soon, it took on a life of its own and has been signed by people across the globe.
Here are just a few of the more famous people who have signed the pledge:
“[South African] Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former South African prime minister F. W. DeKlerk, former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Birmingham bombing survivor Carolyn McKinstry, author Harper Lee, General Colin L. Powell, [former Alabama] Governor Bob Riley, and many others.”Encyclopedia of Alabama
You can sign the pledge too
If you’d like take this first but important step toward making change happen, you can sign the pledge today.