Category: Realizing the Dream

Attorney Doug Jones: Legacy Banquet Speech January 15, 2016








It is a real honor tonight to be here with you. I really appreciate all of you being here because before we were coming down, we were watching television news and they announced that the national championship trophy was going to be on display in Tuscaloosa, and you can have your picture made with it at Target.

My lovely wife Louise, who is here with me tonight, looked at me and said, “Oh Lord, nobody’s going to show up.” Which was really her polite way of saying “I’d rather have something else to do in Tuscaloosa tonight.”

I would like to mention one regret that I have tonight is that some dear friends are not able to be here. Many of you may have known Becky and Melford Espy, long time and dear friends of mine. Both passed away a few years ago. Becky taught me social studies in the seventh grade and Mel was a counselor in high school when I was a student, and I owe them a lot, and I miss them and I know if they had been able to be here tonight, they would be here on the front row beaming proudly for someone they helped raised back in Fairfield, Alabama.

I’m also especially glad to be here tonight because you are honoring one of my dear friends and heroes, Bill Baxley. You will hear more about Baxley, but truly in 1970, when I was just 16 and he was only 28 years old, he was elected as Alabama’s Attorney General. I’m absolutely convinced that in 1978 if this state had elected him governor, we would be a far different state today.

I do quickly want to make one correction in your program though, because the program says that Bill was best known for his work in prosecuting the Chambliss case, which was the other 16th Street bombing case. He’s actually known very well for that, but what he’s best known for is something that is connected to the case. You see, when Bill, a great politician when he was in office, used to get all this mail he would answer all this mail. But during the investigation and trial of that case, he got a lot hate mail.

You can imagine in the early 70’s the kind of hate mail that came into his office. One in particular came in from Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Edward R. Fields, who was the National States Rights Party president from Atlanta. Bill showed me a copy of it, and it was awful. I mean, it was a three-page diatribe about how bad an individual Bill Baxley is, called him everything under the sun, including a disgrace to his race for prosecuting these “good white Anglo-Saxon Christian men.” But like all the great politicians, Bill responds to his letters, and this is what he wrote: “My response to your letter of February 19, 1976, is — kiss my ass.” True story folks, true story.

Bill and I travel together a lot, talking about the prosecutions of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing cases. I have been fortunate enough not only to travel with Bill, but also to travel throughout the state and country lecturing on those cases and the history behind them. Dr. Mullins and I were talking about this a moment ago. I have always been fascinated to see how important it is for people to learn about what happened in Birmingham in 1963, and how we came to prosecute two former Klansmen almost forty years later.

Folks seem to want to touch a piece of history, which I truly believe is history that is not adequately taught in our schools today. You see, people know the big picture, they know the events, they know about Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. they know and have heard about the Freedom Riders in 1961, they know about the children’s march and in 1963 the fire hoses and the dogs and the stand in the school house door in Tuscaloosa and the march on Washington, and yes, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.

But for my legal team, as prosecutors, we had to connect all those events, connect the dots, if you will, to explain why it came to past that the 16th Street Baptist Church was targeted for a Klan bomb, and maybe even children targeted for death. So, let me explain just briefly about that.

In 1954, the Brown vs. Board of Education decision declared that separate schools are unequal schools, and the schools should desegregate with all deliberate speed. I don’t have to tell you the history of the “separate but equal” doctrine in schools in this country. But desegregation didn’t happen with all deliberate speed; it took decades. And in 1957, Fred Shuttlesworth decided to enroll his children in all-black Phillips High School in Birmingham, but he was met with a mob of white people and beaten. He and his wife were both beaten and chased up and down the sidewalks. One of the people in that crowd was an individual named Bobby Cherry. He felt so compelled to violence to stop school desegregation, that he would beat up a man of the cloth, a man of faith, Fred Shuttlesworth.

Then you have the 1961 freedom riders, and Bull Connor allows the Klan to have their way with the freedom riders. Police officers didn’t show up at the Greyhound bus station for some 20 minutes. But because of what happened to the freedom riders, Birmingham business leaders decided to change the form of government. It took them a while to get a change, but all of a sudden in the fall of 1962 the Birmingham city government changed from a three-member commission that included Bull Connor, to a mayor and city council. So they had an election. But at the same time, Reverend Shuttlesworth was in Atlanta talking to Dr. King to come to Birmingham to desegregate the most segregated city in America.

And the children’s marches took place just after the election. Bull Connor lost the mayor’s race but he stayed in the office. When all the marches were settled, and you’ve seen the pictures of the fire hoses and the dogs and the kids streaming out of schools to participate. When that was resolved with modest change to Birmingham, the Klan was not happy. And they responded the the only way the Klan knew how to respond and that was with violence.

A.D. King’s house was bombed shortly thereafter. The Klan was seeing their segregated way of life sliding away and they didn’t like it. In the children’s marches, it wasn’t just the children who were the symbols of the movement, but also the 16th Street Baptist Church, because that’s where they would meet. So now the Klan was unhappy and guess what: The 16th Street Baptist Church and the children were the symbols of the movement. The stand in the school house door made them angrier. They never dreamed that George Wallace would actually step aside. They didn’t know that it was just a charade all staged for his political career. Later that summer, bombs continued to blow up in Birmingham. Arthur Shores’ home was bombed twice.

In August was the “I Have a Dream” speech, and everyone thought that things were looking up.

It was a positive atmosphere, but in Birmingham the desegregation of Birmingham city schools was about to take place. Court ordered the desegregation of Birmingham city schools. Five days before the bombing of the church, young men and women walked into elementary and junior high schools to desegregate the Birmingham schools for the first time. And Birmingham was on edge.

Because so much violence over the years had occurred as a result of school desegregation, I don’t think it was coincidence that five days later the marquee outside the church was advertising a youth worship service that targeted the youth, and the children were coming to that church together again. That’s the weekend that it was targeted for a bombing. So the jury understood it, and the jury got it.

And it’s only by connecting the dots of history that people come to fully understand what was happening in this state and in this country. It’s only by connecting the dots today that we can measure how far we have come as a society, how far we have come to realize Dr. King’s dream that he so eloquently talked about on the mall in Washington.

Now certainly as has been discussed earlier, we had made enormous strides in race relations and equality, in civil rights and in human rights. Legally mandated social, racial segregation in Alabama and the South had been dismantled. The field of education had seen huge improvements. While just under 26 percent of black adults age 25 and older had completed four years of high school in 1964, the percentage had increased to 85 percent by 2012. The number of African-American college undergraduates has increased 10-fold since 1964. Infant mortality in the black community has dropped dramatically, although I think we still have a ways to go in Alabama.

African-Americans have come to occupy positions of power and influence from boardrooms to the State House and the White House. But it’s very easy, and especially at events like this, to talk about how far we have come, to mix and mingle and to pose for pictures and celebrate. We should celebrate, congratulate ourselves on our success. But it’s real easy to never have the conversations that we must have about race in this country, never even trying to connect the dots about what is happening in this state and in this country that is eroding the true fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream.

A few years ago, I was struck by the final passages of an editorial in the Anniston Star following the death of Bobby Frank Cherry, one of the individuals I prosecuted. He’d died in an Alabama prison where he had been in since the conviction. The Star wrote: “Cherry represented the banality of evil in a time when it was more common than we like to admit. It is easy to look back on those times and see the militant racial hatred that consumed him had no place in a civil society then and certainly does not now. It’s much more difficult to confront the shadows of racism and prejudice that surround us in the present. It comes in subtle forms. There is rarely a fuse that gets lit. It’s more of a slow burn. But make no mistake, its flames are just as consuming as those that raged inside Bobby Frank Cherry.”

Like so many Americans, I believed with the election of Barack Obama we had finally moved past so much of our racial divides, not necessarily a completely post-racial world or whatever that term is. But we have really moved beyond having race so prominent in our everyday lives. Not that we have eliminated racism, but that race would not be as dominant a factor as it had been, at least in my lifetime. I remember on a really remarkable occasion on the night of election in 2008 I had gone to the Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham, which was the site of the beating of Nat King Cole in the fifties. It was the site of the Dixiecrat Convention in 1948, but on that night in November, it was the site of a victory party with the election of Barack Obama. And it was a raucous occasion, to say the least.

And I stayed and I enjoyed it, and it was awesome and as I am leaving, the party is still going on. I walk across a street, and I meet a friend that I had known for a while who’s been around in Alabama politics a long time, Billy Joe Camp. And I talk to Billy Joe, and we talked about that night, how exciting it was, and I say, “Well, I got to go to another party.” As I walked away I turned because it struck me as he also walked toward that party that I was just watching the former press secretary to the late Governor George Wallace going to a victory party for the first black president of the United States.

