In their own words

Freedom's Children, by Ellen LevineWhile history has recorded the dramatic impact the Children's March had on the Civil Rights Movement, the names of the thousands that participated are not part of most accounts of the movement.  Ellen Levine has worked to identify and preserve the memories of some of the youth that participated.  Her book, Freedom's Children, is a moving account of how young people played a pivotal role in the struggle for civil rights.

Levine has identified and located some the first African American young people to participate in sit-ins at segregated restaurants, protests of segregation on buses; and marches for civil rights.  Sadly, the children were often subject to brutal and bloody confrontations even though they stood for nonviolent and peaceful change.  Thousands of children were sent to jail for peaceful demonstrations.  Some children even lost their lives.  

Yes, those that led the movement were important historical figures, but so are the people, in this case, children, that participated and created momentum for change.  Besides, history is more fun when we see how people like ourselves played key roles in historical events.  Levine's book is a wonderful resource to learn about America's past without all the dry details and academia that is in many history books.  

This book is FUN to read and it is sure to move you -- after all, a textbook that tells us about the leaders and official actions of a movement cannot possibly share all the enthusiasm, emotion, and excitement that people of the times felt.  

We strongly recommend that people read Freedom's Children (Levine, Ellen.  Putmans, 1993 and Puffin Books, 2000).  This award winning account (Jane Addam's Book Award and  A New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year).  Reading this book create a deeper appreciate of how young people changed America.  Perhaps even more important, the book shares how Children's March participates found the courage to take advantage of their "moment" to become part of a legacy -- building a better life for themselves, their families, and their children.

Please read the book.  It is available at book retailers or from your school or local public library.  We would like to share a few short excerpts from some of the contributions from Freedom's Children  (click HERE for Fair Use statement).  

We can only feature a handful of the people in this book and a only few sentences of their memories.  The people we quote here have so much more to say.  We could not possibly include the full breadth and scope of the powerful messages from Freedom's Children.  We have chosen statements that directly address topics covered in CLUB TNT's Children's March coverage. 

Our intention is not to present any of theses reflections in their entirety -- we are just illustrating some of the drama and heart-felt strength and hope that Freedom's Children recreates. 

Montgomery Bus Boycott

Leaflet Calling for 1-Day Boycott (page 18).  Another Negro woman has been arrested and thrown in jail because she refused to get up out of her seat on the bus for a white person to sit down.  It is the second time since the Claudette Colvin case that a Negro woman has been arrested for the same thing.  This has to be stopped.  Negroes have rights too, for if Negroes did not ride the buses, they could not operate.  Three-fourths of the riders are Negroes, yet we are arrested or have to stand over empty seats.  If we do not do something to stop these arrests, they will continue.  The next time it may be you, or your daughter, or mother.  This woman's case will come up on Monday.  We are, therefore, asking every Negro to stay off the buses Monday in protest of the arrest and trial.  Don'ts ride the buses to work, to town, to school, or anywhere on Monday.  You can afford to stay out of school for one day if you have no other way to go except by bus.  You can also afford to stay out of town for one day.  If you work, take a cab or walk.  But please, children and grown-ups, don't ride the bus at all on Monday.  Please stay off of the buses Monday.

Claudette Covin (page 19).  "When I grew up, the South was segregated.  Very much so.  Your parents had taught you that you had a place.  You knew that much.  I the city you had the signs.  You have to stay here, you have to drink out of this fountain, you can't eat at this counter.  I thought segregation was horrible.  My fist anger I remember was when I wanted to go to the rodeo.  Daddy bought my sister boots and bought us both cowboy hats.  That's as much of the rodeo as we got.  The show was at the coliseum, and I was only for the white kids."

Joseph Lacey (page 27).  "When the boycott started, I just couldn't wait for morning to come because I wanted to see what was happening.  I walked to school.  As the buses passed me and my schoolmates, we said, 'Nobody's on the bus!  Nobody's on the bus!'  It was just a beautiful thing.  It was a day to behold to see nobody on the bus."

