A Civil Rights Moment, Featuring Board Member Lucy Maddox
Having been born and reared in Birmingham, Alabama, I was accustomed to the segregation laws of Alabama. I did not like them but had no idea how to get rid of them. It was not until Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Birmingham and started scheduling meetings that I really realized what a racist society we were living in.
I never had any racial problems because I abided by those segregated laws as did everyone else. What white people would consider staying in your place.
My first experience with Dr. King was when he was keynote speaker at the Emancipation Day Observance January, 1956. At 16th Street Baptist Church, what later became the official meeting headquarters of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Alabama. This was after the Bus Boycott in Montgomery, Alabama December, 1955.
At this event with Dr King, I sang in the mass choir. The Church was filled to capacity with people seated downstairs in the basement of the church listening to Dr. King speech (no screens just speakers). And another crowd standing across the street in the Kelly Ingram Park with speakers in trees to provide sound of Dr. King’s speech to that group. No memory of the time frame but not very long thereafter, Dr. King returned to Birmingham and started planning meetings with a group of Baptist Ministers headed by Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and later included other people and renamed SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference).
Rev. Shuttlesworth passed about three years ago and the Airport in Birmingham is now named Shuttlesworth International Airport. It was at one of these meetings that a list of demands was developed removal of colored and white signs at water fountains and restrooms, and the hiring of people of color for jobs other than janitorial positions.
When this list of demands was presented none of them were met. Eugene (Bull) Conner, Police Commissioner for the City of Birmingham, stated that it was “Unlawful for the races to mix, and there were laws on the books of Alabama to prove it”. He was right but we were about to remove those antiquated laws on the books of Birmingham.
I volunteered in Dr. King office, opening mail bags because mail was coming from all over the world with donations. (The smallest amount I remember receiving was $1.00 bill in an envelope and the largest donation I opened was a $10,000.00 cashier’s check). I also helped to schedule sit-ins at lunch counters and marches and demonstrations. Dr. King wanted only non-violet participants and that was my reason for working in his office.I felt I was unable to sit at a lunch counter and have catsup poured in my hair, or walk down the streets and have objects thrown at you. But there were more than enough non-violent participants willing to get involved because they were feed up with segregation.
Dr. King and a delegation tried several times to meet with the Downtown Merchants Association and they refused to let them into the meetings. It was at that time we voted to boycott the Downtown stores (there were no shopping malls at that time). The Boycott started one month prior Easter. This time frame was chosen because that’s the time Ladies bought beautiful Easter hats and purchased outfits for the children to wear to the Easter program at church. During the boycott members of the Downtown Merchants Association. Attended several meetings asking Dr. King to call off the boycott because they were not making any money.
Downtown was like a ghost town when we stop shopping the white people stayed at home also, we never understood it but interpreted it as support for us and there were several white supporters.The boycott was very successful and eventually all the demands were met. I worked on a committee to visit the stores that had hired Blacks as cashiers and other better positions for the first time, to make sure those persons were actually working in those positions.The signs came down and we were able to eat at the restaurants located in the Department stores while shopping. We no longer had to go to the basement to the “Hot Dog” stand located next to the “white” men’s restroom and stand down there and eat your hotdog. The Utilities Companies also hired people of color as cashiers and salespersons. As a result of this action taking place at this time in the South, it created a Civil Rights Era and that era was from 1954 - 1971.
I am very happy I was able to rush home from my job in a " Fluff Dry Laundry" and volunteer my time in the office of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That is an experience I will always cherish. As these changes were made in Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma changes were made throughout the Country all because of a God Sent man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who followed a “Dream” that God had given him. I thank God and Dr. King for changing the lives of all people of color.