Farewell to the ‘Most Hated White Man in the South’

The first thing I noticed when arriving at Birmingham’s Bethel Baptist Church of Collegeville today for the “homegoing” service of the Rev. Lamar Weaver, 85, was the hearse from Poole’s Funeral Chapels, Inc.

How fitting since it was the Poole brothers, Ernest and John, who helped save Weaver’s life 56 years ago.

On March 6, 1957, a day after the Alabama Public Commission ruled that waiting rooms designated for interstate travel must remain segregated, Weaver met the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Birmingham’s formidable civil rights leader and Bethel’s pastor, and his wife, Ruby, at Terminal Station. The Shuttlesworths had bought tickets to Atlanta and sat in the whites-only waiting room in defiance of the ruling. Weaver, a white man, had come to the station to show his support. As the Shuttlesworths and Weaver waited for the train, a crowd of about 100 segregationists, led by “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss (one of the men responsible for bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963), began to harass them. Before long, police ordered all those without tickets to leave the waiting room, and this included Weaver.  In his 2001 autobiography, “Bury My Heart in Birmingham,” Weaver recounted that long walk to his car:

A police officer pushed me out on to the sidewalk and the door closed behind me. I was surrounded by this angry mob. I was terrified. I turned toward the area where my car was parked and started walking slowly to my car. The mob was so close to me; I could feel their hot breath on the back of my neck. I knew if I ran I would most certainly be killed much like a pack of wild dogs would do when they chase after prey. Then suddenly, someone hit me from behind with a suitcase and knocked me to the ground. Some of the persons in the mob began kicking me. I struggled back to my feet trying desperately to make it to my car. The mob followed me. The news media were there taking pictures. Thank God for those reporters. If they had not been there with their cameras, I’m sure I would have been killed. Getting to my car seemed like an eternity. Finally I made it and managed to somehow get inside.

The hostile crowd threw cement blocks and rocked the vehicle, attempting to flip it over. Weaver described Chambliss being at the front of his car, sneering and cursing while rocking it.

Weaver managed to back up but not before someone in the crowd opened the car door and began beating him.  A reporter from a national media outlet pushed the man away and Weaver was able to speed off. However, the police charged Weaver with running a red light and reckless driving.  He opted for an immediate trial and was able to stand before a city judge that day. The judge fined Weaver $25 and ordered him to leave town.

The Poole brothers paid Weaver’s fine, hid his car and drove him to the funeral home. Here’s Weaver’s account of what happened next:

I hid there for the rest of the day and that night. A Negro informant told the police that I was hiding at the Poole Funeral Home. When they couldn’t find me there, the mob continued their search for me throughout the city. At least twice during the late hours of the night, angry Whites came into the funeral home looking for me. [Three employees] of the Poole Funeral Home had hidden me in a casket.

According to Weaver, the next day, he was taken to the airport and flew to Washington, D.C. to testify before the U.S. Senate subcommittee on civil rights. (He had made his airplane reservations under the pseudonym James Bishop to remain hidden.) While waiting to testify, Weaver was told by his congressional representative, “Don’t ever go back to Birmingham. You’ll never be welcomed. You are a disgrace. You are the most hated white man in the south.” Weaver did not let the representative’s words deter him from testifying.

Weaver’s deeds were not without consequences.  He had made many enemies, especially when he decided to run against Eugene “Bull” Connor for his seat on the Birmingham City Commission. During his campaign, a bullet was fired into his house, almost hitting one of his daughters. Soon after, his first wife divorced him and moved to north Alabama. Weaver also lost the election to Connor.

During today’s eulogy for Weaver, Bethel’s current pastor, the Rev. Thomas L. Wilder, Jr., asked, “Why would a white man in the middle of segregated Birmingham risk everything?” Wilder told the small group of mourners of an event that Weaver witnessed at a young age that may have been the impetus for his life’s work.  In Weaver’s words:

I was about four years old and we were traveling down an old dirt road near [Centre], Alabama. I thought it must have been on the weekend because as we approached a crossroad I saw a large group of people standing around in a festive atmosphere. There were so many people that they were partially blocking the road. As we drew closer, I was not prepared for what I was about to see. I witnessed one of the most horrific things I have ever seen even to this day. What I witnessed was a horrible experience for me. As our car stopped, we saw some White men, some dressed in robes, standing on platform with a Negro boy who I think could have been anywhere from fifteen to eighteen years old. There he was standing stripped of his clothing and the Whites were savagely beating him. Then they brought out axes and they began hacking his body to pieces, killing him before our very eyes. It was like a slaughterhouse. Blood was everywhere. My father, mother and I watched in horror. I just sat there horrified. It was a sight I will remember for the rest of my life. Looking back now, that experience made an impact on my life that may have been the reason my life took the path that it did.

