Lamar Weaver is no stranger to fighting. As an openly anti-segregationist white minister running against commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor for office in 1957, he , alongside Fred Shuttlesworth and his wife, would literally fight his way through an angry mob in order to integrate the “White Only” section of the downtown Birmingham Terminal.
Weaver’s only mistake one particular day was not buying a train ticket out of the city.
“I didn’t think about buying a ticket. I didn’t think I needed one. This was my home,” he said in a recorded interview with Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) archivists.
“They [the police] escorted me to the door…they said ‘We gon’ turn him loose to those people out there,’ and they did. A guy grabbed me as soon as I got out and hit me.”
Eventually chased out of Birmingham for his uncompromising activism, Weaver is now an old man living in Marietta, Georgia. His story, however, will live on as one of 500 interviews collected through the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s Oral History Project.
The collection was first founded in 1994 when BCRI began interviewing local veterans and witnesses of the Civil Rights Movement. More than two decades later, the institute has succeeded in completing the first of many steps in digitally preserving and distributing its priceless material. After its first-ever crowd-sourced fundraising campaign via the website Indiegogo.com, the institute announced that it has exceeded its goal of raising $10,000.
BCRI Archivist and Oral History Project Director Laura Anderson found the online fundraising process exhilarating, but she also maintains that its success is the result of good, old-fashioned hard work. Anderson originally created the campaign with the hopes of mobilizing some of the museum’s thousands of Facebook fans into individually pitching in a few bucks.
In the end, though, the nearly $10,500 dollars was reached by fewer than 100 contributors – most of whom were specifically contacted by staff members at the BCRI.
“There were some really, really generous donors,” says Anderson. “I was extremely surprised and touched.”
Anderson is “immensely grateful” for the community’s generosity, but she says that the fundraising journey for the Oral History Project has just begun. Formatting the interviews and purchasing the digital asset management system needed to make them accessible in a free virtual library format is estimated to cost around $200,000.
Anderson hopes, however, that the money raised through Indiegogo will be used to persuade large private donors of the public’s interest.
The tapes’ subjects include such famous names as the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Richard Arrington, Jr. However, their greatest value arguably lies in the voice that they’ve granted to hundreds of other lesser known freedom fighters and spectators, like Lamar Weaver. Anderson says that many of the individuals who have offered up their stories throughout the Oral History Project’s 20 years have already passed away. The wisdom stored within the interviews, however, is timeless.
“They [the recorded interviews] are national treasures, but they also have real value as lessons for the public,” says Anderson. “[They teach] the lesson that youth are important for a successful movement, the lesson that youth can be selfless as well as adults.” She pauses for a moment. “And of course, they also teach forgiveness. There’s so, so much forgiveness.”
To watch some of the interviews that have been collected, digitized, and made available by the BCRI, click here. In order to donate to ongoing digitization fundraising efforts, please contact Laura Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (205) 328-9696, ext. 215.