The Power of Story—1963

The day after my thirteenth birthday in January 1963, Alabama governor George Wallace proclaimed, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” I sat stunned on the sofa watching the six o’clock news. It felt to me that he had just declared war. Child of the Dream is my memoir of the year that followed.

The day after my thirteenth birthday in January 1963, Alabama governor George Wallace proclaimed, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” I sat stunned on the sofa watching the six o’clock news. It felt to me that he had just declared war.


Child of the Dream is my memoir of the year that followed. While I’ve written books about my father, Jackie Robinson, this book is about my coming to grips with the struggle for racial equality and justice. It’s the true story of how I found my voice in this fight, during a time that solidified my family’s legacy of activism.


As the civil rights movement intensified in early 1963, so did my family’s involvement with it. At the time, Birmingham, Alabama was considered the most segregated city in America. Over the course of the next five months, my father brought home news about the fight for equality happening there. The story that stood out most to me was The Children’s March.


The sight of children, some the same ages as my brothers and me, marching peacefully and singing freedom songs as the police packed them in wagons and buses bound for jail was shocking. Eight hundred children were arrested the first day. Over the next week, we watched in horror as kids were chased by police dogs and knocked off their feet by blasts of water from fire hoses. At night, my thirteen-year-old self, dreamed of linking arms with these children in solidarity.


My brothers and I were determined to get involved and our parents found ways to bring us into the movement. With my dad’s leadership, we decided on a family mission to support social change. From that day on, we were no longer listening passively to his stories from the road—we were officially activists. We hosted two jazz concert fund-raisers at our home featuring legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Mann. The proceeds provided bail money for the children and adults who were jailed for participating in freedom marches.


Dad worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And in August 1963, we traveled as a family to the March on Washington. We were so excited to join the massive crowds and feel connected to the larger civil rights movement.


I was not prepared for the devastation I felt when four girls were killed when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed in September 1963. My parents helped me understand both the sacrifice and the importance of pressing forward. They gave me hope.


In September 2018, I joined the members of an online community in Birmingham for a reunion and memorial service at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Sitting there, behind four red-draped empty chairs, I was incredibly sad and also very moved. After the ceremony, we toured the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute across the street from the church. For me, the trip and memorial brought my childhood dream of linking arms with the kids of Birmingham full circle.


Revisiting this turbulent time is both rewarding and emotional. Through the power of story, I hope that today’s children will be inspired by The Children’s March much like I was in 1963. I hope that they will apply these lessons learned from history to contemporary issues such as bullying, immigration, gun control, and climate change. I hope they’ll take away the importance of standing up for what you believe in. And I want to assure them that they will be heard.


Sharon Robinson, daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, is the author of several works of fiction and nonfiction. She has also written several widely praised nonfiction books about her father, including Jackie's Nine: Jackie Robinson's Values to Live By, and Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America.
 



This article is part of the Scholastic Power of Story series. Scholastic’s Power of Story highlights diverse books for all readers. Find out more and download the catalog at Scholastic.com/PowerofStory. Check back on School Library Journal to discover new Power of Story articles from guest authors, including Alan Gratz, Meredith Davis, and more.

 

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