[Mark Green] Hello, friends. I am Mark Green, and I serve as a Professor of US History at the Mountain View campus. Today I have the honor and privilege of introducing Mr. Dale H. Long to kick off our 20-21 Dallas College Civil Rights Tour Speaking Series. At the height of the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham, Alabama became known as the Magic City because of its rapid growth and dominance in iron and steel production.
To African-Americans like Mr. Long who grew up in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement, the city was known as Bombingham for the more than 50 bombings that occurred in the city between 1947 and 1965.
Initially, the bombings were used to intimidate families of color who were attempting to purchase homes in predominantly white residential areas. Later, they were used against anyone working towards racial desegregation in the city. The neighborhood that noted political activist and academic Angela Davis grew up in experienced so many bombings that it developed the nickname Dynamite Hill.
On Sunday, September 15, 1963, the city lived up to its infamous moniker in the most horrific way. Local Ku Klux Klansmen bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four young girls. Then 11-year-old Dale Long survived the bombing. Almost 58 years later, he is here to share with us what it was like to grow up in Bombingham and bear witness to one of our nation's most shocking tragedies.
Mr.Long, thank you for taking the time to be with us today.
[Dale Long]: Good morning. And thank you, Mr. Mark Greene, for that introduction and for inviting me to participate in this educational experience.
You know, it was tough on my parents as they brought up my brother and I in Birmingham in the '50s and '60s.
Birmingham was the most thoroughly segregated city in this country because of Jim Crow laws that came about basically back in 1896 when a Supreme Court ruling that said it was all right to segregate facilities, as long as they were equal. It's known as Plessy versus Ferguson. And that created a roadmap for Birmingham to keep facilities separate but, in most cases, unequal.
That was known as the Jim Crow laws in Birmingham. As been mentioned, there were bombings all over Birmingham. Every one of them went unsolved. It was felt that the City of Birmingham Police Department all knew who were responsible for the bombings.
It was well-known that, in many cases, the police and the Ku Klux Klan were the same people or at least they talked to each other about making sure that African-American people stayed in their place. And the main way to intimidate was through bombings. Several homes bombed, churches bombed, businesses bombed. And, again, every one of them went unsolved.
You know, there was no counseling for black boys and girls because we would hear those bombings from time to time and, obviously, it was quite terrifying for us as young people. As my brother Kenneth and I grew a bit older, we would have questions that we would ask our questions about this issue of segregation and of the things we experienced that just didn't quite make sense.
For instance, when we turned on the television, there were images of a family's, white families, Leave it to Beaver, Make Room for Daddy. We would always see those TV shows but none featuring black people. Even as we watch the television and we'll see images of any city, USA, for some reason, you would never see black people doing simple things like walking down the street or coming out of a department store.
As we started to do things in Birmingham, we would pass by an amusement park that was a city run park but it was on the grounds of the State Fair of Alabama. It was called Kiddie Land Park. And my dad and mom tried their best to avoid passing by this, especially during the summer in the evening where we can see the lights and hear the music and smell the popcorn.
We would always ask, Well, why can't we stop and enjoy the park? And my mom said, because we're African-American, we were prohibited from doing so. That only created even more difficult questions that Ken and I had about what was wrong with us? We have been told that the sky's the limit. All we have to do is apply ourselves, study hard, and we could achieve and be whatever we wanted to be.
But there seemed to be a difference in what we started to realize. We could not participate in in Birmingham. If we went to a department store, we would see water fountains for black people and water fountains for white people. Usually, the white water fountains were filthy -- I mean the black water fountains, excuse me, were filthy and very difficult to access. That was segregation in Birmingham.
You could not try on clothes in a department store, a pair of pants or shirt. You dare not touch a hat and put it on because, if you did, your parents were forced into buying it. In order for my mom to buy shoes for us, she would have to trace our bare feet on a piece of paper and present that to the salesperson in order to buy shoes. If they didn't quit -- didn't quite fit, too bad. We would have to trade them with friends who might fit the shoes and have some sort of bartering system like that because we couldn't bring them back, had our feet then placed inside of those shoes.
