Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Program honors Tuscaloosa’s role in civil rights

“In this very room, there’s quite enough love for all of us,” the Stillman College Singers crooned as they closed the second annual “A Day Without Civil Rights is Like a Day Without Sunshine” program Thursday night.

The room was the First African Baptist Church sanctuary, and the copious amount of love was matched only by the generous supply of history.

The event, organized by Latrice Dudley, a New College senior majoring in Afro-women’s studies, and co-sponsored by New College and the College of Arts and Science’s dean’s office, focused on the action and impact of the civil rights movement in Tuscaloosa, specifically June 8, 1964’s “Bloody Tuesday.”

“This is a church whose windows were busted and had tear gas thrown in, whose members were dragged out and beaten,” said Rebecca Little, a 2010 graduate of the University who participated in a local civil rights leaders interview class taught by John Giggie, referring to the events of “Bloody Tuesday.”

On that Tuesday in 1964, members of the Tuscaloosa community, led by Rev. T.Y. Rogers, gathered in the church to march for equality before being attacked by police officers and Klansmen.

“We were determined to go downtown to the county courthouse and drink water out of the white fountain. That was it, and it was on,” said “Bloody Tuesday” protestor Maxie Thomas, an instructor at Shelton State and the keynote speaker for the evening. “I was so scared, I didn’t know what to do. But I had to do it.”

Thomas joined the ranks of the 33 hospitalized marchers when he was knocked to the ground by a blow to the face from a police officer’s billy club and kicked repeatedly.

“It’s sad and amazing what a man will do to another human,” Thomas said. “They had no regard for us as human beings.”

Dudley had Thomas pegged for the leading role in Thursday’s program for over a year.

“I interviewed Mr. Thomas when I was working on putting together the event last year, and the exchange I had with him was so moving,” Dudley said. “I knew we needed Mr. Thomas to come and share his experiences from his own mouth.”

Civil rights movement events in cities like Birmingham and Montgomery usually attract the most attention, but Dudley believes less-renowned displays like “Bloody Tuesday” comprise what student historian presenter Marlan Golden, a sophomore majoring in history, deemed “the true heart of the movement.”

“In Alabama, we walk among history all the time, and sometimes we take it for granted,” said Beverly Hawk, director of Crossroads Community Center, prior to the program. “This is a great experience to hear personal testimonies, not just reading it in a book.”

A personal challenge inspired Thomas, who grew up in Tuscaloosa, to become active in the civil rights movement. When Dick Gregory came to Tuscaloosa to speak in 1964, Thomas was so impressed he “wanted to run out the door and drink out of a white fountain that night,” he said.

After Gregory’s presentation, Thomas spoke to the social activist and comedian, praising him for his work in the movement.

“[Gregory] said, ‘Let me tell you something. In a few minutes, I’m going to get in the car out there, they’re going to take me to Birmingham, and I’m out of Alabama. I’m going to catch this plane and go back to Chicago. Now, the question is, what are you going to do?’” Thomas said. “Believe me, that made up my mind that night – that night.”

Barry McNealy, the student coordinator for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, set the stage for Thomas’ and many other protestors’ work, describing the social climate of segregation that eventually spawned the civil rights movement.

“In the words of Voltaire, ‘If you believe in absurdity, you will commit atrocities.’ You can’t point to one person and say that person is naturally good or that person is naturally bad. It was not the person that was evil – it was the thought processes, the socialization that they allowed themselves to be influenced by,” he said.

Thomas closed with a challenge for his audience to pass the influence of himself and every other member of the civil rights movement along to future generations, to continue to inspire positive change.

“You know you saw me [in an earlier slideshow], and my hair was all black. Look at me now,” he said, fingering his grey head with a grin. “You know, I might not be here to share this with you again. Pick it up and give it to someone else.”

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