So, yeah, folks, we have come a long way.

But if there is one thing I have learned from Bill Baxley (and it’s a lot more than that): You kind of just tell things like it is, And unfortunately the election of President Obama appears what I hoped to have been a watershed was simply a high-water mark rather than lasting change, because with his election and since his election we have seen a consistent and disturbing erosion of civil rights in this country. It is everywhere and racial bigotry and prejudice are continuing to rise; you all know it.

As we sit here tonight, you all know it. It’s not necessarily talked about as much as it should be, but it needs to be, and frankly, it is being talked about more. We have economic disparity and the wealth gap is growing. Our schools tend to be more segregated today than they’ve ever been in the last fifty years. Law enforcement and the criminal justice system continue to struggle with racial issues. We have seen it all too often in the last couple of years where unarmed young black men are killed by police. And I’m not trying to dis the police because they do an incredible job, but there’s got to be some change. There’s got to be some change in the way we do things.

The access to the ballot box by minorities is getting harder and harder. Through various state laws, whether it’s voter ID laws or others, access to the most fundamental freedom that we have, the freedom to vote, is being challenged every day, and especially in a state like Alabama where we have a budget crisis and all of a sudden it seems to be used to close the ID-getting places, the Department of Motor Vehicle offices in the Black Belt, where Democratic voters happen to be.

I promised Louise I wouldn’t get too political. If I do she’ll throw a cheesecake at me. And in the case of Shelby County vs. Holder, the Supreme Court of the United States stripped the Voting Rights Act of a critical provision used by the Justice Department to ferret out voting rights abuses before they take effect. And then across college campuses, from one end of the country to the other, minority students are once again finding their voices, rising up to express their concern and frustration with racism that they are experiencing on their campuses.

Right here in Tuscaloosa, one of your honorees tonight, the second African-American to be elected SGA president at the University, has felt compelled to participate in a video to shine a light on the problems that he sees. Now those problems are not being sufficiently taught at the University of Alabama and other places. They’re not happening just in this state, but other places where parents and teachers and ministers are not doing the job of teaching people about justice and truth and reconciliation.

Now, the last thing I need to do tonight is to give you some kind of laundry list of things that have happened in this country over the last few years. You instinctively know what I’m talking about: the erosion of civil rights and the rise of bigotry. What I hope you will do, not just tonight, but every day, is to connect the dots of what you see and hear going on around you, from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery to Washington, D.C. to see what is happening in Alabama and throughout the country, and connect the dots to what you know in your hearts is happening.

I believe that the rhetoric of our political figures fans the flames of bigotry and prejudice. We have seen that history in this state, and sometimes in today’s world, I think they fan those flames even when they don’t intend to. You know, George Wallace never used the “N” word in public but he fanned the flames of hate and bigotry with code words and fear. In those days, the hate was directed toward the black community and the involvement of the federal government. But in part as a result of our ever-growing diversity in this state and country, today’s rhetoric seems to be directed at much broader and much more diverse segments of our population: African-Americans, Latinos, the LGBT community, Muslims. If you don’t look like them, talk like them, or worship like them, lot of people just hate them, and we’ve got to work on that, we’ve got to do something, and make no mistake: Today’s politicians, in my view, are taking a page from the playbooks of the past, in which leaders continue to resist the growing movement of civil and human rights in the state and in this country.

You remember from your old civic lessons the terms “nullification” and “interposition” used by Southern politicians to attempt to override acts of Congress and the decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Well today, we have a State Chief Justice who believes that his views of morality override decisions of the United States Supreme Court, and he tells probate judges throughout Alabama “just ignore the law, they are wrong, so just ignore them.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is a problem, and if you don’t think that’s a throw-back to the civil rights era, look and compare the two.

In this state, we are in a fiscal crisis; we’ve been that way for couple of years through lot of reasons, and I’m not going to just blame the folks in Montgomery now. This has been building up a long time. But even today we spend thousands, tens of thousands of dollars, on legal fees defending an indefensible immigration bill that was simply attempted to override the constitutional authority of the United States government. Everyone agrees that our immigration system is badly flawed, but when a sponsor of that bill seems to conflate the term “illegals” with the term “Mexicans” we got a problem.

And at this point, there is just not much need for me to go into that hateful rhetoric we are hearing from Donald Trump. Republicans from one end of the country to the other are doing that for me. You’ve heard it and you’ve seen it. But I will say this, I am concerned about one aspect after I hear this from some of the political commentators who were talking about Trump’s rhetoric, and even though they will note the criticism, they then come back and say “Well, Mr. Trump seems to be just tapping in to what so many people believe.” That is true; people believe that way. You see it in the turnout that he has. That’s the sad part, that there are people that actually still believe that and applaud him. You know our political leaders need to lead, our political leaders need to be more like Bill Baxley who took a chance on the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing case in the 1970s, who took a chance cleaning up the environment in Birmingham, going against big business in the seventies when it wasn’t popular. Our leaders need to lead. When there are fundamental wrongs in the minds of folks, they need to be the ones to lead the change and translate it into public policy.

Chris Christy, the governor of New Jersey, said at the Republican convention a few years ago, “Leaders should not just follow polls, leaders need to move polls.” I wish Governor Christy, and the others on that stage, would follow his advice. And we need to demand more of our candidates and our elected officials. They need to know that Dr. King’s dream is not just for rich white guys in this country. Dr. King’s dream encompassed everybody of all races, all religions, all ages, all sexual orientations. You name it, it encompassed everybody.

There are a couple of areas specifically that I would like to talk about just briefly that I’m working on that concern me, that I believe are a function of some problems that we’ve got both in race and civil rights and civil justice, areas that I think are desperate for change in which I also believe that there is some opportunity for bipartisan support. The first is with the payday lending practices in the state, outrageous interest rates of over 450 percent in most instances. Think about that, you’ve probably got credit cards, you have loans, you have credit cards that you complain about 20 percent — but 450 percent! That law was changed in 2003 to change the usury laws that allow these people to charge these outrageous rates, make millions of dollars on the backs of the poor and the working class families in the state.

Last year they started keeping some tabs on these loans. In a 10-week period, 450,000 of those loans were taken out by your neighbors in the State of Alabama. Think about that, we are a state of about four million people and 450,000 of those loans were taken out in a ten-week period, and these are not loans for people that are trying to feed a gambling habit, or drug habit, or even for emergencies like their car was broken down or their child was sick. These are loans the studies show that are taken out by people who are just trying to meet everyday expenses. Now, a bill is going to be introduced in the Legislature again — one was introduced last year that never got the light of day — for Alabama to end this practice, to cap the interest rates at around 36 percent, which is still high, but what an improvement if we could do it.

So please contact your state legislators, contact your representatives, ask them to do something positive for the poor and the working-class folks in this state. And when you do, remember this, and we had a program about this at our church in Birmingham at Canterbury the other day. Remember when you are complaining about the payday lenders, remember that there are victims of payday lenders, these people taking out those loans, because think about it: If 450,000 people have to take out those loans to meet everyday expenses, what does that really say about our state and what does it say about the leadership in our state who don’t seem to care as much for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses.

I told them the other night, I want to work hard to knock payday lending vultures off, but it’s kind of like picking off that vulture that’s beginning to pick on a wounded rabbit. You can shoot that vulture, but if you walk away from the wounded victim, you’ve really not accomplished an awful lot. So we need to work to make sure we do that.

The second area is in criminal justice reform. Recently, I have been working with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School with about 150 law enforcement leaders and prosecutors from all 50 states, calling for changes in our criminal justice system through an initiative called the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration.

Today, the most civilized country in the world has the highest rate of imprisonment in the world. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world prisoners, we spend $80 billion annually to lock people up, and in so many cases it’s simply just not necessary. Unnecessary incarceration hurts our communities in so, so many ways.

Now, let’s make no mistake, I’m all for law and order. I have been a prosecutor at two different times in my life. I defend people, but I’m all about the rule of law and order, but I also know there is just simply a lot of unnecessary incarceration that puts people away and treats them like animals. And when you do that, it hurts the communities by furthering racial disparities. It exacerbates the economic impact in inequality of communities. It fuels recidivism and hinders the economic development in communities that need it the most.

Today, and I know you’ve heard these statistics, today, one in three black men will end up in incarcerated at some point in their life; 60% of prisoners reentering society face long term unemployment. With restricted economic opportunities, criminal activities increase. The Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration have put forth a series of proposals that I hope will be given a good look by law enforcement and state legislators and members of Congress.

