Through Angels Eyes
A survival story from the civil rights movement's most explosive time and place: Birmingham, 1963.


This is a preview to the chapter ALABAMA, SATURDAY APRIL 13, 1963 from the book Through Angels Eyes by Steve Theunissen.
Please note this text is copyright protected.

Hot an' muggy. That's what I remember most 'bout that first big protest. By 10 a'clock the sun was already at full force, beatin' down on us, takin' away a bit a' our energy, sappin' our strength. After fifteen minutes in that scorchin' heat, the sweat was already rollin' down my face, my armpits becomin' damp, an' my eyes squintin' jus' to see. Standin' there, I thought 'bout that other day, long ago, under the same burnin' sun, when Daddy'd stopped to cool the heat from offa me. Then I remembered somethin' Daddy'd told us he'd heard Doctor King say—that we needed to take the back street beatin's that'd been happenin' to Black folks an' put 'em on center stage, for the whole world to see. Well, when I looked 'round me today, I saw a bunch a' reporters with microphones an' cameras. It was then that I wished I was a real part of the protest, not jus' a bystander. Then, I figured, I could pay Daddy back for cryin' that dozen or so years ago.

But I wasn't a real part of it. I was jus' in the crowd, gathered outside a' the Sixteenth Street church. There was maybe 500 of us 'round there, stretchin' along the pavement, down to the Kelly Ingram Park. For such a big crowd, I noticed, there wasn't much noise. Maybe the heat was takin' away the energy to talk. Or, maybe we was all jus' too excited, too nervous, too unsure 'bout what was to come next.

What did come next took us all by surprise. But, thinkin' back, it shouldn't have. We'd been preparin' for it for weeks, strengthenin' ourselves to handle it. But there, in front of us, in the flesh, it still made us gasp, made us question ourselves. Was we really ready for this? For, at 'bout 10:15, four police cars, sirens ringin', sped up the street, screechin' to a halt right outside the church. There was three policemen in each car an', as they got out, it seemed like they was tryin' to make as much noise as they could—slammin' the doors an' makin' a big show a' fittin' their clubs an' handcuffs into their belts. They took up positions along the crowd, starin' into the faces a' those in the front lines, pushin' an' jostlin' ones who got too close.

A policeman positioned himself a few feet from me. I looked up into his eyes, tryin' to read what was in his heart. But, instead a' the hatred that I was expectin' to see there, I saw fear in that man's face. His eyes was movin' over the crowd, never stayin' still. I could tell he was uneasy. When the sweat started rollin' down his forehead, I knew it wasn't jus' the sun that was causin' it. I looked at his hands. One of 'em was nervously fingerin' the club hangin' at his side.

Suddenly, the doors a' the church flung open an' the demonstrators poured out—first Fred Shuttlesworth an' Mister Ab’nathy. Everyone 'round me began yellin' an' clappin' then. But not me. I jus' looked up at that big policeman to see what he was doin'. I noticed his eyes was kind a' dancin' from the protestors to the crowd an' back again. His hand was clenched 'round the club at his side now, holdin' it tight. I knew he was afraid.

Then came the rest a' the protestors—the nameless ones. They came out in lines a' two across. I tried countin' the groups a' two, but gave up when I got somewhere near forty. Then I saw Jimmy. He was walkin' alongside Peter Davis. I watched Jimmy march past me, his eyes fixed straight ahead, an' my heart began poundin' inside a' me. Seein' the mass a' protestors, Fred, the policemen, had seemed kinda excitin' an', somehow, unreal. But now, seein' my own brother, right there in the middle of it all, puttin' himself in danger, made me see that this wasn't no game. No, this was real life, it was real people, an' it was real serious.

I decided to keep up with Jimmy to make sure he was okay. I began pushin' my way through the crowd, keepin' time with the marchers as best I could. I guess I managed to get half way to the Kelly Ingram Park when I saw a sight that froze me in my tracks. Others saw it too, an' each of 'em flinched at the sight. It was frightenin'. For there, jus' ahead of us, blockin' the entrance to the park was up to a dozen police officers who each held a leash that was strainin' to hold back a vicious, snarlin' dog. Some of the dogs was actually rearin' up on their back legs, so that the officers had to use both hands to hold 'em back.