“Please for the rest of your life, remember Rev. Lamar Weaver. Remember those who risked it all for the sake of the cause,” Wilder admonished us.

Weaver’s son, Robert Lamar, also spoke at today’s service. He reminded everyone of the circular nature of life.  Weaver, who had been living in Kennesaw, Ga., had once again returned to Birmingham, the city he loved and fought to change. “And today, with God’s plan, we will bury my father’s heart in Birmingham.”

Weaver shaking hands with Shuttlesworth as Shuttlesworth's first wife, Ruby, looks on.  Weaver was on hand at Birmingham's Terminal Station to show support of the couple as they waited in the whites-only waiting room. Credit: Birmingham News/Alabama Media Group

Weaver shakes hands with Shuttlesworth as Shuttlesworth’s first wife, Ruby, looks on. Weaver was on hand at Birmingham’s Terminal Station to show support of the couple as they waited for their train to Atlanta in the whites-only waiting room. Credit: Birmingham News/Alabama Media Group

A mob surrounds Weaver's car as he attempts to leave the terminal. Credit: Birmingham News/Alabama Media Group

A mob surrounds Weaver’s car as he attempts to leave the terminal. Credit: Birmingham News/Alabama Media Group

‘Color Guards’ with no flags

Local communications expert Carl Carter has written an honest recollection about standing guard in front of Woodlawn Baptist Church to ensure “nobody of the wrong color wandered in by mistake.” Read his story below, and check out Carl’s blog, Carl’s Lost & Found.

Dad had color guard duty, but there was no flag. It was a pretty simple task: You stood around in the front of Woodlawn Baptist Church to make sure nobody of the wrong color wandered in by mistake. Dad let me stay outside with the men. He liked having me around, and maybe he figured I’d learn something. Color guard was an important job, because colored folks trying to attend a white church were bound to create trouble. We had one try every now and then – not when I was out there, but I heard about it – and they were advised to go worship with their own kind. Churches were known to split over the matter of whether to invite coloreds. The men – at least when I was around – avoided the less polite word for black people. They didn’t seem to hate coloreds or want to harm them. They just didn’t want them in our schools and restrooms. Or eating in our restaurants. Or, God forbid, dating their daughters. On one color guard morning, I had just come from Sunday School, where we’d sung, “Jesus loves the little children. All the little children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight…” Something felt wrong. There was no moment of great revelation, where I understood the evils of segregation and bought in to the entire civil rights movement. The grownups around me didn’t seem to hate black people so much as the Communists, who were using them. Sure, Dad got regular phone calls from Police Commissioner Bull Connor – because of his role with the bus system and because, as Connor told him, “I can’t trust any of these people over here.” I also remember how excited he was when he got to eat next to black businessman A.G. Gaston. No, it wasn’t the coloreds so much as the Communists stirring them up, making them discontent, and trying to overthrow our way of life so they could take away our freedom of worship. At least in Dad’s mind. Jesus loves the little children… What about the children that might want to come to our church with their parents? Would Jesus love a colored child in my Sunday school class? Would she have a disease? Would one of them cut me with a knife? I wasn’t sure, and went on with my life. But the image of Color Guard duty became one of two snapshots in my mind that changed me in ways I wouldn’t understand for many years. The other snapshot was captured downtown, in front of Loveman’s department store. Mother and I had taken the bus downtown to do some shopping, and we always looked for a seat around the second row, a safe distance from the colored section in the back. The long seat in the very back looked like a more fun place to be, but that was out of the question. There, outside Loveman’s, there was a little girl my age, and she was crying. She pulled at her mother’s skirt. “But I’ve got to go,” she said. “Shh. Be quiet now,” her mother said. I asked Mother, “What’s wrong with her?” “There aren’t any colored restrooms here. She’ll have to wait.” “Why can’t she use the same ones we do?” “Because they’re whites only. Hush now.” Hush. That was the key word that made everything OK. Red and yellow, black and white… There was no getting away from it. Water fountains were clearly labeled “White” and “Colored,” and the ones labeled “Colored” always seemed to be dirty. I hated to think what the inside of the colored restroom would look like. But the changes were coming, and there was no holding back the tide. The Civil Rights Bill was about to become law. The Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, which declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” had come down when I was about seven months old. Bull Connor and George Wallace were running out of time. Arthur Shores, a Birmingham black attorney who had to finish his law education through a correspondence school, made it all the way to the Surpreme Court in 1955 in his effort to allow black students into the University of Alabama. And while I lived in a pocket where the racism seemed more tempered, there was most assuredly hate. In 1963, Shores’ home was firebombed in retaliation for efforts to get black parents to register their children at white schools. It was only 11 days before the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls. They are precious in his sight.

