Students March Through Birmingham For Civil Rights Anniversary
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – After watching a documentary about thousands of children marching in the civil rights demonstrations that started 50 years ago today, a new generation of students took to the streets.
Students met inside Sixteenth Street Baptist Church today, then gathered outside and marched south on 16th Street, led by the Miles College Band.
“Just as they did on May 2, 1963,” said City Councilman Jay Roberson, who organized the 50th anniversary re-enactment. “They flooded out of this church at high noon.”
An estimated 1,400 marchers turned west on Second Avenue North, then south again on 14th Street, marching through a grandstand at the new Regions Field baseball stadium, then into Railroad Park.
This time there was no threat of arrests. Birmingham police helped block off the streets and clear the way. Between May 2, 1963, and the climax of demonstrations on May 10, 1963, more than 5,000 demonstrators were arrested, at least 1,000 of them children.
That week of protests focused the nation’s attention on the brutal tactics of Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor, who used dogs and firehoses on the demonstrators, thousands of them children.
A new generation of children, some texting on cell phones as they marched down the street, may not have had a full appreciation of the sacrifices made on their behalf 50 years ago. But many said they had learned the lessons well.
Justin Bush, 16, a student at Ramsay High School, said his great-grandmother marched in the demonstrations. “She said to appreciate what was done,” he said.
“It’s exciting, feeling a part of what they did back then,” Bush said.
“Somebody had to do it,” said Jordan Payne, 17, also a Ramsay student.
He said his generation needs to learn to appreciate the sacrifices of 50 years ago and keep progress moving. “Stop acting as if it didn’t happen,” he said. “A lot of what we have is because of this.”
Students from at least nine high schools and three colleges took part in today’s march.
A group from Miles College marched at the end of the procession. Miles student leaders were prominent in organizing 1963 demonstrations.
“There’s always work still to be done,” said Michael Childress, a senior at Miles College and president of the Student Government Association. “There are always going to be foot soldiers. There are things we can do to make this city better.”
Joshalynn Green, a junior at Miles College, said she grew up in Colorado but wanted to attend Miles because it is steeped in Birmingham history.
“I get to learn about the civil rights movement,” she said. “History is repeating itself. We overcame a lot but we still have a lot to do. Justice, equality, working together for understanding.”
Former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who prosecuted those responsible for bombing the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and killing four girls on Sept. 15, 1963, said the students who took part today need to understand that civil rights is a process that didn’t end 50 years ago.
“The baton has been passed,” he said. “It’s 50 years forward. It’s going to be up to these kids to carry that forward.”