The marchers was closin' in on the park, an' the dogs was gettin' more crazy with every forward step. I looked over the group a' marchers, to see if I could read any fear in their faces. But each face, though different, was jus' the same—eyes starin' straight ahead, jaw firmly set, head held high. From Reverend Shuttlesworth to Jimmy, right through to that last protestor, they was movin' as one.

Then from among the policemen linin' the park, a man stood forward. He could've been any White kid's grandaddy, this fella. He wore a white shirt an' tie, an' with his dark-rimmed glasses he looked like he'd be better off behind a desk at a newspaper office than here.

"As Commissioner of Public Safety of this city, I am orderin' you to disperse," he bellowed, lookin' directly at Fred Shuttlesworth.

Fred stopped marchin' then. This caused those alongside him to stop too, an' pretty soon, the whole line a' protestors was standin' still. They stood there quietly lookin' into the faces gathered against 'em. For what seemed like ages, no one spoke. The only noise was the barkin' a' those police dogs, eager to be set free.

As the heat baked down on me, I looked over at that policeman, back by the church steps. He'd been joined by another officer an' they both had their clubs drawn. They, too, was waitin' for the next move. It was that Police Chief who made it.

"This is an illegal gathering. Your refusal to disperse leaves me no option," he yelled out. As he turned to face his men, I caught the hint of a smirk on his face.

"Go!" he commanded.

A gasp went up among the crowd, as we imagined what that order might bring. But, instead a' the dogs bein' released, a dozen or so officers came forward. They approached the leadin' protestors, first Fred, then those alongside him. Each protestor was closed in on by three officers. One would force his arms behind his back an' handcuff him, while another told him he was under arrest for paradin' without a permit. Then the three of 'em would manhandle him over to a police van that was waitin' to take him away.

We watched as 'bout forty people was arrested. It was the same thing each time. Both sides well trained to carry out their roles. The officers bullyin' but professional. The protestors quiet an' respectful. Slowly the rest a' the marchers began to fall off, driftin' into the crowd. As the marchers was forced into the police vans, the crowd would clap an' yell out their appreciation. I found this strange at first, but as I thought 'bout it I realized that these people was, by sacrificin' themselves in this way, becomin' our heroes. It was as if the police solution to this problem was actually a victory for us.

As the police began to herd their dogs back into their wagons, I noticed that police chief with the thick glasses. He was standin' there, in the middle a' the street, with his hands on his hips an' a cigar in his mouth, lookin' over the crowd as they clapped their approval. The look on his face wasn't hard to read. It was a look a' disgust.

* * *

Jimmy drove us to Peter's house, which was 'bout four blocks from ours. After a bit, I sorta got the feelin' they didn't want me hangin' 'round, so I told Jimmy I would walk home from there. Actually, I had no intention a' goin' home jus' yet. So, I headed in the direction of our place until I got out a' sight a' Jimmy an' Peter. Then I circled 'round the block an' headed up Seventh Street in the direction a' Miss Hattie's place.

I hadn't seen Miss Hattie for near on three weeks. After so long, I felt like I needed to get the balance back that only she could give to me. Her porch door was wide open, so, rather than knockin', I jus' yelled out to her. Seconds later, she appeared at the door. She had an apron on, an' her hands was sticky with pastry dough.

"What you doin' here, girl?" she quizzed me, wipin' her hands on the apron.

"Jus' thought I would drop in to visit," I answered, followin' her into the kitchen.

"Ain't you meant to be keeping your distance from me still?"

She sat down at the kitchen table.

"Suppose so," I shrugged as I sat across from her, "but Mama an' Daddy sorta mellowed lately, so I figured it'd be okay."

"Oh, Angel Dunbar," she said in a mockin' kinda voice, "you figured it'd be okay, did ya? Well jus' maybe your figurin'll get us both in a heap a' trouble."

She was tryin' to sound annoyed, but I knew she was only half-serious.

"Well, you're here now, girl," she sighed. "What news have you got to tell me?"

"I been into the city, Miss Hattie," I said excitedly, "watching the demonstrations. I've jus' come from there."

"Thought you might have," she smiled.

"How come you weren't there, Miss Hattie?"

"I'll be there when it counts," she replied.

Without pressin' her on what she meant by that, I went on to tell her 'bout what I seen that mornin'.

I wanted to let Miss Hattie know 'bout how proud I was a' those marchers. But it seemed that my thoughts a' the protestors was bein' crowded out by the images that'd made the deepest impact on me—the scared policeman, the barkin' dogs, an' the old White man with the dark-rimmed glasses. So, that's what I told her 'bout.