Fred Taylor (page 29).  "At the time the boycott began, all these news reporters started following my pastor and Dr. King around.  Something I guess happened to me, particularly as I began to listen to Dr. King's speeches.  I can remember going to mass meetings during the boycott and hearing him speak.  You know the mastery of the English language that Dr. King had.  I can remember the euphoria, and how he would turn people on."

Princella Howard (page 30).  "What's so amazing is that it only takes a few.  You see, it was just a handful of people before the bus boycott. Nobody in their wildest imagination could have conceived that that kind of organization and cooperation would have been forthcoming.  We were just a group of people going about daily life getting ready for Christmas.  That was the biggest thing on all the kid's minds.  Santa Claus.  And then overnight it changed from just a sleepy little town."

Segregated Schools

Myrna Carter (page 34).  "We heard about the Brown decision, but with our schools being segregated, many teachers were very afraid to really discuss things.  We did have some who were outspoken and willing to talk with you and let you know exactly what was going on.  I will never forget Mrs. Maggie Hrowbuski in elementary school."

Roy DeBerry (page 35).  We went to a rural school.  There was one teacher, Henry Boyd, who taught first through eighth grades, all in one room.  He was black.  We had to walk about three miles to school.  When we got there, we had to do chores.  We had one big potbelly stove that was in the middle of the room, and we had to get the word for the stove.  Because we didn't have a water supply, we had to go to the spring, which was about a mile away, to pick the water up and bring it back.  We got fresh spring water every day"

Ricky Shuttlesworth (page 37).  In 1957, I was starting the ninth grade and supposed to go to Parker, an all-black high school.  Phillips was all-white.  Where I lived, you'd have to go past Phillips to get to Parker.  It didn't make sense.  Phillips had much more to offer.  At Parker we didn't have the equipment or the4 facilities.  I know Phillips was a better school.  So we decided to enroll.  It was an effort to break down segregation.  Daddy said, 'You're going,' and I trusted his judgment."

Delores Boyd (page 52).  "By the time I left junior high school, I was more than ready to be in the group to go to the desegregated schools.  I know that white students at public schools were taking Latin, French, and Spanish.  I know that no black student had that.  I knew that at some schools white students were taking sciences that were not offered to us.  And I wanted to go the best high school."

Taking Action

Towanner Hinkle (page 60).  "Dr. King and the other always told us, 'Don't fight, just leave peacefully'  Very hard to do, though.  When people start saying, 'Nigger get out of here' -- very, very hard to accept it, but we went on.  We could have started a fight because there was enough of us to really tear the town down, but we tried to be peaceful.  We accepted it because we wanted to do what Dr. King asked us to do, be nonviolent."

James Roberson (page 65).  "... We went to anther place and sat at the counter.  This black guy in his forties was mopping the floor.  He was so proud of us sitting there, he was just beaming over.  Of course the manager was white.  There were no black managers then.  The manager said, 'You all gonna have to get up.'  We didn't say anything.  So he turned to the black guy standing by his bucket and said, 'Throw it on them!  Throw it on them!"

"The guy hesitated.  The manager yelled, 'Doggone it, throw it!'  The guy tried not to throw it on us.  He threw the water down the counter.  Then he walked off. I never will forget his eyes.  You could see the hurt, the plea for understanding and forgiveness.  You could see him thinking, I had to do it.  I go along with what you all are doing, but I got a family to feed.  I got bills to pay and I'm under the control of this man.  If I don't, I'm gonna lose it all.  So he did it and walked away.  you could see he was crushed.  We just sat there."

Barbara Howard (page 66).  Nonviolence was the philosophy that was being taught to all of us in the movement, stemming from Dr. King's dream of an integrated society and his agreement with Mahatma Gandhi from India.  We did freedom workshops at some of the churches, where they would teach us how to act, what to say, how to protect ourselves.  Songs -- that was the key, that was the spirit lifter. "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round,' 'We Shall Overcome,' of course, and 'O Freedom.'  One of my favorites was 'Go Tell It on the Mountain.'  This was during George Wallace's time, and Bull Connor, so we put their names in the songs."