I won’t go into all of them, but they are talking about engaging communities, we are talking about alternatives to our arrests, alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, not the violent offenders. And I want to make sure, as I said a minute ago about my history, these 150 folks are not some bleeding hearts here. They are tough on crime law-enforcement officers who have spent their careers in law enforcement and protecting the communities and when you are a foot soldier for law enforcement, you learn a lot about what’s going on the streets, so these are well reasoned. Being tough on crime and being smart on crime are not incompatible.

This morning, as I was getting ready to go to work, I saw the news about the rise in the homicides in Tuscaloosa, something that bothers everyone. And when you are trying to talk about reducing crime through changes in the system, it’s hard when you know there are certain statistics out there that seem fly in the face of what you are saying. But I will tell you that studies will show that there is not necessarily the same correlation between locking people up and throwing away the key and reducing the crime. But what I saw this morning, I thought was important. I saw your police chief on the TV, discussing the rise of homicides in Tuscaloosa. But rather than simply giving the tough guy law and order speech, he talked about community involvement, he talked about engagement of the community, and education of both the community and the leaders of this community. That is exactly the type of approach that can have long-term effects and you should be proud of your chief for articulating those in the media.

So, ladies and gentlemen, you know I know our theme is “Realizing the Dream,” and so many dreams have been realized, but we have so, so far to go. For me, I go back to the case that will forever define me. And I think forever defines Bill, because it is more than for us than just simply about history. You know, when a child is killed, scores of other lives are shattered. The loss of those four young girls at the church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the two boys who died later that day from gun fire in Birmingham created a deep crater of remorse in 1963. It woke up the conscience of America, the conscience of the president, the conscience of Congress.

But around that well of grief, something incredible has grown. Lives have been saved and countless more, mine among them, have been enriched. The blast of 16th Street Baptist Church shook us out of a stupor. It was easy to see that things had to change. It was an alarm to warn about the creep of a smothering darkness that only could be repelled by fundamental change in America.

I have learned much from the bombing investigation and trials, from people like Bill, people like Mary Jolley, Cleo, my colleague at Alabama. I’ve learned a lot about my city in Birmingham, my state and my country, the law, our people, good and bad, the dangerous absurdity of racial prejudice and the terrorism facilitated by divisiveness.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was exactly what the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing was, an act of terrorism, before that word was really a part of our vocabulary as it is today. In the years since the trials, I have started to realize that we are repeating many of the same mistakes from a half century ago. Sometimes that connection is only evident if you are prepared to look past the mask of dog whistle politics, the posturing of about economics or expose those hiding behind religion and political bluster. At other times, it hits like a sledge hammer, as with the Charleston church shootings in June of 2015.

The Charleston church shootings raised an interesting piece, something I want to share, because as we’ve talked about politicians and their words, we know words have meanings, whether you say it or not, the words have meaning. Well, the symbols have meanings too, and it took the deaths of nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina for people to wake up and realize that the Confederate battle flag has no place in this society.

And I want to show you something real quick. For any of you out there, whoever are talking to someone who said that I don’t necessarily agree with taking down the flag because it’s really a symbol of history, it’s a symbol of Southern heritage. Despite the fact the heritage is Confederate heritage, which seceded from the United States of America, tell them to call me and let me show them this picture, this advertisement from this magazine called the “Thunderbolt.” It was the newspaper of the National States’ Rights party run by Bill’s pen pal friend Ed Fields. On the back, this is in June of 1965, you can see this, an ad where you can order Confederate battle flags. This is 1965 and the ad says, “Fly the Confederate Battle Flag.” The Confederate flag is no longer a sectional emblem. It is now the symbol of the white race and white supremacy. Fly it on on your car and on your house. So folks, this is not new that this has become a symbol of hate, and thank goodness Governor Bentley and others have begun to bring that down.

Despite my instincts as a lawyer, somewhat as of a political junky, to declare that I have the answers for anything, I cannot profess at all to have the absolute remedies for the enormous ills that we see. However, the richest part of those girls who died, the richest part of their gift to me has been an awakening that has connected me to my own personal prejudice, strengths and weaknesses, a very humbling reality check, and now an invigorating journey toward a greater self awareness that might not solve the world’s problems, but hopefully won’t contribute to them.

Indeed, and I told Bill this in our talks, I feel like I have grown more in the last 15 years, than I did in my first 45. Searching for winning solutions to these recurring problems like most everyone else — politicians, street protesters, blog writers, anonymous internet experts, academics — everyone wants to hit a home run or win a national championship. But perhaps it’s more productive to take the long view, exactly the way Coach Sabin and the Tide Football team did recently.

It’s the kind of approach that we took in tackling the four decades-old cold case in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. I longed for the big hit, the one big thing to put everything in order, to put it to rest, but truth and resolution weren’t going to be established that way. The details had to be linked, the dots had to be connected, and the game contested one play at a time with everyone doing their part until the very end.

Power teams like the Crimson Tide realize that excelling at small ball — solid blocking and tackling, accurate pass routes, sticking with your plan — wins the game, not the fluke or the last second heroics. It’s not as sexy, it’s not necessarily going to produce a fair result every time. But just as we have witnessed, it’s an especially useful strategy when the whole team buys into the concept. You are playing for a winning season, not just for the glory of an occasional spectacular victory.

So in considering this unique moment today, considering our unique moment in history, a time when we cannot ignore our past and perhaps tumble backwards toward the abyss, or truly embrace its lessons and take a step away from the lingering dangers, the choice for me is clear, in my personal life, my hopes for this country, my hopes for my family, my children, my grandchildren … my hopes for this country is to play the small ball, get the little things right. And hopefully others, just like everyone in this room, will also join the team. As a team we can win, as a team we can defeat the prejudice that we know is going to exist regardless of what we do. That’s the goal. And at the end of the day, we are all in this together. We are all in this together, and our state is becoming more diverse, and if we don’t remember the lessons of history, we will be doomed to repeat them.

So thank you for allowing me to be here tonight, thank you for this event, for your celebration, and for your courage and for your look forward to recognizing where we are and where we’re headed. Thank you very much.

UA Announces 2018 Realizing the Dream Schedule

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Mary Mary, the Gospel recording and Grammy award-winning sister duo of Erica and Tina Campbell, will be the featured performers for the 2018 Realizing the Dream Concert Sunday, January 14, 2018, at 7:30 p.m. at The University of Alabama’s Moody Music Concert Hall on campus. Actor, producer and humanitarian Danny Glover will be the Legacy Awards Banquet speaker. The banquet will take place Friday, January 12, 2018, at 6:00 p.m. in the Bryant Conference Center Sellers Auditorium, also on campus.

Realizing the Dream Through Service to Others will be the theme for this year’s events celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which are hosted by The University of Alabama, Stillman College, Shelton State Community College and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The Campbell sisters broke through in 2000 as Mary Mary with the pioneering hit “Shackles (Praise You).” Mary Mary has earned numerous Stellar Music and Dove Awards, four Grammy Awards, three NAACP Image Awards, two American Music Awards, a Soul Train Award, a BET Award, the BMI Trailblazers of Gospel Music Award and more. After seven Mary Mary albums and 18-plus years of singing professionally, the commercially successful and critically acclaimed Mary Mary has sold more than five million albums, toured internationally and graced the covers of multiple high-profile magazines. Both sisters have launched successful, award-winning solo careers while continuing to perform as Mary Mary and while finding time to devote to their faith and their families.

Glover has been a commanding presence on screen, stage and television for more than a quarter century. He holds a lengthy list of performance credits, including the blockbuster “Lethal Weapon” franchise and the Oscar-nominated “Dreamgirls,” and earned an Emmy nomination for his performance in the title role of the HBO movie “Mandela.” In 2005 he co-founded the New York-based Louverture Films, which is dedicated to the development and production of films of historical relevance, social purpose, commercial value and artistic integrity. Glover has gained great respect both nationally and internationally for his wide-reaching community activism and philanthropic efforts, which focus on economic justice, access to healthcare and education programs. Glover, who currently serves as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, openly advocates for the arts to lead the way in community activism around the world.

At the Legacy Banquet, Rev. Frank Dukes will receive the Mountaintop Award, Ellen Griffith Spears, PhD, will receive the Call to Conscience Award and UA student Marissa Navarro will receive the Horizon Award.

Mountaintop Award recipient Dukes is being honored for creating and leading the Selective Buying Campaign of 1962, co-leading the Easter Sunday March of 1963, working with and serving as a bodyguard for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his time in Birmingham and acting as the director of alumni affairs at his alma mater, Miles College, until 1970. After leaving Miles, Dukes continued to impact lives and make history. He became the second black hired as a counselor for the Alabama State Department of Education – Vocational Rehabilitation Division, where he worked with public offenders and substance abusers for more than two decades. Now retired, Dukes volunteers as a counselor and black history instructor at Maranathan Academy, a nonprofit school specializing in critically at-risk youth. The school, located in Birmingham, was founded in 1991 by Dukes’ daughter, Donna. Rev. Dukes visits Maranathan Academy daily, where he serves as a role model to the students, often instructing them on the importance of God, family, love of country, good study habits and a strong work ethic.