"That'd be Bull Connor," Miss Hattie'd said after I described the ol' man.

"What do ya know 'bout him, Miss Hattie?" I asked.

"I know he's one of the most racist men in the whole state a' Alabama, Angel," she said quietly. "He knows how to keep Black folks in they place."

"He didn't look too happy when we all started clappin' those who was bein' arrested."

"I bet he wasn't," Miss Hattie said, restin' her chin on her hands. "You see, Angel, that man is a law unto himself. He likes to think this is his city an' he's gonna fight to keep it the way it's always been."

"Do ya think he'll use those dogs, Miss Hattie?"

"If he's smart he won't, Angel," she answered. "But I'm pickin' that he ain't that smart."

"Do ya reckon we'll be able to stand up to 'em if he does?"

"Angel," she said, "If Bull Connor uses his dogs against those peaceable people, he'll be doin' as much for us Black folks as Mister Lincoln did by freein' the slaves."

"What do ya mean, Miss Hattie?" I asked, surprised at how she could even compare the two a' those men.

"Well, Angel," Miss Hattie leaned back in her chair now, "see that pair a' scissors?"

Miss Hattie was in one of her story tellin' moods again. I remembered how she'd tied in gettin' a pussy sore with the Black movement last time we'd talked 'bout this sorta thing. Now I braced myself for her to fill me in on what the pair a' scissors lyin' on the table between us had to do with Mister Lincoln an' that Bull Connor fella.

"Yeah," I said.

"Well, when I first got those scissors they was sharper than my best kitchen knife. But over the years they become dull. So now, they've lost their sharpness. Makes it hard to cut through anythin'."

She was drawin' this out on purpose—tryin' my patience, teachin' me how to think.

"What's that got to do with anythin'?" I tried not to show my impatience.

"Angel, when folks are born—be they White, Black or in-between—they're born with what we call a conscience. At first, it's shiny an' new, jus' like my scissors were. So, that conscience has got a sharp edge to it. It'll prick you when you go against it, jus' as surely as those scissors would've when they was new."

She reached across an' picked up the scissors now, runnin' a finger along an edge.

"But when it becomes dull that conscience don't work too good. It ain't even gonna prick ya, unless ..."

Miss Hattie stabbed the point a' the scissors into the tip a' her finger. As a drop a' blood oozed outta the tiny wound, she smiled across at me.

"Unless, you do somethin' drastic to force that dulled conscience to sit up an' take notice."

"Like maulin' innocent folks with police dogs," I finished off.

"Exactly, girl. The world's conscience, dulled as it is, won't stand for that."

"I sure hope you're right, Miss Hattie!' But, even so, it don't make me any less scared a' them dogs."

* * *

Ronny was back. As I entered the schoolroom Monday mornin', my mind still on Sataday's march, I jus' 'bout knocked into him. There he was, with his little band a' followers hangin' on his every word. He was right back where he always wanted to be—at the center of attention. 'Bout five of 'em was crowded 'round his desk lookin' at some pictures he was showin' 'em.

I went straight to my desk, jus' in front a' his, an' began unpackin' my homework books from my schoolbag. My plan was to get the job done quick an' then get outta there until the bell rang. I was jus' 'bout to head for the door when a voice from behind me stopped me in my tracks.

"Hey, Ronny, if you wanna be alone with your woman, we'll understan'."

As soon as Paul Liston said it, I knew he wished he could take it back. But it was too late. I heard Ronny's chair go flyin', an' as I spun 'round Ronny was already on top a' him. His fist pounded into Paul's head once, then again an', as Ronny raised it the third time, I felt myself runnin' to him, grabbin' hold a' his arm an' beggin' him to stop. Paul managed to squeeze out from under Ronny as he turned to face me. As if by instinct, Ronny raised his open hand to slap me.

"Stay outta my bidness, girl!" he demanded.

"Or what Ronny, you gonna hit me, too?"

I raised my chin up, challengin' him to strike me.

But instead a' slappin' my face, he grabbed me by the shoulders an' pushed me away from him.

"Jus' stay away from me," he muttered.

I lay there on the schoolroom floor for at least a minute. I was too embarrassed to move. I didn't want to have to look at anyone, to have to meet the ridicule in their eyes. Finally, Amie Reynolds came over an' helped me to my feet. We headed straight outside.