Neighborhoods were thoroughly segregated. Schools were segregated. You couldn't go to a burger joint, couldn't go to one of the restaurants downtown or any of the hamburger joints or fast foods around town because black people weren't welcomed. They had a place called Jack's Hamburgers in Birmingham. And you -- they would wait on you, but you would have to go to a window at the very back to be waited on. You know, we weren't too particular about those burgers, anyway, because my parent's burgers tasted better anyway.
Buses were thoroughly segregated, the city owned bus system. And we all know the story about Rosa Parks, who attempted to ride the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the state capitol, about 100 miles from Birmingham. This particular day, she had a long day at work. And the law said that, as white people began to enter the bus, black people would have to move further to the back. And then when the bus filled up with white people, black people had no other choice other than to stand up.
Didn't matter how old they were or if the woman was pregnant or somebody was crippled, you had to stand up to allow white people, even a kid, to take your seat. In order for black people to board the bus, they would have to enter the bus from the front, place their money into the container, exit the bus and then come back in through a rear door -- a door in order to access the bus. Many cases as you paid your money and attempted to access the rear door, the bus driver would just drive off just for the fun of it. And most of the occupants who were white got a big laugh out of it. That was segregation in Birmingham.
So as my brother and I had all of these questions about why were African-American people treated so bad, they would try their very best to explain to us why that exists. And we were so confused about it. But always my mother would send us to her mother, our maternal grandmother, Nanee. That's what we called her. And she lived next door. And she would explain to us how she went to school at Clark Atlanta University and how they made their way to Birmingham.
And then when she ran out and then she looked at our confused faces, she would always end her discussion with a mantra. Boys, if you want to overcome this segregation issue, you need to pray, have faith, walk upright and get yourselves a good education. Again, she would say pray, have faith, walk upright and get an education, a good education.
In 1963, one of the ministers in Birmingham, Fred Shuttlesworth, attempted to enroll his daughter into some of the white schools, Phillips High School, I think it was. And he tried several times. And as he attempted to do so, he would -- he was met by mobs of Ku Klux Klansmen who would beat him unmerciful.
Now, they didn't bother the girl, but they beat dad really bad. And many times his attack was on TV, and we were able to see what happened to him. That meant don't try it again or the rest of the black people in Birmingham don't dare try to do it.
Reverend Shuttlesworth was persistent, and he tried several times to enroll his daughter into Philips High School. Well, see, because by that time in 1954, we had Brown versus Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling that took place in Kansas. And it basically said that even though Plessy versus Ferguson allowed for separate but equal facilities, the facilities in the Birmingham schools indeed were not equal.
So that meant that Fred Shuttlesworth wanted to enroll his daughter into predominantly white schools. You've got to understand that that was ten years after Brown versus Board of Education.
After these attempts, Dr. -- Mr. Fred Shuttlesworth decided to reach out to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. By this time, he had become known all over the country, all over the South. And he had successful boycotts and bus boycotts in the state of Georgia. And so he asked Dr. King to come to Birmingham and help things out. And that started the Freedom Movement of 1963.
Now, Dr. King would have the rallies with people from Birmingham at 16th Street Baptist Church, which was one of the largest churches in Birmingham. It was situated not too far from downtown Birmingham and a few blocks away from City Hall and the county courthouse. It was directly across the street from Kelly Ingram Park, which is where the demonstrations usually started and stopped.
Typically, demonstrate the next morning with his brilliant oratory, with his intellectual depth. And I would see him on television, but we never went down to hear him talking. I wanted to go so bad.
You see, Dr. King had a brother that pastored a church in Birmingham, in Ensley suburb. And his sons Al and Derek King, where my brother and I best friends. And so we hear about the Civil Rights Movement directly from our two buddies.
You know, every now and then we would -- we would be over to their home, perhaps on the weekend having a good time. And I recall their mother telling us he is to lower our voices because Dr. King was in the room trying to get some rest. You know, and I asked her, I said, you know, are you telling me that Dr. King's on the other side of that door? She said, Yes. And you don't know how bad I wanted to just go in and see him because I'd seen him on TV several times.
