children. October 7, 2012Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
Because I am a mother, it is probably not surprising that one of the things that has captivated me today and occupied much of my emotional energy on this second day of the UU Living Legacy Civil Rights Pilgrimage is the role of children in the civil rights movement.
I had no idea that there had been a Children’s Crusade as an essential part of of the movement here in Birmingham. In the spring of 1963, over the course of several days, thousands of children and youth flooded the streets in nonviolent protest. They exited 16th street baptist and filled the Kelly Ingram park across the street. The police had dogs and firehoses. Hundreds of children were arrested and put in jail. The jails were jammed, as were the jails in neighboring towns. I heard stories today from one man, 11 at the time, who was able to escape thought many of his friends were arrested. And stories from a woman who was 12 who was arrested and put into jail along with many of her compatriots.
Hundreds of children, young children through high school aged, arrested, put in a paddy wagon, and then taken to jail. The jails were overflowing with children and youth. I can’t help but wonder about kids today, particularly my kids. What cause would be so important to them that it would draw them into harms way? My privileged, over-protected children?
And then there was Sunday, September 15, 1963. That was the day that a bomb went off at 16th Street Baptist Church. The youth were to lead the service that morning, so the church was a bustling place. Dozens of people we injured. Five young girls were in the bathroom, giggling, socializing. Four of them were killed: Denise McNair was 11, Addie Mae Collins was 14, Carole Robertson was 14 and Cynthia Wesley was 14.
I have an 11 year old daughter. I can just see her giggling with her friends in the church bathroom. Church, the place we try to teach our children (and our adults) is a safe place. It wasn’t safe if you went to a black church in the south in the 50s and 60s (or a white church that supported the black community).
And today I learned it wasn’t just the 4 girls who were killed that day. Two boys were killed in separate but related incidences later. Johnny Robinson was 16, and he was shot to death (in the back) by Birmingham police, who claim he was throwing rocks at cars. Virgil Ware was only 13. He was riding on the handlebars of his brothers bike when a white teenage boy who had just gotten out of an anti-integration rally shot and killed him.
Children. Some say they are martyrs. Some say they were victims. Regardless, they were children who were never able to live to adulthood, to reach their potential. Heartbreaking. And at the same time, because of the death of these young people, the eyes of the world turned to Birmingham and things shifted.
Because of the children. Because of the children.