"See how much he wants you?" she said as we sat down on the grass 'round back a' the schoolhouse.

"He don't want me, Amie," I replied, wipin' my eyes with the corner a' my dress. "He's jus' dealin' with his hurt pride."

"Angel, the boy's crazy for you. Why can't you see it?"

I turned to look at Amie. I guess my eyes must have shown that I was gettin' uptight because she sorta shrunk back.

"I told ya why I can't see him no more!" I blurted the words out, hopin' they'd put an end to her questions.

"I don't get you, Angel," she sighed. "You're only hurtin' yourself by actin' like this."

"It ain't your bidness, Amie!"

I wasn't in the mood for this. Amie was an okay friend, but she had no right pokin' her nose in where it didn't belong.

"Yeah, well I guess it is none a' my bidness if you jus' think you're too good for him, little miss Angel!"

With that, she got up an' headed back inside. I knew she was jus' bitin' back at me 'cause I told her to keep outta my bidness, but her words still cut into me, jus' the same. The idea that she'd jus' planted in my brain—that I thought I was too good for Ronny—kept naggin' at me for the rest a' that day. It wasn't until home time that I finally managed to get rid of it—managed to convince myself that I was doin' the right thing for the right reason. But even that didn't make me any less miserable.

* * *

Another mass meeting. They'd been havin' 'em every night since the marches began more than two weeks ago. This was the third one that I been to. Lookin' back now, they was a highlight a' the whole movement, but then I guess I sorta took 'em for granted. To hear people talkin' 'bout the very things that all Black folks carry inside but up until now never shared with others was an amazin' experience. It brought us all closer together—made us stronger. Sittin' there, listenin' to Doctor King, Mister Ab'nathy an' Fred—lettin' their words pick you up—made ya feel like it didn't matter how many dogs ol' Bull Connor had, we was still gonna win.

But this meetin' was different. Even though the Sixteenth Street Church was full to overflowin', there wasn't one adult in the crowd. Instead, the room was full a' kids, from high school seniors like Jimmy an' Peter right down to five an' six year olds, clingin' to their big brother or sister's sleeve. A message had been read out in our class by Mister Newton two days ago durin' our Afro-American class invitin' us here tonight. Lookin' 'round me, I figured that same message must've gone out to all the schools in the area, for I never seen a church so full in all my life.

It was Jim Bevel who stepped up to the podium. From his first word, I knew this night was gonna be different. There was no nice introduction. No warmin' us up for Doctor King. No wastin' time. Instead, he grabbed hold a the microphone an' spoke jus' one short, sharp word to get our attention.

"Sick!" he said.

Then he took a step back an' waited. When the mutterin' had died down, he came back to the microphone.

"This place is sick." He spat out the words, like he was ashamed to have to say 'em. "This country is sick. This state is sick. This city is sick. An', yes, that man, the chief of police, Mister Eugene Connor he is sick, too. He's infected all those other White people 'round here, an' now they're all sick as well. Yes, my friends, we're livin' in a sick place."

The crowd was silent. They must've picked up on what I noticed—that Jim Bevel was angry an' he had somethin' to say.

"But you know who else is sick? We are sick. Oh, I'm not meanin' you young people. No, I'm talkin' 'bout the older folks, the ones who have sat back for three hundred years an' let sick White people rule over them without fightin' back. In fact, most a' those folks have got so sick that they've died. That's why the Negro has been sittin' here dead in Birmin'ham, Alabama, for the last three hundred years. Well, don't you think it's 'bout time we got up an' walked a little?"

His words had an amazin' effect on us. He'd jus' told us that our own parents, our grandparents an' their grandparents was sick—that they was no good. Yet when he asked that question every voice, even mine, joined together in a boomin', "Yeah!"

He had us hooked.

"We can't sit 'round an' wait for that old Negro corpse to come back to life. We—you—the next generation, have got to get up an' do the walkin' for them. Are you ready to do that?"

Jim's boomin' voice paused long enough to allow another "Yeah" from four hundred young throats. Then he carried on to tell us that from tonight there was gonna be a shift in the movement—a shift towards us, the children. While, there'd been some progress over the last two weeks, Jim'd said, if they carried on like they was they couldn't break down the barriers to freedom. But with the children, things could be different. He explained that we didn't have no jobs for the White man to threaten us with losin', no families to support. We was already a strong community from bein' together at school. We had the energy that the older folks didn't. In short, he said, the movement needed a boost, an' we, the children, was the only ones who could give it.