I'd seen him in magazines and jet magazine and everything. I've seen him in the newspaper in Birmingham, but I'd never seen him in person. And I wanted to see him so bad. I didn't know but a few bit -- a few months later, I would get that chance to see him in person.
Dr. King would have a rally at the 16th Street Church, and that rallies would be attended by adults. And the next morning, the adults would show up at the church, and they were taught nonviolent resistance. That mean no weapons. If the police hit you, you couldn't hit back. If you had a knife or a gun or anything that can be considered a weapon, even a fingernail file, you had to leave them in a box because Dr. King was nonviolent.
Typically, the people would leave 16th Street Church, cross the street, go over to the park area; and they would be met by police with cattle prods, billy clubs, fire hoses, attack dogs; and many of them would be taken to jail. Now, that posed a problem for the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham and Dr. King because, as the parents were being locked up, there were no body at home to take care of the kids.
The other part of it was, when the adults were locked up, incarcerated for a couple of days, obviously not showing up to work, the employer would figure out that they were locked up because of the Civil Rights Movement. And whenever they did get out of jail and try to return to work, they would find that they had no jobs.
So Dr. King decided to, rather use adults, ask the kids of Birmingham to participate. Thus became the Kids Campaign of 1963. So kids were invited to come to 16th Street Church, and I wanted to go so bad. And I had several discussions with my mom and dad because I wanted to go.
I understood that even as a 10- or 11-year-old kid the significance of being a part of a movement that would hopefully change things for people of color in Birmingham. But my parents didn't want us to do it, and so that was a measure of protecting us.
Now, it wasn't such that our parents were against the movement. But they were fearful of what would happen to us, inevitably, when we got arrested. And so I wouldn't dare defy them, but it was a struggle for me.
And so when I was seeing the movement on television because, again, Dr. King had a very smart way of dealing with the media. He would plan the demonstrations in time for all of the media who was in Birmingham from around the world to record what was going on and then give them time to get their film back to New York or wherever they were coming from because the essence of using the media was that the whole world saw what was going on in Birmingham, at the 5 or 6 o'clock evening news.
It was important for people to know how black people were treated in Birmingham, and I think Dr. King used that media brilliantly because back then, again, no internet. But it was very brilliant of him to use that to let the world know, here's what's happening to people of Birmingham, simply trying to do things that weren't normal for people to be able to do, to go to school, to go to a department store and try on clothes, to have a decent water fountain, to go to the doctor and sit in a waiting room and not have to go to what was known as the colored waiting room, to be able to ride the bus, to be able to get jobs working in a department store or doing something as simple as being a bus driver. All of those jobs were out of reach for people who looked like me.
At some point, the kids were locked up in droves. When the jails were filled, they were sent out to the State Fairgrounds, and they were locked up behind cages standing cages. Imagine that.
I have several friends who went to the demonstrations. And, again, I was hearing about the movement from Al and Derek King and struggle with wanting to go. And, again, as I had these discussions with my mom and dad, they will send us to grandmother next door. And our grandmother would tell us after she struggled to try and explain things to us. Her mantra that she always used. Boys, if you want to overcome this issue of segregation, you need to pray, have faith, walk upright and get yourselves a good education.
At one point, Dr. King was locked up himself. And as a means of intimidating him, they locked him up in solitary confinement. He was all by himself. And while he was locked up, some of the ministers, white ministers in Birmingham, they bought a full age -- a full-page ad in the Birmingham News. And they wrote an editorial, and they were asking Dr. King to back off of the demonstrations, to wait a little while, to put off the demonstrations to give the city fathers' time to work things out.
But Dr. King knew that if you ask people -- white people in Birmingham to wait, that always meant never. And so in response to these preachers who put the ad in the paper, Dr. King used scraps of paper, anything he could find to pen what is now known as a Letter from a Birmingham Jail. And I would ask as you study the Civil Rights Movement that you would make an effort to go and read that famous essay, that brilliant essay because Dr. King responded to those ministers and, really, it led to his first book, Why We Can't Wait.
