“What do we want?” “Freedom!” “When do we want it?” “NOW!” Words like these resonated through the massive crowds of protestors as they demanded equal liberties as citizens in the south in 1963. It isn’t 1963 now but these same words were uttered in solidarity and respect to those who had spoken them long ago with urgency and determination.
Nearly 1,000 Birmingham, Alabama area high school students piled outside the doors of the 16th Street Baptist Church to march in today’s Re-enactment of the 1963 Children’s March. There was a buzz in the air, an excitement about what they were about to do and a better understanding of those who had pioneered before them.
50 years ago today, the march, also known as the “Children’s Crusade,” garnered nationwide attention as thousands of students as young as four, held peaceful protests for freedom from segregation that were met with brutal opposition. Fire hoses, dogs and billy clubs were used against the children by the authorities and in a two-day span over 2,500 children were arrested and held from their parents, some as long as eight days. The visual horrors of these events, reported by national media, shocked the nation and the world, and ultimately resulted in the end of segregation in Birmingham.
Councilman Jay Roberson and Rev. Arthur Price, Jr., pastor of the church, sponsored today’s event. “This was truly an historical day at 16th Street Baptist Church. To see young people convening 50 years later to remember those that came together before them and marched for freedom was truly moving,” says Roberson.
Before the march the students sat through a brief ceremony honoring the foot soldiers of the Movement and watched a documentary, Mighty Times: The Children’s March, which explained the 1963 March, the strategy behind it’s launch and personal accounts by foot soldiers who participated. Also present and participating in the ceremony were Dr. Shelley Stewart, whose popularity as a disc jockey in 1963 helped to get the word out about the march, Dr. George T. French, President, of Miles College, Hezekiah Jackson of the Birmingham Chapter of the NAACP, and Bishop Calvin Woods, foot soldier and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Council. Music was provided by Miles College Choir.
The march culminated at Railroad Park with hot dogs and drinks provided by Alagasco, and a concert by Young Vocals. Before going back to their respective schools, these students, black and white, rivals or not, enjoyed an hour in the park, eating, dancing and just being teens.
“This is a day that will be remembered by these young people for the rest of their lives,” said Roberson.
For more information about upcoming events throughout the city of Birmingham to commemorate the 50th anniversary of civil rights in Birmingham, visit 50yearsforward.com
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