Jeffreen’s Swan Song

Jeffreen M. Hayes, Ph.D., said Birmingham Museum of Art’s newest exhibition, “Etched in Collective History,” is her public thank-you to the Magic City. The former Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in African American Art at the museum shared her thoughts during the opening lecture on Friday evening. The exhibit fills all three Jemison Galleries and features 33 artists and 56 pieces of art. The exhibit includes photography, paintings, installation, collage, paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures.

Early in her talk, Hayes read from an essay she’d written for a local publication. In the essay Hayes writes about the pull Birmingham had on her life, one that even she was unaware of. “During my tenure, several new and old friends asked me, ‘What made you choose Birmingham?’ For a while, I could not articulate exactly why, except for the job opportunity. After spending the past year and half here, however, I can now express why I chose Birmingham…I realized that as much as I chose Birmingham, Birmingham chose me.”

Hayes relayed a childhood experience where she was picked to participate in a Black History Bowl her junior year in high school. During her preparation, Hayes checked out several books from her hometown library. One of those books was “Eyes on the Prize.” “I had never seen images like that before: black people demonstrating their dignity and working together, all for the right to be seen and respected as human beings, and withstanding the brutal force against them having what was rightfully theirs. Birmingham’s struggles were front and center – and disturbing – but stayed in my consciousness all of these years.”

Those images, and a connection to the Birmingham struggle, guided her through the exhibit’s selections. Hayes said her output was a labor of love. “I’ve poured my soul into it. It’s really hard to think about 1963 or the civil rights movement and look at the works and not connect to it personally.” Hayes said it’s her goal that the exhibit’s viewer also makes a connection.

She elaborated on a handful of pieces. Hayes considers two of those as the exhibit’s anchors. One, “There were Saturday afternoons,” is an installation by Shinique Smith that was just completed this week. The work features four doll houses that represent each girl who died in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Smith weaved in locally donated toys, books, shoes and clothes, all things the girls would have continued to enjoy had they lived. The other anchor is an installation by Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey. The piece “takes you to church” with Bailey’s interpretation of 16th Street Baptist Church’s sanctuary. The work features portraits of the four girls and viewers can hear strains of John Coltrane’s “Alabama” from a vintage radio.

In addition to Smith and Bailey, the exhibit includes artwork from Zoe Charlton, Thornton Dial, Art Bacon, Chris McNair, Jefferson Pinder and others. Hayes admitted some of the pieces may be shocking to some, but that was not the goal. “The pieces are provocative to get people talking. I want us to have that [hard] conversation about diversity, about race.”

Hayes, whose fellowship recently ended, has to Chicago to work with artist Theaster Gates. “Etched in Collective History” opens Sunday at noon at the Birmingham Museum of Art, 2000 Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd. It closes November 17. Admission is free.


A Changed Birmingham Embraces a Troubled Past

By Rick Hampson

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Rare is the city that features, on the home page of its website, a period photo of two helmeted white cops handcuffing a young black woman.

But things have changed in Birmingham, where the grim black-and-white image promotes a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s campaign to integrate the city’s public facilities.

It was a time when the city’s public safety commissioner, the fittingly nicknamed Bull Connor, was a world-famous brute, and when its own nickname, thanks to dozens of unsolved, racially motivated explosions, was “Bombingham.”

And 1963 was the year when a desperate King sent children out against police lines; when dogs and hoses were loosed on them; when a Klansmen’s bomb at a church killed four girls dressed in Sunday white.

This turning point in the civil rights movement is marked this year in a series of events and exhibitions.

“It seems Birmingham is really dealing with its own history,” says Laura Schultz of Wilmington, N.C., on a visit with her two children to the city’s civil rights sites. “It’s honestly confronting its past.”