Dr. King was finally released from jail. He was -- his release was made possible by an attorney that lived up the street around the corner from, me on Dynamite Hill, Arthur Shores. And about the same time, there was the A.G. Gaston Motel, which was down the street from the church, 16th Street Church. And my dad was a manager there.
And one morning we woke up Sunday morning. We should have been getting ready to go to church, and we knew that there were many people in our house. And normally we wouldn't see white people in our home. But we knew there were white people in the house, and my brother and I were terrified when my mother finally came to my room and explained to us who these people were, she explained that the A.G. Gaston Motel had been bombed the night before as well as Dr. King's brothers home, Al and Derek King's home.
And we were really terrified by that because we wanted to know, was our dad all right? And we asked my mom, Well, who are all these people in the house? And she said they were the FBI and the police and media questioning our dad. We asked her to stop his interviewing and have him to come into our room so we can see for ourselves that he was okay. And then we spent time on the phone trying to call Al and Derek to make sure they were fine as well.
A few weeks later, of course, Medgar Evers over in Mississippi, worked with the NAACP, was tragically assassinated in his front yard in front of his wife and family. And I even remembered my mom and dad discussing joining the NAACP because, at that point, I think the NAACP had become outlawed in Birmingham. And the officials there wanted the list of its members, and my parents were really afraid to be a part of that group because of what might happen to us. They didn't want us victimized in one of the bombings or anything else.
It was difficult for my mom and dad to raise two boys in Birmingham. But again, not having any access to mental health or counseling for African-American boys, after hearing these bombings and seeing it on the news every day, there was our grandmother Nanee who said, Boys, you need to pray, have faith and walk upright and get a good education.
It was September 15, 1963. 16th Street Church was again the rallying point for the Civil Rights Movement and what became known as The Children's Movement. That was right downtown Birmingham. The reason why Birmingham -- the 16th Street Church was targeted because we had received quite a bit of threats, telephone threats, threats by mail over the course of a few months, but nothing ever happened to 16th Street Church.
That morning, my mother, who was a school teacher, dropped my brother and I off at church for Sunday school. Normally she would be there as well, but she had to return home to finish a report that was due the next day relative to her school teaching job. But there were many school teachers that went to 16th Street Church. And, ironically, many of them did the same thing. They dropped their kids off and went back home to finish their report.
My brother Kenneth went to his Sunday school class. And I went to mine, which was located in the library of the church. After Sunday school class -- and I recalled it being Youth Day, where the youth of the church took over the entire service that was to take place at the 11 o'clock hour up in the sanctuary. The library and the kids' classes were in the basement of the church.
At about 10:23, right after our class was over, the library, the whole building began to shake. I remember the lights going off and dust and smoke and total darkness because, again, even though it was 10:20 in the morning, we were in the basement of the church. There was dust. There was smoke. I don't really recall there, hearing the sound of the explosion. But I remember the room shaking. I remember books falling off of the shelves. And probably the thing that frightened me the most, there was a huge bookcase that was -- the front part was glass, and it was reeling back and forth. And had it tilted over on some of us -- because there were about eight boys in that library -- it would have killed some of us.
We had no idea what was going on. And we sort of looked at each other and ran out of the library into the lower auditorium part that had folding chairs. Now, again, we couldn't see because of the dust and because of the darkness. And I remember running into the chairs and getting my shins hit and we were so determined to get out of there, not really knowing what was going on. That adrenaline alone allowed us to continue to run, despite the fact that we were bumping into these chairs that were really quite painful for 11- and 12-year-old kids.
As I attempted to run up the stairwell, that I knew that side of the basement of the church was open, I was met by a police officer. He had both sides of the stairwell blocked. He was holding on to the rails. And I tried to run past him under his arms. And he looked at me and said, Get back down in there, nigger. Now, you know, response time today is about 7 to 8 minutes with fast cars and computers. But explain to me why the police were there within seconds of the bombing. I ran right past him some sort of way. I don't remember even touching him, I was moving so fast. And I got on the outside of the church, wondering what was happening.