Ellen Griffith Spears is the recipient of the 2018 Realizing the Dream Call to Conscience Award. An associate professor in the Department of American Studies and New College at UA, Spears is the author of “Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town.” The book recounts the legal fight that began in Anniston during the 1990s against the agrochemical company Monsanto over the dumping of toxic chemicals in the city’s historical African American and white working-class west side, as well as the campaign to safely eliminate chemical weaponry secretively stockpiled near Anniston during the Cold War. The book received the 2015 Francis B. Simkins Prize from the Southern Historical Association, the 2014 Arthur J. Viseltear Award for Outstanding Contribution to the History of Public Health from the Medical Care Section of the American Public Health Association and the 2015 Reed Environmental Writing Award from the Southern Environmental Law Center. Spears is co-author of Alabama House Joint Resolution 20, which exonerates the Scottsboro Boys of any wrongdoing. The group of nine young black men had been wrongly accused and convicted of raping two white women while all were passengers on a train in 1931.

The recipient of the 2018 Realizing the Dream Horizon Award is Marissa Navarro, a junior Spanish and international studies double major. Navarro demonstrated a commitment to the promotion of cultural diversity and to resolving the challenges of inclusion and equity on campus early in her college career when, as a freshman, she founded the Hispanic-Latino Association (HLA). HLA’s main focus is to unite students, faculty and staff of Hispanic/Latino ethnic background and those with an interest in Hispanic/Latino culture through activities that invoke cultural, social, educational and political awareness while creating a representative voice for the Hispanic/Latino campus community. Navarro served as an SGA senator during her sophomore year and has worked hard to give voice to marginalized students on campus. She served as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute intern in Washington, D.C., during summer 2017.

Realizing the Dream partner the SCLC will sponsor Unity Day activities beginning at 7 a.m. Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, with the Unity Breakfast at Beulah Baptist Church. Dr. Joseph Scrivner, pastor at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, will be the speaker. The Unity Day march will begin at noon from the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and Beulah Baptist Church. Rev. Tyshawn Gardner, SCLC president and pastor of Plum Grove Baptist Church, will be the speaker. The annual Mass Rally will begin at 6 p.m. at First African Baptist Church. The speaker will be bishop L. Spencer Smith, pastor of Impact Nation.

Concert tickets are $15. Legacy Banquet tickets are $25 for individuals or $200 for a table of 10. Dress is semiformal. Tickets for both events will go on sale through the Moody Music Building Music Services Office Wednesday, January 3, 2018.

Music Services Office hours are 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday; phone (205) 348-7111.

For more information about Realizing the Dream activities and events, visit the website at, or contact Carol Agomo at 205-348-7405 or via email at

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.

Social Ethicist and Scholar of Religions Jonathan L. Walton Is 2017 Realizing the Dream Distinguished Lecturer



March 7, 2017

Tuscaloosa, Alabama — Dr. Jonathan L. Walton, a social ethicist and scholar of religions, is the 2017 Realizing the Dream distinguished lecturer. His address will take place Thursday, March 23, at 7 p.m. in the Embassy Suites Ballroom.

Walton, who is the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Professor of Religion and Society at Harvard Divinity School, has published widely in scholarly journals including Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation; and Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. His work and insights have been featured in national and international news outlets including The New York Times, CNN and the BBC.

Walton’s research addresses the intersections of religion, politics and media culture. He joined the faculty at Harvard in July 2010 and has been the Plummer Professor since being appointed to that position by Harvard University President Drew Faust in 2012. He also serves as the Pusey Minister in Harvard’s Memorial Church.

Walton recently received the Bennie Service Award in Religion from one of his alma maters, Morehouse College in Atlanta, at its 29th annual “A Candle in the Dark Gala,” which honors the achievements of men in business, entertainment and religion.

In addition to earning the BA in political science from Morehouse, Walton earned his PhD in religion and society and the MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is an ordained Baptist minister.

Walton serves on several professional boards and committees, including the board of trustees at Princeton Theological Seminary and the national advisory board of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.

His Realizing the Dream lecture in Tuscaloosa is free and open to the public.

Each year, the community celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with Realizing the Dream activities including a concert, Legacy Awards banquet, performing arts event, Unity Day programs and a lecture. The celebration, much of which takes place during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, is sponsored in part by an endowment from the Fiesta Bowl and is the work of an alliance comprised of Stillman College, Shelton State Community College, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and The University of Alabama.

Following Walton’s lecture, one additional event remains in the 2017 series. The Realizing the Dream performing arts event will be a sponsorship of Ragtime, the musical, presented by Theatre Tuscaloosa in cooperation with Shelton State Community College. Set in turn-of-the-century New York City, three inspiring stories of an upper-class wife who unexpectedly becomes a single mother, a determined Jewish immigrant and a daring, young Harlem musician are woven together in this 1998 Tony Award-winning musical. The show will run from Friday, July 14–Sunday, July 23 at the Bean-Brown Theatre. Tickets go on sale Thursday, March 30. For tickets, visit

 The UA Division of Community Affairs was created in 2004 and is recognized nationally and internationally for its leadership in community engagement. The division provided the leadership for the recent reaffirmation of the University’s Carnegie curricular and community engagement classification. The division also publishes the Journal of Community Engaged Scholarship, one of the leading refereed journals in the field.

Quiñones and Rubio Encourage Students to Serve by Offering Their Unique Identities and Talents

By Taylor Armer
Graduate Assistant, Center for Community-Based Partnerships

ABC News correspondent John Quiñones and Realizing the Dream Legacy Award winner Isabel Rubio engaged with University of Alabama students and faculty in a spirited question and answer session prior to the awards ceremony on Friday, January 13 at the Bryant Conference Center.

Ninety minutes before the banquet where he delivered the keynote address and she accepted the Call to Conscience Award a gathering of 18 students and three faculty members shared stories of Americans growing up in the South during the 1960s and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s influence on their lives and careers.

Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!) said the push for equity and equality greatly influenced the founding of her organization and the work it has done over 18 years.

“I realized that we as a (Hispanic) community, especially in Birmingham, Alabama, and in the South, had an opportunity to see about doing things differently with this new, budding community of color,” Rubio said. Had she not been a “Mississippi Mexican,” she said, “the work we’ve done may not have been the same.”

Embracing one’s identity would develop as a theme throughout the conversation with students and faculty. Quiñones, a seventh-generation Texan with more than 30 years of broadcast journalism experience, said his life’s experience “uniquely qualified” him to tell the often unreported stories of the Hispanic community.

“We have to take advantage of who we are and our own histories,” Quiñones said. “As a Latino, I can share stories about Hispanics in this country because of where I come from, because of the language I speak, and because of the customs I understand.”

For Elayne Smith, an aspiring international journalist, hearing what Quiñones, Rubio and her peers said about the issues they believed important was an “eye-opening” experience. The senior journalism major from Marietta, Georgia, said the session also reinforced her concepts of reporting abroad on people of diverse backgrounds.

“No matter where I am, anywhere around the world,” she said. “I will keep in mind that there are other people who are different from me. Being reminded of my race and privilege is invaluable.”

Quiñones and Rubio also encouraged the students to use their identity in service to their communities. When Marissa Navarro, a junior in International Relations from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and president of the UA Hispanic-Latino Association, asked Quiñones how to motivate Latinos to pursue higher education, he called for a direct, interpersonal approach.

“I think we have to develop one-on-one relationships with these students at a young age,” he said. “As a Latina, you can do it and they will love you. They can connect with you and it will give them hope. It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to do it personally.”

Rubio appealed to Navarro and the representative student body to remain fearless in their pursuit of change in their communities and beyond.

“We need you,” Rubio said. “It is the bright, energetic, fearless, courageous young folks who want to make a difference and give up a Friday night to be here, that have to be a champion and not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Realizing the Dream Weekend Celebrated at The University of Alabama

By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator

Tuscaloosa, Ala. — The annual Realizing the Dream weekend began with a buzz of excitement at the Bryant Conference Center on The University of Alabama campus as students, faculty, staff, community members and award recipients past and present gathered in Sellers Auditorium Jan. 13 for the Legacy Awards Banquet.

This year’s theme, Realizing the Dream Through Acts of Courage and Compassion, highlighted the 28th annual event series, which celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and which is hosted by The University of Alabama, Stillman College, Shelton State Community College and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Now in its ninth year, the banquet recognizes three individuals for their efforts in promoting the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and serves as an inspiring element of this annual weekend that celebrates King’s wide-ranging contributions to America.

