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Voices of Civil Rights

YOUR CIVIL RIGHTS STORIES

Andrea Andrews

Houston

I have many stories concerning civil rights to share, but I believe the ones that have impacted my family the most is the one of my paternal grandfather, Julius Davis from Birmingham, Ala. I have never lived in Birmingham, but was born there. My father moved his small family (my mama and I) from Birmingham when I was 2. He wanted a better life for his children than the one offered in Alabama in 1951. My mom's family spoke of my grandfather’s incident with Bull Conner in the ’40s often. That "meeting" was the reason I never met my grandfather. He was killed after that passing meeting with Conner and his officers. According to the family stories my grandfather did have mental issues and had been in the State Hospital for the Colored Insane (I kid you not). When he crossed paths with Bull Conner (who hadn't been involved in the incident where he stood in the path of school integration yet), it was due to him having a "nervous breakdown" (as they called it then), and someone in the neighborhood (my mom living in what was known as Homewood then) calling the police to take him to get him to go to the hospital. During the verbal exchange my grandfather apparently had heated words with Bull (perfect name for him), after which he was grabbed, beat up and thrown into a police car. My mother (4 at the time) never saw her father alive again. Four months later he was returned for burial and they were told he had killed himself after being taken to the mental hospital. One of my aunts noted that even as a child she noticed all the bruises and lumps on and around his head and neck, and realized he'd been killed (they weren't sure if it was by the police or maybe at the hospital but he'd definitely not just hung himself).

As a teen in the ’60s I kept coming across that name Bull Connor and realized a personal hatred for him that I had to resolve. Currently, I am pursuing my family’s genealogy and am curious to find any surviving records about what actually happened to my grandfather. I always thank my father for moving us to Ohio where I didn't have to worry so much about surviving my childhood. Although there were racial issues there, they were more subtle.

Although I shared my serious civil rights story I'd like to share one on a lighter note. I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, (my father moved us from Birmingham when I was 2, although we still had a large family in the South). I went to a segregated school in Dayton, which I just loved. Many of the teachers were black and loved us dearly and expected great things from us. However, we had a white PE teacher when I was in the second grade. She was a likeable teacher and years later my younger sister and I laughed about an exercise she had us do in the gym. We are not sure if she realized the true meaning of what she was doing; but she had all the Negro (that was the term then) children sing a little "ditty" and act it out. The words were "Jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton, Jump down, turn around, pick a bale of hay. Oh Lordy, pick a bale of cotton, Oh Lordy, pick a bale of hay!" In which I kid you not, we put our hands up in the air and shook them Al Jolson style on the "Oh Lordy" words. I don't know if the teacher realized what she was doing and how she watched an entire gym of black children sing this without thinking about the undercurrent. But I know when I sang this once in front of my mother, she stopped me. My mom had been a sharecropper's grandchild and hated the experience of having to pick cotton as a 7-year-old when she visited her grandparents in Marion, Ala. Apparently, it was not a fun experience in those Jim Crow days. Only later did I understand my mother's anger about that song, and why she never made us kids call people ma'am or sir (you called them Mrs. or Mr.). She viewed that as slavery behavior. Anyway, the vision of all those beautiful brown kids singing that still makes my sister and I laugh at the irony of it.

Civil Rights Voices: Share Your Story

VOices Of Civil Rights

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On Aug. 3, 2004, AARP set out on a 70-day bus tour, through 22 states, to gather the extraordinary stories of ordinary people who played a role, both big and small, in the civil rights movement. The effort resulted in a collection of thousands of personal stories, oral histories and photographs. Through the collaborative effort of AARP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) and the Library of Congress, the collection was donated to the Library of Congress to create the Voices of Civil Rights exhibit. Housed at the American Folk Life Center of the Library of Congress, the exhibit documents key moments in the civil rights movement.

 

In honor of the upcoming 50th anniversaries of the assassination of Medgar Evers (6/12/63), the March on Washington (8/28/63) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (7/2/64), AARP revisited the vast collection of amazing civil rights stories housed within the Voices of Civil Rights exhibit. Of the thousands of eye-opening stories, we selected six poignant recollections to share with the public in a nationwide campaign.