Then it dawned on me, that I started to smell the pungent odor of dynamite, gunpowder. And I guess you asked yourself the question, well, what do you know about dynamite and gunpowder? Cap pistols and fireworks. And, again, our neighborhood had been -- homes in our neighborhood had been bombed several times before, so we knew the smell of that gunpowder and dynamite.
I started to see people come down out of the main auditorium, down this huge stairwell. Many of them were being helped down the steps, and many were hysterical and crying. I noticed that that was blood all over their foreheads and other parts of the body, and some of my friends -- and I was terrified by that.
People were running around looking for their loved ones, looking for their siblings, looking for their parents. And then it dawned on me I had not seen my brother Kenneth. I looked around on the outside as I saw people began to gather but didn't see him. And so I went back into the basement looking for my brother. I went to the classroom where he should have been. And I called his name, looked under the tables and yelled for him but there was no one in the room.
I came back out the second time and I remembered to grab my clarinet because I played in the church. I missed it the first time. But I saw it on the table near that same stairwell, and I grabbed it and I walked out. And I looked around and I looked around and I ran all over the area. And, finally, I saw my brother who was with his Sunday school teacher, my grandmother's best friend, Miss Esther McCall.
And looked like she was holding on to nine little kids. My brother was about nine years old. And she looked like she was holding on to them all at the same time. And I was so happy to see my brother. And I told her, I said, Miss McCall, I'll take him right now because our dad was right up the street at the A.G. Gaston Motel, and I knew he'd be there pretty quickly. And she questioned me, but her hands was full with taking care of the other kids. So I grabbed Kenneth by the hand and made sure he was okay. And we stood there on the corner, waiting for my father to come down the street.
Probably within a minute, I could see him running. I had never seen my dad run like that. But he ran down the street, and by this time the police had blocked off the street and they stopped him from exiting, from crossing the street. My dad defied the police, similar to what I did when I was trying to get out of the church. He said, Those are my boys, and I have to go see about my kids right now. Without even waiting on a response, he crossed the street and he hugged us like he never done before, all the time asking us were we okay.
He looked at us head to toe, just making sure that we were okay. And I saw the terrifying look in his face because, see, you remember he, too, had experienced the bomb just two or three months earlier when the A.G. Gaston Motel was bombed. He walked us that block down the street to his office at the motel that had been repaired by then, obviously, and he attempted to call home to tell our mom that he had found us and we were okay, but the line was busy.
My dad even tried to call next door to my grandmother and aunt, Nanee's house. And her line was busy, too, and he was so frustrated. And I remember seeing news reporters in the small lobby of the A.G. Gaston motel, and they were trying to gain access to these pay phones because they were trying to report their stories back to wherever they had come from.
See, reporters, white reporters even, weren't welcomed at the hotels in Birmingham, the Holiday Inns, the [inaudible] and the other hotels because they knew that they were there to report what was going on in the Civil Rights Movement, and they didn't want that information to leave Birmingham because it would affect the city economically. So reporters weren't welcome.
Pretty soon my dad finally got through to my mom, and what should have taken about 7 to 8, 9 minutes for her to drive from my home to the church took about 45 minutes. She finally pulled under the breezeway of the A.G. Gaston Motel, and it looked like she jumped out of that car before she put it into park. Tears were in her eyes as she jumped out and hugged us and again went through the process of making sure that we were okay.
Oh, we were okay physically. But, mentally, we were a mess. She loaded us into the car and took us home. And we started to see people gathering all over downtown Birmingham and demonstrations were taking place and people were singing the Freedom Songs, We Shall Overcome. We ain't going to let nobody turn us around. People were visibly angry.
We got back to our home and my grandmother and aunt met us in the front yard. They examined us themselves and asked us to tell them what we had experienced then. We told them as much as we could. And by this time we were in tears and shaking. Again, no counseling for black boys and girls. But there was Nanee, grandmother. And she told us, Boys, you need to pray, have faith, walk upright and get a good education.
Later that day, around 5 or 6, we learned that 27 people had been taken to the hospital. Again, 27 of our friends. And then we learned the tragic news that four girls, four precious little girls, Denise, Addie, Carol, and Cynthia were found basically on top of each other as they were in the ladies room, putting on their choir robes preparing for the 11 o'clock service. Again, it was Youth Day. And the theme for that Youth Day celebration was the love that forgives.