This year’s awardees include Fan Yang, recipient of the Horizon Award, Isabel Rubio, recipient of the Call to Conscience Award, and the Rev. Wendell H. Paris Sr., recipient of the Mountaintop Award. Some 400 in attendance were able to hear from these individuals in their own words via a video presentation created by the Center for Public Television and Radio at UA.

Yang, a PhD student in the School of Social Work at The University of Alabama, created an international pen-pal exchange that ultimately evolved into Heart Touch, a vibrant UA community outreach initiative that operates through UA’s Crossroads Community Center. Born of Yang’s heart for unity and social justice and following Dr. King’s dream of instilling a more culturally sensitive and inclusive mindset in our children, this initiative also serves as a powerful learning experience for its college volunteers and is spreading the dream beyond traditional borders to bridge the international cultural gaps at the root of global conflicts.

Rubio is the executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), a nonprofit organization that facilitates the social, civic and economic integration of Hispanic individuals and families through its educational, leadership-development programs. A native of Mississippi and a third-generation Mexican American, Rubio was greatly influenced by the changes brought to the state of Mississippi as a result of the struggle for civil rights. Founder of the coalition she now serves, Rubio earned degrees in history and social work and worked in social services for eight years in the greater Birmingham area prior to founding ¡HICA!.

Paris became involved in the civil rights movement as a young man enrolled in Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1961. A founding member of the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League, a campus organization affiliated with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, he helped register voters and participated in direct action campaigns in Alabama and Mississippi. Throughout his adult life he has been involved in a leadership capacity in activities that promote not only civil rights, but also economic development designed to sustain communities that are typically comprised of lower-income minorities. He received an honorary doctorate of humanities from the Ministerial Institute and College in West Point, Mississippi in 1978 and the Martin Luther King Jr. Man of the Year Award in 1988. In 1990, he was named a Charles Bannerman Fellow for Civil Rights and Civic Affairs. He presently serves as director of membership care and visitation with the New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi.

Keynote speaker John Quiñones, veteran ABC news figure and host and creator of the ethical dilemma news magazine “What Would You Do?” was the keynote speaker. Quiñones, a San Antonio, Texas native and seventh-generation Mexican American, shared the inspirational story of his life and career, from migrant farm work during his childhood to becoming the first person in his family to earn a college degree thanks to the encouragement of his parents, his refusal to take no for an answer and the hand up he received from the Upward Bound program. He ended his talk by sharing a video clip that spoke to the importance and relevance of Dr. King’s message — past, present and future. (See related story and transcript of Quiñones’ message here.)

Prior to the banquet, Quiñones and Rubio met with a select group of UA journalism and American studies students in an informal question-and-answer session that was informative, enlightening and inspiring to these young people who will soon venture out to make their own marks on the world.

The weekend’s activities continued Sunday evening, January 15, with the Realizing the Dream concert featuring legendary gospel artist Kirk Franklin. The air in UA’s Moody Music Concert Hall felt electrified as the audience waited with anticipation for the start of the performance.

At 7:30, a hush grew over the audience as Lillian Roth, SGA president at The University of Alabama, welcomed guests to the sold-out performance and acknowledged the four entities that present the Realizing the Dream activities. Shelton State Ambassador Shontray Wilson introduced the Legacy Awards recipients to thunderous applause, followed by Troy Gibson, Stillman College SGA president, who introduced Franklin.

Franklin and his band did not disappoint, captivating the audience from the first note of their performance to the last. Their concert highlighted the distinctive gospel/R&B/hip-hop style for which Franklin has become known, in what could best be described as a mash-up of concert plus worship and praise service, all at a volume that, as one concertgoer was overheard saying, “blew the walls out of Moody.” The concert concluded with the traditional singing of “We Shall Overcome,” led by Franklin and his backup singers, as well as members of area choirs that he invited to join them on stage. (See related story here.)

Prior to the concert, attendees had the opportunity to view artwork on display in the lobby. Created by students in Tuscaloosa City Schools, this annual exhibition of new work is a tradition of the Realizing the Dream Concert.

The weekend’s activities concluded Jan. 16 on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with a Unity Day breakfast and march, as well as the annual mass rally that evening at First African Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa.

Two additional 2017 Realizing the Dream events remain. Dr. Jonathan L. Walton, a social ethicist and scholar of religions at Harvard Divinity School, is the distinguished lecturer for this year’s series. His lecture is scheduled for Thursday, March 23, at 7 p.m. at the Embassy Suites Ballroom in downtown Tuscaloosa. The performing arts event, scheduled to run July 14–23 at the Bean-Brown Theatre in Tuscaloosa, will be Ragtime, the musical.

Tickets are not required for the lecture. Tickets for Ragtime, the musical, will be available for purchase through the Bean-Brown Theatre box office at beginning Thursday, March 30.

For additional information, visit the Realizing the Dream website, located at the UA Division of Community Affairs webpage at

The Division of Community Affairs was created in 2004 and is recognized nationally and internationally for its leadership in community engagement. The division provided the leadership for the recent reaffirmation of the University’s Carnegie curricular and community engagement classification. The division also publishes the Journal of Community Engaged Scholarship, one of the leading refereed journals in the field.

UA Announces 2017 Realizing the Dream Schedule

Realizing the Dream

Visit the Realizing the Dream website for more information about the 2017 Banquet and Concert.

December 16, 2016

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Legendary gospel artist Kirk Franklin will be the featured performer for the 2017 Realizing the Dream Concert Sunday, January 15, 2017, at 7:30 p.m. at The University of Alabama’s Moody Music Concert Hall on campus. John Quiñones, veteran ABC news figure and host of the highly rated “What Would You Do?,” a hidden camera ethical dilemma television news program he created, will be the Legacy Awards Banquet speaker. The banquet will take place Friday, January 13, 2017, at 6:30 p.m. in the Bryant Conference Center Sellers Auditorium, also on campus.

This year’s theme, Realizing the Dream Through Acts of Courage and Compassion, will highlight the 28th annual Realizing the Dream event series, which celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and which is hosted by The University of Alabama, Stillman College, Shelton State Community College and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).


Franklin is the winner of 10 Grammy Awards, 39 Stellar Awards, 16 Dove Awards, eight NAACP Image Awards and two BET (Black Entertainment Television) Music Awards. Known as an incomparable artist, speaker, author, businessman and humanitarian, Franklin revolutionized gospel music and bridged the gap between the faith community and mainstream urban music culture. His fusion of the gospel message with hip-hop beats has made him a mainstay atop Billboard charts for more than 20 years.

quinones_john300  Quiñones has literally become “the face of doing the right thing” to millions of fans through “What Would You Do?” A San Antonio, Texas, native, he began his odds-defying journey as a migrant farm worker who, through the life-changing power of education and a lifetime of never taking no for an answer, has emerged as one of the most inspiring keynotes in the speaking world today.

At the Legacy Banquet, Wendell H. Paris Sr. will receive the Mountaintop Award, Isabel Rubio will receive the Call to Conscience Award and Fan Yang will receive the Horizon Award.

Paris became involved in the civil rights movement as a young man enrolled in Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1961. A founding member of the Tuskegee Institute Advancement League, a campus organization affiliated with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, he helped register voters and participated in direct action campaigns in Alabama and Mississippi. Throughout his adult life he has been involved in a leadership capacity in a variety of organizations and efforts that promote not only civil rights, but also economic development designed to sustain communities that are typically comprised of lower-income minorities. He received an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Ministerial Institute and College in West Point, Mississippi in 1978 and the Martin Luther King Jr. Man of the Year Award in 1988. He was named a Charles Bannerman Fellow for Civil Rights and Civic Affairs in 1990. Having accepted the call to ministry, he presently serves as director of membership care and visitation with the New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi.

Rubio serves as executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), a  nonprofit organization that facilitates the social, civic and economic integration of Hispanic individuals and families through its educational, leadership-development programs. A native of Mississippi and a third-generation Mexican American, Rubio was greatly influenced by the changes brought to the state of Mississippi as a result of the struggle for civil rights. Founder of the coalition she now serves, Rubio earned degrees in history and social work and worked in social services for eight years in the greater Birmingham area prior to founding ¡HICA!. She serves as treasurer for the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, as well as on the boards of the Alabama Poverty Project, Alabama ARISE, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Brookwood Medical Center, Regions Financial Diversity Council and The University of Alabama’s Institutional Review Board.