That past includes these landmark events of 1963:

King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written on scrap paper while the civil rights leader was in solitary confinement for protest-marching in violation of a court order, was his stirring reply to a call from moderate white religious leaders to adopt less confrontational tactics.

The “Children’s Crusade,” the result of King’s decision — highly controversial at the time within the movement — to allow hundreds of students to demonstrate. They were attacked by dogs, pummeled by high-pressure fire hoses and thrown in jails with common criminals.

Read more at USA TODAY.

The Birmingham News offers tours featuring historic one-of-a-kind photos

Front cover of Birmingham News reporter Barnett Wright's book, "1963."

Front cover of Birmingham News reporter Barnett Wright’s book, “1963.”

Searching for camera equipment in 2004, Birmingham News photo intern Alexander Cohn came across a box marked, “Keep. Do Not Sell.” In that box were negatives showing images from Birmingham’s civil rights movement that unfolded not far from the newspaper’s front door. Cohn, now a photo editor at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, spoke to me about his discovery. He said he knew what those images were, being from Birmingham, but there were plenty of shots he’d never seen before. The Birmingham News published the photos in 2006, and they were later turned into the exhibit, “Unseen. Unforgotten.”

Some of those images are featured in the book, “1963: How the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement Changed America and the World,” written by Birmingham News reporter Barnett Wright. Last Wednesday, Wright served as guide for the I AM GOING ALL THE WAY tour in the newspaper’s downtown offices. He regaled attendees with informative backstories as we toured the galleries that highlight photos from the “Unseen. Unforgotten.” exhibit; we also had a chance to tour parts of the newsroom as well. Wright pointed out the newspaper’s culpability in not prominently highlighting the movement. Wright said on the day after Birmingham schoolchildren took to the streets in protest of the city’s draconian Jim Crow laws, The Birmingham News published on its front page a story about a snake that refused to eat. “They didn’t want the world to see what was going on in their own city,” said Wright.

Fifty years after that pivotal year, the newspaper is welcoming dialogue that speaks on their past role and how they want to engage the community now. The public can take this free tour tomorrow, Wed., May 29 at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. Each tour lasts about an hour. Please contact Ed Fields at efields@relaitshandled.com to sign up.

How Far Have We Come?

A panel discussion on “Lessons from the Past: Civil Rights Today” will take place tomorrow, March 12, at Birmingham Southern College at 6 p.m. in the Bruno Great Hall. Odessa Woolfolk, president emerita of The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, will moderate.

Panel includes the Honorable William Bell, mayor of Birmingham; Carolyn McKinstry, eyewitness to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing; Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries; Isabel Rubio, founder of the Hispanic Coalition of Alabama; Howard Bayless, LGBT civil rights leader; and the Honorable Helen Shores Lee, judge of the Tenth Judicial Circuit.

Many will agree that blacks in Birmingham, and the U.S., have made great strides in 50 years, but we are far from a post-racial society as some would have us believe. Read the comments that follow any story related to race or one that features a person of color in the Birmingham News, New York Times, USA Today, etc., and you could see that this country is far from being color-struck.

In an editorial for The Minnesota Daily, Trent Kays said the last presidential election proved to him that our country was still in the throes of racism. “Equally disheartening is that we still don’t know how to deal with it. This sickness is symptomatic of a culture and society beginning to embrace 1950s ideologies again rather than moving forward with an eye on the future horizon,” wrote Kays.

I think conversations about race, like the one scheduled for tomorrow, help to foster meaningful interactions, but do these talks reach the people who are holding fast to their antiquated thoughts on race and diversity? Do they help us move a step closer to “dealing with it?”

I doubt if the person who commented on AL.com that giving blacks the right to vote has been the downfall of this country will be in attendance. I doubt if the many commenters who routinely disrespect President Obama for any little perceived offense (but swears they are not racist) will want to have this conversation.

I am all for people sharing their opinions, and so be it if they don’t line up with mine, but the racial discourse in this city, in this country, has taken an ugly turn. (Look at this awful attempt by Philadelphia magazine. The writer says he wanted to have an honest dialogue about race, but ended up with a story that’s full of negative stereotypes and the worst kind of race-baiting.) I pray that tomorrow’s discussion can do some good in getting us to talk about why are we still talking about race in 2013.

What do you think?

How far have we really come?