Monday morning came about, and after school we spent time visiting homes of the bereaved. We went to the Wesley home. We went to the Robertson home. We went to the McNair's and went to the Collins' home. We took groceries to some and made sure that they had food to eat. And we sat and cried with grieving parents and siblings because their four little girls were tragically killed. Neither one of these girls have participated in the movement. Nobody went to jail. But they were victimized by the bombing.
Now, meanwhile, you know, everybody in Birmingham and especially the police knew the guys who were doing this, but none of them were arrested immediately. Carole, Carole Robertson's funeral was Tuesday at St. John Baptist Church, which was right around the corner from 16th Street Church. And as I recall, there was a mass funeral with Cynthia, Denise and Carol -- Cynthia, Denise and Addie, their funeral was at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church on the other side of town in the place of where the University of Alabama Birmingham is right now.
I don't remember how I made my way from school to Sixth Avenue Church, but I remember standing on the outside of the church listening to Dr. King who delivered the eulogy because they had a PA system where you could hear his eulogy on the outside because they wouldn't allow any more people to enter because there were too many people already inside.
I stood there and watched them bring out four coffins, four little coffins with my friends inside. The pallbearers loaded them into the waiting hearse, and then the ministers followed the pallbearers out. And that was Dr. King and Reverend Shuttlesworth and Reverend Abernathy and Reverend Cross, the minister at my church. They were all in their robes.
And as the coffins were being loaded, I saw Dr. King about ten feet away from me. He seemed to have this strange look on his face. Every time I looked at him, looked like he was looking directly at me. It was so powerful a moment for me, I really didn't know how to handle it. And I attempted to look away. But when my eyes went back on him, looked like he was looking right at me. I called it my epiphany experience.
See, because Dr. King was blamed for the loss of those girls' lives because it was he that came to Birmingham and created the movement that enraged the clan that caused that to happen.
Pretty soon the entire world knew about that bombing, and the bombing of the church proved to be the pivotal moment in our history that created the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Federal Housing Act of 1968. And of course, you know, the history. Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.
14 years after the bombing, Bob Chambliss, one of the people who were accused of the bombing, was convicted. I think it was, what, 1977. And then, later, 40 years later, Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton and Robert Chambliss finally were tried and convicted and sent to prison for life. I went to Birmingham to the Blanton trial because I wanted to see closure. So I drove from Dallas back to Birmingham to sit and witness the trial because I wanted to see the perpetrators punished for what they had done and for the lives of my friends that were taken away.
So how does the story end? You know, when my grandmother talked to us about the bombing of the church and counseled us, again, she referred to her mantra, Boys, pray, have faith, walk upright and get a good education.
But after the bombing and after we learned about the death of those four girls, she added something to it. She said, Boys, God spared you for a reason. Could have been four little boys versus four little girls. Do something for somebody else. Make something of yourselves. God has a plan for you.
Now, I had no idea what that was. But years later when I left Birmingham and I went to college, I ended up here in Texas and went to Texas Southern University down in Houston. And it was there that I learned at a fraternity meeting about what became my way of giving back in a significant way.
I learned about the mentoring through Big Brothers, Big Sisters and became a part of that program that almost a week that I finished school and went to work. I was working at NASA on the Space Shuttle program and found out from one of the African-American employees about Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and I've been a volunteer ever since, now almost for 50 years.
When my little brother that I have now who's a teenager calls me and talks about the police shootings and about Trayvon Martin and about the things that he sees on the news and he wants to know, could he be victimized by the police and police brutality, and I explained to him about his appearance and wearing hoodies, to making sure he's -- his parents know exactly where he is and hanging out with his friends and don't be out too late.
But when I run out of things to talk to him that was designed to protect him, always went back to my grandmother's mantra. Pray, have faith, walk upright, and get a good education. And you will be able to overcome the issues that you see in your experience right now with the many things that shouldn't be happening to people of color, maybe one of these days that will all end.
Let's hope so. I pray that it does.