A PhD student in the School of Social Work at The University of Alabama, Yang created an international pen-pal exchange that ultimately evolved into Heart Touch, a vibrant UA community outreach program. Heart Touch collaborates with community partner Tuscaloosa’s One Place to conduct Chinese and Japanese culture lessons, hands-on activities, field trips and pen-pal programs that provide multicultural learning experiences for elementary-aged children whose schools are unlikely to have the resources to provide such enrichment opportunities. The program also serves as a powerful learning experience for its college volunteers. Born of Yang’s heart for unity and social justice, this program is realizing the dream beyond traditional borders to bridge international cultural gaps that are at the root of global conflicts.

Realizing the Dream partner the SCLC will sponsor Unity Day activities beginning at 7 a.m. Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, with the Unity Breakfast at Beulah Baptist Church. Judge Rickey McKinney will be the speaker. The Unity Day march will begin at noon from the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and Beulah Baptist Church. The annual Mass Rally will begin at 6 p.m. at First African Baptist Church. The speaker will be the Rev. David Gay.

Legacy Banquet tickets are $25 for individuals or $200 for a table of 10. Dress is semiformal. Concert tickets are $15. Tickets for both events will go on sale through the Moody Music Building box office Wednesday, January 4, 2017.

Box office hours are 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday; phone (205) 348-7111. For more information about Realizing the Dream activities and events, visit the website at For questions, email

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.


Veteran Network Journalist Digs Deeply in Telling Alabama’s Civil Rights Story at the Sixth Annual Realizing the Dream Legacy Banquet

(Following is a transcript of John Cochran’s speech at the Legacy Banquet in Foster Auditorium, January 17, 2014. Cochran is a native of Montgomery and a graduate of the University of Alabama. The veteran broadcast journalist has worked for both ABC and NBC News.)


I must tell you I was surprised to be asked to speak here tonight. Usually when I come to Tuscaloosa to speak I talk about politics or I tell stories about presidents I have covered. Sometimes I just tell Bear Bryant stories. Those are the ones that go over best. But tonight, it’s different. Tonight we are in Foster Auditorium, for goodness sake. Foster Auditorium, a landmark historical site in the struggle for civil rights.

So, what on earth am I doing here? I was not a civil rights activist. I have always been a journalist, a reporter, and reporters are observers. We only watch and report what we have seen.

And on top of that, I never reported on civil rights stories in my own country. I have only reported on the fight for human rights in other countries, in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.

But I do have some credentials to be here. Because I was lucky enough to grow up in Montgomery, where the civil rights struggle really took off in the 1950s.

I want to talk about some people on both sides of that struggle — people I knew.

First, a woman named Arrie. An unusual name, I suppose. Spelled A-R-R-I-E. I last saw her more than 50 years ago … but I will never forget her.

In the mid 1950s she worked for my family as a maid. She was African-American. Arrie was, I guess, around 50 years old, maybe a bit older. She was an imposing woman, tall, erect. Wore glasses. Always dressed well, especially for someone who did not make a lot of money.

I did not know much about her home life. For the most part, she liked to keep her private life private. She was either divorced or a widow. She had a daughter in high school. She was very well spoken. It was always clear that she was intelligent.

If there is one word I would use to describe Arrie it is … dignified. I have been around presidents, prime ministers and captains of industry. But I have never known anyone with more dignity than Arrie.

So let’s set the stage. It is December 1, 1995. Late in the afternoon a very tired black woman takes a seat on a municipal bus. Her name is Rosa Parks. She works as a seamstress at a downtown store. She is also secretary of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I’m sure you all know her story. The driver orders her to move to the rear. She does not. She is arrested.

She and others in the Civil Rights Movement had wanted a test case in the courts to challenge the state law requiring segregated seating. The federal government had already outlawed segregation on interstate travel. But black leaders wanted not only a test case, they also wanted to test the resolve of Montgomery’s white merchants by putting economic pressure on the white establishment.

Now, let’s look at what the Alabama law said. It basically said passengers had to sit where the bus driver told them to sit. But in actual practice it was not necessary to do this.

Whites knew the custom was for them to sit up front. Blacks knew they were supposed to sit in the back.

But here is where it gets even weirder. There was no line on the bus separating whites from blacks.

A clear line on the floor of the bus would have at least made some kind of perverted sense. But, in practice it was even worse. The custom was that whites, looking for an empty seat, could go as far back as they wanted. And if a white person reached the first row where a black person was seated, the black rider was expected to get up and move to the back.

Just think about that for a second.

You English majors have probably read Ernest Hemingway’s “Movable Feast.” Well, this was a moveable line. And Rosa Parks wasn’t having any of that when the bus driver told her to give up her seat. She had already had a run-in with the same driver some years before. And so, the bus boycott began.

It meant that blacks stopped riding buses, which were their principal mode of transportation. It meant that many of them were not able to get to the white-owned stores to buy things. It also meant that many domestic workers, mostly black women, could not get to work. A young black minister was chosen to lead the boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And that brings us to Arrie. She told my folks that she was going to do anything that Dr. King told her to do. She said that some blacks had formed car pools and she could get a car pool to take her to work in the mornings. But there was no car pool to take her home at 5 in the afternoon. So, she told my folks, it was up to them to find a solution.

And they quickly decided on a solution. Me!

I had just gotten my driver’s license, so every day after I got out of school it became my job to drive Arrie home.

How many of you have seen the movie, “Driving Miss Daisy”? It won an academy award several years ago. In it a black chauffeur played by Morgan Freeman drives Miss Daisy, an elderly white woman. He sits up front to drive; she sits in the back.

That was the way it was supposed to be in the South. Blacks and whites were never supposed to sit together. It was a rule. An unspoken rule, but a rule nonetheless.

So, when I would drive Arrie it was “Driving Miss Daisy,” only with the roles reversed. I was up front; Arrie was in the back. That went on for a few weeks until one day Arrie and I were walking out to the car, and she said, “Johnny, this is damn foolishness. I’m going to sit up front with you.” I said, “Well, all right Arrie. Whatever you want.”

So we would drive first through a white neighborhood, and people would stop and stare. They had never seen this before.

Then we would get to a black neighborhood where Arrie lived and even more people would stop and stare. This went on for a couple of months.

Then, one day Arrie and I had noticed that no one was paying attention to us anymore. People had gotten used to seeing us. The rule was no longer a rule.

But there were plenty of other rules. Let me go back a bit to when I was about 10 years old. Down the street from us was an elderly woman who employed a black maid. The maid had a son about my age and sometimes she would bring her son to work with her. His name was Benny. One day he walked across the street to a park where I played sandlot football with some other white kids. We asked if he wanted to play with us. He said sure, and for several days he joined us.

But one day he was not there.

We asked his mom where Benny was. She said she had left him at home and he would not be playing with us anymore. The woman she worked for had gotten a lot of anonymous phone calls saying we shouldn’t be playing together. The problem apparently was that we were playing a game where we touched each other. We not only touched, but we blocked and tackled, and knocked the stuffing out of each other. It was football after all.

Apparently if we had been playing some other kind of game, like croquet, it would have been OK because there would be no touching. But we did not play croquet in my neighborhood, and I never saw Benny again.

One thing you can say about the Deep South in those days, it was like living as a character in a play by Beckett or Pirandella — the theater of the absurd.

So back to the bus boycott and more theater of the absurd, that invisible but moveable line on buses.

When the boycott started, Dr. King and other leaders had offered a compromise. They said put a real, visible line separating black seating from white so that when the white section was full, then whites would have to stand up instead of taking seats from blacks. The white city fathers turned down the compromise.

A year later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that any segregation on city buses was illegal. There would be no lines, visible or invisible. And from December 1956, blacks could sit wherever they wanted.

It was a total victory for Dr. King, but it did not come easily. Many blacks literally wore out their shoes walking to work or to school. Houses were bombed. Dr. King and others were put in jail. Some blacks lost their jobs because their white employers were vengeful. And some, like Arrie, felt they might lose their jobs but went ahead anyway.

Once city buses were integrated, many whites, not all but many, wondered why they had fought it so long. The unthinkable had become not only normal, but routine.
The same would happen six or seven years later with school desegregation. I was just about to start high school at Sidney Lanier High when the Brown vs. Board of Education decision came down from the Supreme Court. I remember at the time some whites saying the first black kid that steps inside Lanier will be a dead kid. But that’s not what happened.

In Montgomery black and white leaders worked hard to prevent violence and they succeeded. Of course, over time many white parents took their kids out of public schools and put them in white academies. But at least violence was avoided.

And not all efforts at integration were successful. When my younger sister, Mary Ann, was in high school, she heard Dr. King speak and was very much taken with the civil rights movement. I was already living up north. Mary Ann was and is very religious. She has always asked, “What would Jesus do?” And so at the age of 16, she tried to integrate our church. One Sunday morning she took the hand of one of Dr. King’s top lieutenants, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and walked with him up the stairs of the First Baptist Church. An ABC News camera crew was filming what could possibly be an historic moment. High drama, or so it seemed.