Audrey Faye Hendricks (page 78).  "I think my very first recollection of what was going on was at the church meeting.  I was about seven.  They were going to have a small demonstration.  I remember leaving the church and walking out to watch the first demonstrators.  There was an elderly black man watching, and a dog attacked him.  I was in chock.  I just couldn't believe that the police would turn the dog loose on an old man."

Judy Tarver (page 80).  "I didn't know when I left home for school that day that I was going to participate.  Some people weren't going, and some were trying to decide.  I was ready to go.  We felt in sympathy with all the students in Birmingham.  They were just filling up the jails.  We hadn't taken our place in the movement yet, and we felt that we should get involved."

Bernita Roverson (page 82).  "It was Easter, and nobody went shopping.  We wouldn't spend money with the white man.  That's how we could get to him.  He owned all the businesses.  So we had to new Easter clothes for two or three Easters.  In fact, if you went to church on Easter Sunday and had on something new, you looked out of place."

Larry Russell (page 84).  I was sixteen in 1963, and I expected to be arrested.  I wanted to be arrested.  I went to jail June 9, 1963.  I won't forget it.

Jail was a totally different experience.  I'd never been on the other side of the big wall before.  They took us in to be fingerprinted.  Once the gate closed, we were treated like common criminals.  We weren't treated like kids.  They didn't want the jails filled.  They wanted to make it uncomfortable for us so we'd call our parents to come and bail us out.

But our intent was not be bailed out.  Matter of fact, with the one phone call they gave me, the first thing I did was to call my mother.  'Don't worry about me' I told her.  'I'll be ok.'  We've been arrested and I'm in the city jail.  I'm doing fine.  There are a bunch of us here.  Whatever you do, don't come and get me out.'"

Mary Gadson (page 85).  During those days, our parents were basically afraid.  I think they would have kept us from doing a lot of things if they had known abut it.  My mother didn't know I was going to Sixteenth Street Church.  She thought I was going to school, but then I'd shoot a hooky from school to go to Sixteenth Street.  She worked for the white folks.  They were constantly asking parents, 'Is your child involved in this stuff?  'I hope she isn't.' So we couldn't tell."

Myrna Carter (page 86).  "One day my friend Carol and I decided to go to one of the meetings.  Dr. King spoke, and immediately after we had commitment period.  He would tell you to come forward if you were willing to fight for what was right.  But you had to take an oath.  You had to agree to be nonviolent.  You had to agree that if anything would happen, you would turn the other cheek.  He said, 'If you can't do that, don't come.'"

16th Street Baptist Church Bombing

Audrey Faye Hendricks (page 90).  "I was at church at the time, and they came and told my pastor.  He let us know that there had been a bombing at Sixteenth street Baptist Church.  People were real upset.  They cried.  I cried.  Later on that night I learned that the girls had died.  I wondered how could somebody be so hate-filled about color."

Mary Gadson (page 90).  "I went to school with two of the girls who were killed at the Sixteenth Street bombing.  Cynthia Wesley and I sang in the Ullman High School choir together.  Denise McNair was at Center Street school with me, although she was younger than I was.  Her mother taught me at school.

I was at home getting ready to go to church when I heard the news on the radio.  My whole family was at home.  The lady next door called my mama to ask her to turn on the TV.  She did, and they had the news report about it.  My mama was crying.  We all started crying.  I was just like family.  They told us that as far as they could tell there were some deaths, but at that time they didn't know how many.  Then the report came later that it was four girls that had been killed."

Bernita Roberson (page 91).  "When the bomb went off, we felt it in our Sunday school class four blocks away.  I lived across the street from Bethel Baptist, so that I knew the feeling of a bomb.  In about fifteen minutes, word got to us that they had bombed Sixteenth Street, where the children were in Sunday school.  Then our Sunday school immediately turned out, and everybody go together in prayer.  

I was a friend of Denise McNair.  I knew her grandfather.  He owned a cleaners, and I know her from there.  I was a flower girl for the funeral.  Three of the funerals were held at the same time.  There was nothing like seeing those three families there, and the three coffins.  I was just trying to understand how somebody to do this to children.  To this day, I don't really know."

By Bill Breitsprecher
©2006, Breitlinks
All Rights Reserved

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