He went on to talk 'bout how it was the children who'd been the key to success in Jackson, Mississippi two years ago. I listened for a few minutes, then I lost attention as I thought 'bout what this meant for us—for me. He was wantin' us—kids who spend their time playin' hopscotch—to march against those police dogs an' fire hoses. Why, I been terrified jus' standin' in the crowd the other day. Where was I gonna get the courage to do this thing?

"Now, we've been talkin' about how old a demonstrator should be." Jim had my attention again. "Should they be seventeen, or fourteen, how about twelve? Should we limit the right of children—you children—to protest against racism? Why, before you're even born, while you're still a fetus in the womb, racism has already affected you. Your mother can't get to a decent hospital. Can't afford to feed you well. Ain't got money to buy you a crib. By the time you're born, the poison of racism is already in your system."

He paused for a good half a minute then, lettin' his words sink down into our minds. "I'd like you to put up your hand if you belong to a church," he said, his voice much softer now. Nearly every hand went up.

"You've all made a very important decision already—to accept Christ as the guidin' force in your life. That's a decision which is far more important than whether or not to march for your own freedom. So I say to you, if you're old enough to belong to a church, then you're old enough to act on your faith—to do what's right. No one, not me, not Doctor King, not even your parents have a right to stop you doin' that!"

With that, he stood back. The hundreds a' young people in the crowd took this as their sign an' let out a great roar of approval, followed by at least a minute's worth a' clappin'. I wondered if they knew what we was all in for.

* * *

I couldn't get to sleep that night. I had too much goin' on in my head. The fear a' marchin' against the police dogs an' fire hoses was jus' the start. Jim had gone on to tell us that Doctor King an' Mister Ab'nathy was in jail, had been for nearly a week. While he was in jail, Doctor King had read somethin' that some White preachers'd written 'bout him. He wrote a reply to them, an' Jim had read some of it out to us. They'd said he had no right to be in Birmin'ham—that he was an outsider. He wrote back that he was in Birmin'ham 'cause injustice was here. They'd said that he was a bad man for breakin' the law. He wrote back that an unjus' law ain't no law at all. They'd said that he was forcin' White folks to be violent. He wrote back that you don't blame a robbed man for causin' the thief to steal from him 'cause he had money.

All these things was goin' 'round in my head as I lay there in the dark, with the sheet pulled over my head. But there was somethin' even stronger than these things that was robbin' me a' my sleep that night. I couldn't be sure. But as Jimmy, Peter an' me jostled our way outta that church tonight, I swore I saw the familiar back a' Ronny Jackson's head in the crowd up ahead a' me. Ronny at one of our meetin's. It didn't make no sense. But, then none a' this made sense. Everythin' seemed upside down. The adults tellin' the kids that they was gonna have to do the protestin'. Doctor King sittin' in jail. An' Ronny at our meeting. How much crazier was this gonna get? Yet, wasn't havin' Ronny at our meetin's the sorta thing I been prayin' for? If only he could hear from Jim or Doctor King himself, I figured, surely he'd see that this was the right way. In fact, this very night, durin' part a' Jim's talk, I actually said to myself 'If only Ronny could hear this, then he'd see.' Jim was talkin' 'bout non-violence. He told us 'bout one time, in Jackson, Mississippi, when some crazy White kids'd taken this Black girl an' actually tied her to the hood a' their car with wire. Then they drove through the Black part a' town, showin' off what they'd done. A group a' Black boys saw this an' got real angry. Jim foun' these boys jus' as they was settin' out to find them a White boy to kill in revenge. He'd stood in front of 'em, he said, an' challenged 'em. Which White boy was they gonna kill? One a' the ones who'd done this thing. Did they have names an' addresses? What if they picked on some innocent White person? What if it was a doctor, yeah, a doctor who was drivin' to the Black neighborhood to help a sick person—maybe their own Mama? What Jim'd said next was the part I 'specially wanted Ronny to hear. For it seemed he was jus' like those boys in Jackson who was dyin' for revenge. Their hearts was good—they jus' needed to change their methods.

"I'm tired a' courage in the dark," Jim'd said. "All the cowards in the world have courage in the dark. You're gonna be jus' like them. Why don't you show your courage in the light a' day? Why don't you take your courage—if you're that brave—an' join me an' fight segregation? Come an' sit in with us. That takes courage, an' we'll do it downtown in the middle a' the day when all the cops are watching. Or does that take too much courage for you?"