But when the church ushers saw what was coming, they shut the doors and one of them said to my sister: “Mary Ann, does your mama know what you are doing? What’s the matter with you? Get on out of here, now.”

And so, with the doors shut, she and Dr. Abernathy retreated in ignominious failure. No history was made that day. But I was proud of her for trying. And she was the lead story on the National ABC News that night. She later spent several years working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was firebombed out of the house where she was living in Tennessee.

Of course, the first attempt to integrate this University also ended ignominiously. You are all familiar with Autherine Lucy, who was actually admitted in 1956 but then was suspended and eventually expelled on the flimsy excuse that her presence endangered her and others. It was not a proud moment for the university or those who loudly protested her admission.
It took seven long years before Vivian Malone and James Hood tried to enroll.

Last year the university marked the 50th anniversary on several occasions and one of the speakers was former Governor George Wallace’s daughter, Peggy. Let’s take a look at Wallace.
I first met him during his first run for governor in 1958. Some of you younger folks may not know it, but in that race he was the nearest thing to a liberal or at least a racial moderate in that race. He did well in the Democratic primary, but lost in a run-off to a man who was backed by the Ku Klux Klan.

At the time the Klan still had some influence. I well remember the first time I drove from Montgomery here. On approaching the Tuscaloosa city limits one of the first signs I saw was one that said, “The Ku Klux Klan Welcome you to Tuscaloosa.”

Now wasn’t that nice of the Klan? That sign stayed there for several years.

While I was a student here, I worked at a downtown radio station that no longer exists. I discovered one day that my boss, the general manager, belonged to the Klan. I was stunned. I told him that I had never heard him say anything racist. He just laughed and said, “Oh. The Klan. I just did that because it’s good for business. I don’t go to their meetings. But some of them have businesses that advertise with us.”

And the Klan was a factor in defeating George Wallace. He decided that in the next election he would play the race card and he did, successfully. He was elected in 1962. I was a student at the time having come back after serving in the Army. I had been stationed at the White House where I wore civilian clothes and worked for President John Kennedy’s press secretary.

My job was a technical one, to make audio recordings of the president and to deal with anything related to audio such as microphones and public address systems.
I’m wandering off topic here, but I want to tell you about the night President Kennedy spoke to a pep rally here in Foster. Kennedy and I were in New York at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Coach Bryant accepted the award for the nation’s best football team. At one point during the banquet, the president, Coach Bryant and I, along with some trustees and famous alumni, went upstairs to a suite where we had set up a telephone line to Foster.

The auditorium was packed with students. Kennedy got on the phone and went on and on about how when he was at Harvard in the 1930s, he followed the exploits of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I was standing beside him and I still have a picture of the two of us. I have sort of a quizzical look on my face. Frankly, I doubted he had spent any time at all at Harvard following the Crimson Tide. But the folks here at Foster loved it.

But now let’s move ahead a year later. I am back in school here. And Wallace has just been elected governor.
One afternoon I was in class at what used to be the Union Building. It’s now Phifer Hall. The Dean’s secretary comes into the classroom and says, “John, you have a call from the White House.” So I went to the Dean’s Office and on the other end of the phone was the White House photographer, Cecil Stoughton. Cecil said, “I just saw a pal of yours walk into the Oval Office.” I said, “Who?” He said, “The president of your school, Frank Rose.” I said we were hardly pals and that he didn’t even know me.

After Cecil and I chatted a bit, I hung up and called Dr. Rose’s office. I smelled a good news story here. I was an aspiring journalist and wouldn’t it be great to break a story like this. I asked President Rose’s secretary if he was in his office, and she said, “No, he is on fundraising trip in Houston, Texas.”

I said I didn’t think so, that he was actually in the Oval Office talking to the president. She said … just hang on a minute. It was more like 3 or 4 minutes and then she came back and said could I get over to the president’s office immediately? The number two official at the University would like to speak to me. He was a very nice man named Jefferson Bennett. He said “John, you love this university, don’t you? And you wouldn’t do anything to harm the University, would you? But if you go public with this it will infuriate George Wallace. If he knows Dr. Rose is meeting with John and Robert Kennedy to discuss how to integrate this school, Wallace will be very vengeful toward the University. And so will some people in the state legislature.”

So, I had to decide between my ambition to be a journalist and loyalty to the university. I think it was a close call for a few minutes, but I decided to keep my mouth shut.

I graduated a few months later, so I was not here the following June when Wallace made his infamous stand in the schoolhouse door. Our master of ceremonies tonight, Culpepper Clark, is the expert on what transpired then. And if you want to learn more I suggest you read his book entitled: “The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation’s last stand at the University of Alabama.”

As you know, Governor Wallace retreated that day and the students were admitted. Vivian Malone is no longer with us. She died in 2005. He sister, Sharon, spoke here last year. She is a prominent doctor in Washington and is married to the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. When I told her I would be here tonight, I asked if there was anything she wanted me to pass on for her on Vivian.

She wanted me to remind you that her big sister’s fight for civil rights did not end when she graduated in 1965.

Let me quote Sharon’s remarks about Vivian:

“The issue of civil rights was a lifelong commitment for her. From her first job in the newly formed civil rights division of the Justice Department to her last job as the head of Civil Rights and Urban Affairs at EPA, she continued the fight for civil rights for all Americans. As a testament to the strength of her spirit and to her continued presence, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, has established ‘The Vivian Malone Jones Legacy Award’ which will be given to an EPA employee who has made exemplary contributions to social justice. And to close this historic arc, to ensure her safety and to protect her civil rights as a citizen of the State of Alabama, required the commitment and active participation of the president and the attorney general of the United States. And today my husband, Attorney General Eric Holder, has the responsibility and the privilege of enforcing those same civil rights. Fifty years has brought about many changes, and although we still have much work to do, I think Vivian would be extremely proud of where we are today.”

Those are the remarks that Vivian’s kid sister, Sharon, wanted to share with you tonight.

The integration of the University was a milestone. That very night President Kennedy went on national television and for the first time promised action on civil rights. He was the first president to say that civil rights was a moral issue. Until that night, Dr. King and other black leaders had been disappointed and frustrated by Kennedy’s reluctance to push for significant legislation. Kennedy did not live long enough to see his proposals become law. As you know, after his assassination Lyndon Johnson managed to persuade a reluctant Congress to pass bills banning discrimination in housing, public facilities, interstate commerce, and perhaps most important of all, a bill guaranteeing the right to vote.

At the time white Southerners were very powerful in Congress. They warned Johnson that if he continued to push for civil rights, then Democrats would lose the South. Johnson said he realized that but he had to do it.

Why did he have to do it? Well, partly he felt he had an obligation to carry out John Kennedy’s program. And as Johnson’s biographers have written, he had long felt that he had to help minorities. As a young schoolteacher in Texas, he saw discrimination not only against blacks but also Hispanic kids.

Recently, some of us who served in John Kennedy’s White House had a dinner on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Because Lyndon Johnson also served in that administration as vice president, his daughter, Lynda Bird, was invited. I asked her if there was an additional reason that her father fought so hard for civil rights.

She immediately said yes, that before he became president, the family had a black man working for them at their house in Washington. He was very close to the family. One night at his home he became very ill and an ambulance was called for. But no ambulance came because he was in a black neighborhood.

Lynda Bird said her father was furious, never forgot it, and when he became president he did something about it.

When you look back at what resulted from the confrontation outside this auditorium, it is quite remarkable. One thing that happened is that it propelled George Wallace into the national consciousness.

I had some more dealings with him and so did my family. My much younger brother was in junior high school with Wallace’s son, George Jr., who as you know later became a politician himself. One day my mother got a call from the school saying my brother had gotten into fight with the governor’s son.

Some years later Wallace was starting his second run for the presidency. I went down to Montgomery to interview him. And when I walked into his office, I said, “I’m not sure you remember me.” He said, “Yeah, I remember you. You’re the guy whose brother beat the hell out of my kid.”

I crossed paths with Wallace several times over the years. In 1972 he was shot and paralyzed in a Maryland suburb just outside Washington. I covered that as a reporter, but privately I also met at the hospital with his second wife, Cornelia, whom I had grown up with. It was a terrible time for them. He was in severe pain and deeply depressed.

But while he was in the hospital in Maryland, he was visited by a black congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm from New York. Here is her account of their meeting. He told her that her supporters would not like the fact that she came to see him. She said she didn’t care what they thought. At that, he cried and cried and cried.

