As Birmingham civil rights officials approach 2013, the 50th anniversary of the critical movement activities of 1963, their plans include commemorative marches, sermons and speeches, fellowship meals, and, possibly, a new memorial in Kelly Ingram Park.
On Friday, November 30 four organizations held a joint press conference announcing planned events for the 2013 commemoration of the Birmingham Campaign of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Lawrence J. Pijeaux, Jr., President and CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI); Bishop Calvin Woods, President of the Birmingham Metro Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Rev. Arthur Price, Jr., pastor of the 16th Street Baptist Church; and Hezekiah Jackson, IV, President of the Metro Birmingham Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), all convened at the BCRI to discuss a few of the events that have been scheduled throughout the coming year.
They made it clear, however, that they’re open to suggestions. “These programs are the beginning, not the end,” Pijeaux said.“There will be more to come. We want your involvement. If you have ideas, we would appreciate them in writing.”
Despite the open call for new ideas, the officials in attendance indicated excitement over the opportunity the anniversary year opens up for Birmingham. The NAACP is “fired up and ready to go” for the 50 year commemoration, Jackson said. “I think that what we have before us today is a wonderful opportunity for us to revisit the purpose and the power of that movement.”
Part of the purpose of the press conference was for the media to “help us, to take the word out into the community, that the Metro Birmingham branch of the NAACP, the Metro Birmingham SCLC, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and the Civil Rights Institute–that we stand united in presenting this calendar of events in honor of those persons who sacrificed themselves [for] what climaxed in ’63, [though] research would show us it had started in the ‘50s, and some had started in the ‘40s,” Jackson said. “Some did not see the dream realized, but it was realized, and even though we’ve traveled so far, I still say we have a long way to go…
“This is about unity,” Jackson said. “This is about the power and the purpose of the movement, and this is to move forward with the agenda of freedom and justice for all.”
The importance of the movement in Birmingham, widely understood to have impacted the struggle for civil rights across the country and throughout the world, could be felt no more keenly than it was at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where a Klan bomb killed four girls and focused international attention on this city.“We feel that in the year 2013, it’s time for us as a church to remember, to reflect, and to focus,” said Price, pastor of the church. “Remember where the Lord has brought us from, remember how good God has been to us, remember how God has taken us from brokenness to blessedness, from trouble to triumph, from hurt to hope.”
Of the church’s plans for 2013, Price revealed that there would be a response to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” written in 1963 as a challenge to clergy who questioned the bold, provocative activities of the campaign including the Children’s Crusade.
“[We want to] give the faithful community a chance to respond to that,” Price said. “We want to also do a reenactment of the church’s march, which took place at our church, when many organizers saw it fit to initiate the children to lead the movement to bring justice and equality to this city and to this county. And, of course, we’ll commemorate the awful bombing that took place on September 15th, 1963, by reliving that Sunday school lesson, ‘The Love That Forgives,’ and having our National Baptist Convention president, Julius Scruggs, bring us an address and a sermon that Sunday.”
The Birmingham Metro chapter of the SCLC has planned several events for January 2013 in the run up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Woods said. On. January 18 the SCLC will sponsor the musical and spoken word production, This is Our Story, to be held at St. Joseph Baptist Church at 6:30 p.m. The following day, on January 19, the SCLC will be holding their annual “gun buy back,” also at St. Joseph, from 9 a.m. to noon, followed by youth activities at Shiloh Baptist Church.
The SCLC will also be sponsoring a cultural arts presentation at Hopewell Baptist Church on January 20. On January 21, King Day, the SCLC will hold its annual Unity Breakfast and will participate in a march from City Hall to Kelly Ingram Park at noon, followed by a civil rights rally at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church at 1 p.m., where Mayor William Bell will speak along with former mayors Richard Arrington, Jr., and Bernard Kincaid.
The rally will be followed by the annual Love Feast for the homeless and senior citizens at Boutwell Auditorium at 3 p.m. Woods finished by discussing a new program which will focus on youth activities and events for students, including a march. “And again,” he said, “let me say how I’m so happy that God spared me to see 50 years.”
Before the press conference ended, Jackson took that time to speak passionately about a commemorative wall that he wishes would be built at Kelly Ingram Park.
“One of the things that I said to the mayor, prior to him getting elected, is that as far as I was concerned, Kelly Ingram Park is too generic. That’s what I told him. And I can say it publicly, because I said, as far as I’m concerned, Kelly Ingram Park is Birmingham’s 9/11.”
“I think the statues are great, but they are too generic,” Jackson continued. He then described a wall that he proposed to Mayor Bell, which would encircle Kelly Ingram Park and contain the names of those involved in the Civil Rights Movement. He encouraged those in attendance to lobby the city for such a memorial.