I knew that was the sorta challenge that Ronny's pride wouldn't let him back down from. He'd be thinkin' 'bout what Jim'd said, just like I was. Maybe he was even comparin' tonight to his own meetin's. I was sure he'd be able to see that our way was better. Then he could start gettin' ridda all that hatred inside a' him an' replacin' it with love. Then, maybe, just maybe, we'd have a chance. As I felt myself finally driftin' off to sleep, I began a prayer to God. I prayed that head I caught outta the corner a' my eye comin' outta the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church tonight, had really belonged to Ronny Jackson.

* * *

I found myself talkin' with Josiah Reeby at mornin' break the next day. It was still hard work tryin' to get anythin' outta Josiah, him bein' so quiet 'n all. But it wasn't hard to tell that there was somethin' that was weighin' him down more than usual.

"What's wrong, Josiah?" I asked softly.

"Nothin'," he replied, starin' off into space.

"Come on Josiah, I can tell somethin's up. You can talk to me."

Since our chat that time, I reckoned that me an' Josiah had a bond. He'd shared somethin' special with me when he'd told me 'bout the scripture in his pocket, 'n I sorta figured that gave me the right to know what was troublin' him.

He turned to look at me.

"It's my pa," he said.

"Is he still drinkin'?" I asked.

"He ain't stopped, Angel." Now Josiah was lookin' down at the ground. "But after I came back from that meetin' las' night 'n told him I was gonna march against segregation, he didn't take it too well."

"Well, Josiah," I stammered, strugglin' for the right words, "that's kinda normal, ain't it?"

His head twisted towards me then 'n he pulled the shirt up on his back.

"You call this normal?" he asked.

I stole a look at his back, but within a second, I had to look away. My mind raced back to our dinner table, to that time I stared up at my Daddy's whiplashed back, 'n, jus' like then, I felt the tears wellin' up in my eyes.

"Why, Josiah?" I whispered.

"Who knows what goes on in that man's mind when the drinks got him, Angel? I guess he didn't want me bringin' more troubles to our family. Anyways, you know what he said?"

I shook my head, not sure if I wanted to know.

"Well, after he'd sobered up some, he said that if I was hell bent on marchin', then he couldn't stop me. But, he said that he'd be there watchin'. 'N, if any White man laid so much as a finger on me, he'd take to 'em with his huntin' knife."

"How could he say that after what he'd jus' done to you?" I scoffed.

"Told ya, Angel. There's no figurin’ him. But he was dead serious 'bout it, I know that much."

I was lettin' those words sink into my brain, when the bell sounded out. We'd been sittin' 'round back a' the school house, 'n as I turned to get up, I saw a figure disappear 'round the side a' the buildin'. Someone'd been spyin' on us. An' I had no doubts 'bout who it was.

* * *

"Remember, what you're doin' today is a great thing. Be proud, be dignified, hold your head up high." With those words Jim Bevel began organizin' the hundreds a' children who'd turned up this mornin' in answer to his call. This was the third day a' the child marches. They began on 'D' day, Thursday, when over nine-hundred kids got arrested. I held back that day, my courage only gettin' me to the sidelines. Friday was the same. Even though it seemed a little easier to make the jump after seein' that the dogs 'n hoses had been held back on that first day, I still couldn't do it. But now, today, Sataday May 4th, here I was. Me 'n Amie Reynolds had made a pact. We'd do it together, be each other's march buddy, each other's support.

So, at nine a'clock that mornin', I found myself squashed up alongside Amie in a pew at Sixteenth Street Baptist, waitin' for what I was sure was gonna be the scariest moment a' my life. A group of 'bout fifty was 'bout to pour out a' the main entrance onto Sixteenth Street. This was meant to draw the police towards 'em, while the main group—over two hundred of us—silently made our way out the back, two-by-two, 'n marched 'round the police, headin' for downtown.

We sat there waitin' as the first group left. Within minutes the whirr a' police sirens filled the church, 'n then the unmistakable voice a' Bull Connor. He ordered the marchers to stop, but there was no reply.

"Arrest them!"