Some years later I was in Montgomery to visit my mother and his third wife called me. She asked if I would come by the governor’s mansion. She said it might cheer him up.

So I did and was taken up to his bedroom where he was in his hospital bed watching the news on TV. The national news was just ending and the local and state news was just starting. I said, “Governor, you want to watch this. I’ll just sit here and watch it with you.” “No,” he said, “I don’t care about this, I only care about national and international news,” and he clicked off the TV set. He still thought of himself as a national political figure even though in reality those days were long gone. He wanted me to tell him the latest in Washington politics and gossip.

We talked for about an hour. I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember we spent a long time talking, of all things, about 19th century European history. Any of you students majoring in history will appreciate this. He loved history, and he started talking about the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. Wallace talked about the diplomats there, Talleyrand from France and Metternich from Austria, and so on.

After a while I felt he was tiring, so I took my leave. But I remember walking down the steps from the mansion and thinking, “Well, that was pretty weird.”

The next time and last time I saw him was when my wife, Barbara, and I were visiting my mother. Wallace was no longer governor. He was divorced and lived alone except for a young black man on whom Wallace was totally dependent.

We spent an afternoon at his bedside in his home. Barbara had never met him, and he spent much of that time trying to convince her that he had never been a segregationist. He rarely looked at me. We had known each other too long and he knew he could not convince me. But I do think his views changed after he was shot.

When he died, ABC asked me to cover his funeral even though it had nothing to do with my job of covering the White House. Wallace lay in state in the Capitol just a few steps from where Jefferson Davis as sworn in as president of the Confederacy. I was just outside with my camera crew interviewing people after they paid their respects. Many were black people who appreciated that in his last term Wallace had put many blacks in state jobs. Finally, one very sophisticated looking young black woman came out. I asked why she had come. She said, “I wanted to see up close the face of evil.”

Before I leave the subject of Wallace, I want to relate to you a story that a well-known African- American, Vernon Jordan, tells. Vernon is a past president of a civil rights group, the Urban League, and is now a prominent lawyer in Washington and New York. He is also known as perhaps Bill Clinton’s closest friend.

Eight years after Wallace was shot, Vernon was shot by a white supremacist. He almost died. The first telegram of sympathy Vernon received was from Wallace.

A few years after he was shot, Vernon was asked to speak in Montgomery at a predominantly black high school. Just before he started to speak, Vernon saw state troopers pushing Wallace’s wheelchair into the auditorium. Vernon went ahead with his speech, which was critical of Wallace’s policies.

After Vernon finished, the Troopers carried Wallace’s wheelchair up to the stage.

Vernon went over to him, and Wallace said, “I can’t get out of this chair, so I want to ask you a favor. I want you to reach down and hug me.” Vernon did. Now I want to quote to you some remarks that Vernon sent me when I told him I would be with you tonight. This is Vernon speaking now:

“This is the absolute, God-honest truth. The former governor of this state, a mean old racist who once stood in the schoolhouse door to keep out the black people, could no longer stand at all. And yet, he wished he could stand — not to set himself defiantly athwart history —but rather to embrace me as a brother. I tell you that was one hell of a transformation.” Those are Vernon’s words. He thought you might want to hear them.

You will be glad to hear that I am moving into the home stretch with my remarks. But since we are celebrating Dr. King’s birthday Monday, I want to talk about his impact that I saw overseas. In Poland in the early ’80s, the Communists declared martial law and imprisoned many anti-communists. During that time I met secretly with some who had escaped capture. They were not discouraged. They knew they would win in the end. They told me, “Look at how long it took Martin Luther King.” And they were right. Seven years later the Communist regime collapsed.

In the mid-’80s in South Africa, the white government also declared martial law. I heard the same things there. “Dr. King overcame. We will, too.” Next to Nelson Mandela and possibly Mahatma Ghandi, I believe he was the person black South Africans most admired.

And in this country Dr. King’s struggles spurred others to fight for women’s rights and gay rights. And how about the disabled? It took a quarter century after the Civil Rights Acts of the ’60s, but after a long hard battle, the disabled in 1990 won their fight in Congress for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Young people may say the battles have all been won. There is nothing left to fight for. Wrong! Here’s just one example. Lately there have been attempts to suppress the votes of minorities. Now there is a fight worth getting into.

And it started all those years ago in Montgomery. So, I am honored to take part in Dr. King’s birthday party. But, as a Montgomery boy, I also want to remember all the people who took part in the historic bus boycott, especially Rosa Parks and my driving partner, Arrie.

I met Rosa Parks once when she was receiving an honor at the White House. I said, “We’re from the same town, Montgomery.” She just laughed and said, “Montgomery… my, my. My, my.”

She eventually moved from Montgomery, ending her days in Detroit. So did Arrie, who had relatives in Detroit. I know that they knew each other in Montgomery, but I have no idea whether they got together in Detroit.

But I like to think they did. I like to think of them in old age, sitting in their rocking chairs, just sitting and rocking, and looking back at their part in how they changed the world.

My, my. My, my.

Thank you.

Realizing the Dream Concert 2013: The Performers

Take 6 

The most awarded vocal group in history (including 10 Grammy Awards, 10 Dove Awards and a Soul Train Award) is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Members are Claude McKnight, Mark Kibble, Joel Kibble, Dave Thomas, Alvin Chea and Khristian Dentley.

Six virtuosic voices unite in crystal-clear a cappella harmony against a backdrop of syncopated rhythms, innovative arrangements and funky grooves that bubble into an intoxicating brew of gospel, jazz, R&B and pop. With praise from Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald and Whitney Houston, the multiplatinum-selling sextet has toured across the globe, collaborated across genres, and is recognized as one of the pre-eminent a cappella groups in the world.

At Walmart’s 50th anniversary celebration, Take 6 captivated the audience with its rendition of the Louis Armstrong hit “What a Wonderful World.” Two weeks later, at the behest of producer Phil Ramone, Take 6 thrilled the audience at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Awards performing with and honoring singer‐songwriter Ben E. King on his classic “Stand by Me.” As a group that knows no musical bounds, Take 6 then brought the house down with its tribute to Woody Guthrie with “This Land Is Your Land.”

Take 6 began in 1980 at Huntsville’s Oakwood College. When they signed to Reprise Records/Warner Bros. in 1987, they took the name Take 6, a play on the Take 5 jazz standard and the fact there are 6 in the group. Their debut album in 1988 won over jazz and pop critics, scored two Grammys and landed them in the Take 6’s debut CD won over jazz and pop critics, scored two 1988 Grammy Awards and landed them in the Top 10 Billboard Contemporary Jazz and Contemporary Christian Charts. Take 6’s 2012 recording on Shanachie is notable because the group returns to its spiritual heritage.

As Take 6 celebrates its 25th Anniversary with a brand new show for the Realizing the Dream Concert, they will share memories of the past as well as reveal what the future holds.

The Aeolians

The Aeolians of Oakwood University began in 1946, the creation of Dr. Eva B. Dykes. The choir has traveled widely, touching the hearts of both young and old. Subsequent conductors include Joni Pierre-Louis, Harold Anthony, Dr. Jon Robertson, Dr. Alma M. Blackmon, Dr. John Dennison, Dr. Ricky Little (a former Aeolian), Eurydice Osterman, Michele Cleveland, Lloyd Mallory, Julie Moore, Norman Crarey, Dr. Wayne Bucknor (a former Aeolian) and the current director, Dr. Jason Max Ferdinand (a former Aeolian).

The Aeolians have performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and other prominent national as well as international venues, more than 200 concerts in the United States, Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands and Canada. Performances at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Dallas (1980) led to an invitation from the Polish SDA Church in Warsaw, Poland, to tour that country.

Aeolian concerts present a repertoire of choral music that ranges from the Baroque era to the 21st century to Negro spirituals and work songs, which express the yearnings of their forefathers to be free as demonstrated in the group’s album “Oh Freedom” (1974), which sold more than 10,000 copies.

Under the direction of Ferdinand and accompanied on the piano by Dr. Wayne Bucknor, chairperson of the music department of Oakwood University, the choir placed first in 2010 and 2011 in the iSing HBCU Challenge hosted by Reid Temple AME Church in Lanham, Md. In December 2011, the Aeolians were presented with the keys to the city of Huntsville with Dec. 3 the day named in their honor.

In January 2012, as part of the Russia-U.S. Bilateral Presidential Commission on development of cooperation between Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama, the Aeolians were invited to sing at the Moscow International Performing Arts Center. Topping off a stellar 2011–2012 performance season, the Aeolians earned gold medals in all three categories of entrance and the overall championship in the Spiritual category at the Seventh World Choir Games held in Cincinnati.