Remembering Bravery in Birmingham

In a piece for the New Yorker, Charlayne Hunter-Gault chronicles the day in 1963 when children as young as 6 marched to protest segregation. 

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Gov. George Wallace (left) and Gen. Henry Graham face off at entrance to the University of Alabama in 1963 (AFP/Getty)

In a piece for the New Yorker, Charlayne Hunter-Gault chronicles the day in 1963 when children as young as 6 marched in Birmingham, Ala., to protest segregation.

One of the Children's Crusaders was Janice Wesley Kelsey, who was in the eleventh grade when she was arrested along with hundreds of other students. She spent four days in jail.

"It wasn't so bad," she told me. "There was a cold, concrete floor and an iron bed. That was unpleasant. But I had friends there, and I was fighting for a cause."

Growing up, she said, "I didn't know that the white students had new books and we did not. Or the white schools had new footballs and we did not."

Kelsey recalled attending workshops that James Bevel, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, held for hundreds of students in schools and churches, pointing out inequalities, teaching about protests against injustice, and about non-violence as the means to a just end.

"We didn't hate white people," she said softly. "We didn't even know any. We hated the system. That's what we were protesting about."

Throughout the three days of the seminar, young students brought to the symposium learned about the four girls who were blown apart by sixteen sticks of dynamite in the church where they were attending Sunday school. They were Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, all fourteen years old, and Denise McNair, who was only eleven. The parents of one of the children were able to identify their daughter in the morgue only by her foot and a ring on one of her fingers.

Read Charlayne Hunter-Gault's entire piece at the New Yorker.

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