Those two words rang out loud 'n clear. Little did Mister Connor know that they was our signal, 'n next thing we was on our feet headin' out through the rear exit. With so many of us there, it took another five or so minutes before me 'n Amie spilled out onto Fourteenth Street. The light from the sun blinded me for a moment. I blinked three or four times, then looked 'round me. Those ahead of us had already stretched out as far as I could see, a solid line a' schoolchildren marchin' in twos. There was no sign a' the police. They musta' still been busy with the group 'round front. Realizin' this, I turned to Amie at my side.

"Looks like we've tricked ol' Bull Connor already," I said, surprised at how shaky my voice sounded.

"He'll catch up," she replied, grabbin' my hand. We both squeezed at the same time, smiled at each other, then looked ahead. We strode forward, keepin' step with those ahead of us. As we rounded Fourteenth Street 'n came up towards Kelly Ingram Park, I felt glad to have Amie by my side. Even though we'd had a kinda fallin' out the other day, we both knew that what we was doin' now was more important than any a' that. This was serious, 'n everythin' else in my life could wait 'til I done what I had to do.

The sound a' singin' soon made its way down the line. Jim had encouraged this, sayin' it was a great way to take your mind offa your fear. I thought it was a great way to let ol' Bull Connor know where we was at, too. But I guess we weren't out there to hide from him, so pretty soon I joined in 'n the words of 'Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'round filled the air.

We'd got to the start a' the downtown area before Bull Connor's men'd managed to group against us. But long before they arrived we'd already drawn the attention a' the local White people. They was small groups at first, runnin' alongside us, yellin' their meanest insults. But the closer we got to downtown, the larger the crowds 'n, I noticed, the more they was made up of older people. Along the way it was mainly teenage boys who'd run alongside us, provin' what men they were. But here was what looked like the parents a' those boys—women in curlers 'n men in ties. Pity they didn't have no better manners than their kids, I thought. Actually, I noticed, it was the women who was the worst of all. Standin' there, they was screamin' at us with words that woulda got me beat black 'n blue.

We tried not to look at the faces a' those people, tried to keep our eyes lookin' straight ahead. But, every now 'n then, I stole a glance towards them. There, jus' a few feet away from me, I saw men 'n women outta control with hatred—their faces all screwed up into ugly scowls, their voices screamin' out their hate filled words. I realized then that these people could really hurt us. They was so close an' their anger was so strong, that if any of 'em had attacked us, we'd be beaten half to death 'fore anyone could do anythin' 'bout it. Yet, in the face a' this, I noticed that I wasn't afraid. My nervousness had all but left me when we'd entered into the downtown area an' now, seein' these White adults with all this unexplained hatred for school kids they'd never seen before, I could only feel one thing—pity. I remembered Doctor Kings' speech 'bout hatred 'n what it can do to the hater, 'n I felt sorry for these people—these people who thought they was so much better than us 'n yet who had been blinded by their own hatred—a hatred that was jus' as unexplainable as it was undeserved.

Up ahead of us, above the noise a' the crowd, we could hear Bull Connor's voice over a loudspeaker. But rather than orderin' his men to begin arrestin' us, he was directin' his attention to the White crowds, tellin' 'em to get back. Slowly the people began obeyin' him, edgin' back a pace or two. But it wasn't enough for ol' Bull Connor, 'n pretty soon police officers was makin' their way down the lines, usin' their clubs to push people back even more. When they'd finished the nearest bystander woulda been more than a dozen feet away. That shoulda made us feel safer, but for me, it did the opposite. I had the feelin' that ol' Bull Connor wasn't so worried 'bout the crowd harmin' us. I figured he was more interested in makin' sure they wouldn't get hurt from whatever it was he was plannin' to do to us. No sooner had this thought come to me than the sound a' barkin' dogs filled the air.

Our line a' marchers came to a standstill. Me 'n Amie strained to see what was happenin' up ahead. Through the double line that stretched on for two blocks we was able to make out the figures of a half dozen or so men facin' the front row marchers. They was wearin' long black jackets 'n they each seemed to be holdin' somethin' in their hand, but from way back there we couldn't see what. I let my eyes run back along the crowds, further away now but still as loud. It was then that I noticed there was Black folks gathered along the way also. The police had made sure to keep them well set off from the Whites, who outnumbered them by at least two to one. I looked over those folks, searchin' out any familiar faces. I was 'bout to look away when somethin' caught my eye. There, 'bout three rows back stood the one person who I knew could give me the strength to get through this. An', jus' seein' her there seemed to be enough. For in that moment a' recognizin' her, I seemed to get a rush a' power goin' through me that pushed all fear aside. Without even thinkin' bout it I called out to her.

