by Mary Beth Tinker (posted at naacp.org)
Fifty years ago, when I was ten, I watched on TV as children of the Birmingham Children’s March were attacked by German Shepards and water hoses, then hauled off to jail. Witnessing the attack on TV, from the safety of our living room in Des Moines, Iowa, I had no idea of the profound effect it would have on history, or my life.
By May, 1963, “Bombingham,” had such racial violence that even Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” didn’t motivate enough people to risk their lives “filling the jails,” as had been planned. The murder of William Moore, on a walk for freedom, worsened the terror.
Hundreds of youths like Arnetta Streeter, a high school leader of the “Peace Ponies,” and young Audrey Faye Hendricks, of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), wanted to step up. After much debate, with some saying that students old enough for Christ were old enough for freedom, the youth prevailed. They geared into action, thousands streaming in columns out of the 16 St. Baptist Church.
In Iowa, we watched in shock as children were attacked and removed to jail. Finally, the white establishment, humiliated in front of the world, backed down. 1000 students were expelled from school, and the violence would continue, but King labeled the youth victory as the “coming of age of our nonviolent movement.”