A Quiet Warrior

This year Birmingham is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement. Much will be said and written about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth and other “brand-name” civil rights leaders. But let me tell you about Marian Jones Daniels, a woman whose quiet actions helped pave the way for others.

Mrs. Daniels plays piano at my church. Her stark white cropped hair is a striking contrast to her chestnut brown skin. She is a thin woman, whom I believe is now in her mid-sixties.  (I’ve asked her to tell me her age, but she has politely let me know it’s none of my business.) Sister Daniels, as we call her, is always sharp in dress.  On a recent Sunday, she had on a suit that reminded me of shark’s skin. She wore a chunky silver necklace and dangly earrings to match. 

I like how Sister Daniels’ fingers deftly strike the piano keys.  Her fingers are slender and bare, save for a gold wedding band.  They glide over the ivory and black keys with what looks like little effort.  Her skill is a testimony to the many years of taking piano lessons from the sternest of instructors – her mother, Bessie R. Jones, who, before her death, played piano for the church and directed the choir.  (The choir in which I sing tenor is named for her.) I heard Bessie R. Jones and her husband were strict parents who didn’t let their three daughters take the easy way out of any task, be it piano lessons, school work or chores.  “Our parents instilled a strong work ethic in us, and the fear of God,” said Sister Daniels. 

There was a lot to fear growing up black in Birmingham in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  But Sister Daniels said she wasn’t really scared of white folks and didn’t know of anyone from her close-knit community of Collegeville, a black neighborhood located just northeast of downtown, who was afraid either.   Sure, the church, including the parsonage, was bombed three times, but, thankfully, no one was killed or seriously injured.  Sister Daniels, the whole church and community, looked at these survivals as miracles.  And these miracles were more real to them than the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, the three Hebrew boys enduring the fiery furnace or Daniel relaxing in the lion’s den. “After those bombings, we knew that the hand of God was on us, and we would be victorious,” said Sister Daniels.  The church’s pastor at the time, Fred L. Shuttlesworth, felt the same way.  “When the first bomb went off, it took all fear from my mind,” he said in a later interview.

With this fearless attitude in mind, Sister Daniels decided to apply to predominantly white colleges in the north and was accepted to a small liberal arts school on the eastern seaboard.  She does not pretend that this school was nirvana.  Even with their open admissions policy, many northern institutions of higher learning were not well equipped in handling the cultural differences and needs of the black student.  In Frederick Harper’s 1969 essay, “Being Black in a Predominantly White University,” he captured the despair a number of black college students may have been feeling about matriculating at all-white schools.

If you can listen with an accepting ear and try to get into my frame of reference, I will attempt to articulate what it means to be black in a white university.

Being Black means to walk across campus on your first day of class and not see one black student.

Being Black means to have all white teachers and be surrounded in class by all white or nearly all white students.

Being Black means to open my textbooks and see pictures of white folks and to read white-washed theory, philosophy and history which are not relevant to me.

Being Black means to go to a white counselor whom I don’t trust, and who doesn’t know how to handle my presence or problem.

Being Black is trying to get administrators to understand my needs and do something about them, or trying to convince a campus policeman that he should not arrest me out of prejudice.

Being Black is tolerating “Nigra” or “Negro” and favoring neither.

Being Black is seeing a soul sister or brother slaving overtime on a dirty menial job and being underpaid.

Being Black is to go into a class disadvantaged and find that I have a teacher who believes it is impossible for a black student to make an “A” or “B” grade.

Being Black is not having a penny in my pocket and seeing white students visit Europe and Mexico, driving fancy sports cars, and at the same time knowing that their parents and ancestors got rich off the sweat and pain of my parents and ancestors.

Being Black is to be a resource person for curious white folks who after being answered, are not willing to accept my expertise…

Being Black means to be in an ocean of white stimuli, to be angry consciously or unconsciously, to continuously struggle with oneself to deny hostile feelings, angry feelings. I might add that there is no difference between a black rioter and that of a black Ph.D. but rather a difference in the way this feeling comes out.

Finally, being black means to be lonely, hyperalienated, depressed, displayed, ignored, and harassed.  Just the fact of being black is to be on the brink of revolt.

But unlike Harper, Sister Daniels stated her upbringing would not allow her to lament over what she did not have.  She was raised to be thankful and to make the most of every opportunity.  “From the time we were small, we were told we had to be twice as good, twice as smart.  We were not sad or mad about it.  It was a fact and we just went about doing what we had to do to succeed.”  Sister Daniels does not equate her collegiate experience to one of near revolt, but rather as an awakening.  For the first time in her life, she shared a classroom with white students and discovered that she was just as academically sharp, or sharper than they were.