"Miss Hattie!"

But she never heard me. My voice was drowned out by a terrible gushin' sound comin' from ahead of us. My attention went back on those men in the black coats way up front. What was in their hands was clear as ever now—fire hoses.

They'd turned on the tap of only one a' those hoses, but the noise a' that one hose was already enough to drown everythin' else out. From way back where we was, I saw the power a' that water rushin' outta the end a' that hose.

The first half dozen pairs a' marchers had dropped to the ground when they'd seen that hose goin' on. They'd gone into what Jim had called the fetal position. But I could tell that hose was still hurtin' 'em bad. The power of it, aimed full force on their backs, was enough to push them across the street 'n flyin' into the gutter. I hoped none of 'em got hit on the bare skin, 'cause those hoses was strong enough to rip the bark off a tree. They'd surely make a mess of a young Black kid's body.

Another hose came on, movin' further down the line, turnin' our nice straight line a' marchers into a twisted mass a' bodies, tossed 'bout the street like rag dolls. As they got closer to where we stood, I could make out the cuts 'n grazes that water was carvin' onto the bodies a' the kids up ahead. I saw a kid who only looked 'bout eight or nine who hadn't managed to get into the 'fetal' position in time. That hose picked her up offa her feet 'n threw her down on top a' those who was already on the ground. Someone grabbed her 'n pulled her down, coverin' her body with theirs.

By the time the third hose came into play, the word had come down the line for us to drop into position. Before goin' down, I stole a look over towards where I had spotted Miss Hattie. She was up front now, lookin' right at me. I called to her again, 'n outta all the noise 'n confusion I heard her reply.

"Remember Harriet Tubman!"

Next thing, I was on the ground, my knees tucked up to my chest 'n my hands protectin' my head.

"You okay, Angel?" I heard Amie's voice from alongside me.

"Yeah. How 'bout you?"

"I'm scared."

Her voice was shakin'. I lifted my head enough to look at Amie. She was in the same position as me, ‘cept her body was heavin' up 'n down in a sobbin' cry. I reached out for her, huggin' her into my body.

"Don't worry girl," I whispered. "We'll do this together."

I knew I had to protect Amie. Without fear I looked up to see where those firemen was at. I saw one, no more than a dozen feet ahead a' me. He was controllin' the hose by himself, 'n the look on his face showed that he was gettin' some kind a' cruel pleasure outta all a' this. He had the hose poundin' into the back of a girl 'bout my age, 'n as it ripped apart her t-shirt I saw him smile. I felt my anger risin' inside a' me, 'n the thought a' jumpin' up 'n runnin' towards that fireman flashed through my mind. Instead, I lay down again, this time coverin' Amie's body completely with mine. Together we lay there 'n waited.

As I felt the first spray a' water pass over me, I tried to brace myself, to stiffen my body. I closed my eyes 'n tightened my grip on Amie. The noise a' that hose was right alongside me now.


It was as if a shotgun had jus' exploded inside a' me. The pain in my side was numbin' me. I bit my lip to stop from cryin' out.

Then relief. The hose was off me. I strengthened my grip on Amie, diggin' my nails into her wrists.


It hit me in the same spot, the left side a' my ribs. This time it stayed there, poundin' into me until I twisted to try to get some relief. Now the hose was aimed at my left arm 'n I felt my grip on Amie bein' torn away as my arm went flyin'. A terrible pain shot up 'n down my forearm.


The force a' my arm flyin' had spun me 'round 'n now the hose caught me full in the stomach. It threw me across the street, away from Amie. I crawled across the pavement only to be knocked back again. It was then that I realized this fireman was singlin' me out. His hose kept up its attack, pushin' me further 'n further back—closer 'n closer to the White crowds that was now cheerin' him on. After a while, I no longer felt the pain, ‘cept for my arm. I jus' lay there, in the fetal position, gettin' swept back, until that fireman got bored with me. Finally the hose was offa me. I felt relieved, but only for a moment. For when I uncovered my eyes 'n looked up I found myself starin' into the faces a' half a dozen White people.

"Shoulda stayed in school, nigga girl!" screamed a middle-aged woman as she spat on me.

I was takin' in those words when a massive pain hit me in the side a' the head. My hands went there to protect me, but the pain came again. As the blood flowed down into my eyes, the pain overtook my head 'n arm 'n I prepared to die. Everythin' went black.


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