After graduating, Sister Daniels moved back to Birmingham. Similar to the black World War II GIs who were determined not be hindered by the rules of Jim Crow, Sister Daniels wanted to lead a life outside the box mainstream Birmingham may have wanted to stick her in. She didn’t want to teach like her oldest sister or become a nurse like the middle one.  Sister Daniels wanted to enter the corporate world, which was a new frontier for blacks at the time. She had read about a clerical position at a utilities company headquartered downtown.

In 1940, U.S. census data showed more than 58 percent of black women worked as domestics and less than 2 percent were hired for clerical positions.  A federal Women’s Bureau study showed that almost half the northern and southern employers surveyed had an unwritten rule against hiring blacks to work in their offices.  But by the late 1960s, times were changing.

Sister Daniels applied and on the day of her interview she dressed in her best suit, replete with a double string of pearls and sensible pumps. She interviewed with the supervisor, the supervisor’s boss and that boss’s boss. She got the job.  Sister Daniels became the first black to be hired for a non-custodial position at that company.  Her hiring could be attributed to a change in attitude and belief systems among white decision makers at that time. Economist Mary C. King named this phenomenon as “occupational tipping.” Others point to the civil rights movement and subsequent federal anti-discrimination laws as the catalysts for change. And, still, others say the shift was caused by both.  Nevertheless, by 1966, 13 percent of black women worked in clerical or sales positions, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Sister Daniels recalled her first day at work.  “I remember the elevator man looking me up and down when I got on the elevator. I don’t think he had ever seen a black person come to work dressed in a suit.  He asked me what was I doing there and I told him I was new and would be working in the accounting department.  He told me that all the blacks ate lunch on the top floor at noon and he would see me there.”   

When Sister Daniels reached the top floor at noon, she couldn’t believe her eyes.  “All the black workers met in this dark little musty-smelling room that was filled with broken furniture.  I found a seat in this raggedy chair and ate my sandwich.  I was miserable and decided right then I will never eat in that place again.”  The next morning she encountered the elevator man again. When he told her he would see her at lunchtime, she told him that she would not be joining them as she would be eating her lunch in the cafeteria from now on. “He was shocked and told me that the blacks weren’t allowed to eat in there. I told him that this black person would be eating there because there was no way I would be eating in that junk pile anymore,” she said.  “My parents didn’t send me to college to eat like that,” Sister Daniels added.   

All morning, Sister Daniels worked with butterflies in her stomach. When the designated time came, she retrieved her lunch and made her way to the cafeteria.  “I found a seat at an empty table. I could feel people staring at me, but I didn’t look at anyone. I thought at any moment someone was going to tap me on my shoulder and escort me out the door,” she said.  But no one ever did.  Not that day or the next day or the day after that.  But at the end of the week, Sister Daniels’ supervisor told her she wanted to speak with her.  “If she was going to tell me that I could not eat in the cafeteria, I was prepared to leave that day because I wasn’t going to eat anywhere else.”  But that was not what the supervisor wanted to say.  “She actually told me she was proud that I decided to eat in the cafeteria.  She said there was no rule barring blacks from the cafeteria and she always wondered why the other black employees did not eat there. This taught me that sometimes the worst monsters are the ones we create.”  Eventually, other black workers joined her in the cafeteria.

Before retiring from the utilities company, Sister Daniels became the executive secretary of one of the top officers there, the first black to ever reach such a position. 

Sister Daniels plays the piano at my church, and blazes trails, with what looks like little effort. 


Schudel, Matt, “Fred Shuttlesworth, courageous civil rights fighter, dies at 89,” Washington Post on the Web October 5, 2011. December 26, 2011 www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries

Harper, Frederick D., “Black Student Revolt on the White Campus,” Journal of College Student Personnel (Sept. 1969): 29.

Sundstrom, William A, “From Servants to Secretaries: The Occupations of African-American Women, 1940-1980,”working paper (May 2000).

King, Mary C., “Black Women’s Breakthrough into Clerical Work: An Occupational Tipping Model,” Journal of Economic Issues 27.4 (Dec. 1993), 1097-1125:

United States. Department of Labor. Wage and Labor Standards Administration. “Negro Women…in the Population and in the Labor Force,” (Dec. 1967).