Birmingham’s Foot Soldiers for Justice

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A tribute to foot soldiers in the Birmingham movement is on the plaque and in the scene depicted in this sculpture at Kelly Ingram Park.
A tribute to foot soldiers in the Birmingham movement is on the plaque and in the scene depicted in this sculpture at Kelly Ingram Park.

Normally on Crime Capsule, we’re interested in criminals who end up in jail against their will. The kind who never planned to get caught, who bungled the job, or who got outfoxed by a wily lawman.

This week, we’re looking at a different kind of criminal.

As May and June are the anniversary months of the 1960s Freedom Riders, pouring into the South from across the country, we wanted to honor those men and women (and children at the time) who were unjustly imprisoned, who voluntarily entered detention centers, and those who pursued civil disobedience in search of a greater justice. We’ve already explored some of this history in Mississippi; thanks to journalist and historian Nick Patterson, we’re now able to meet some of the “ground troops” of the Birmingham civil rights movement, those who fought bravely and sacrificed dearly to bring equal rights to their community—and yet, in the shadow of more prominent figures of the era, whose stories might have been lost.

In his book Birmingham Foot Soldiers: Voices from the Civil Rights Movement, Patterson introduces us to over a dozen key activists, organizers, and citizens from the Magic City, telling their stories in riveting detail—some of which have never before been told in print. Here at Crime Capsule, we’re proud to offer a different kind of jailhouse lineup, a photo gallery of those whose time in lockup, protesting segregation and a racist regime, succeeded in changing not just a city but a nation.

LEARN MORE: Discover the Birmingham Children’s Crusade, where kids faced down racist cops in Birmingham’s Foot Soldiers

“Fred and Ruby Shuttlesworth, on the frontlines of the Birmingham civil rights movement, were assaulted while trying to integrate city schools. In 1956, his home attached to his church, the Historic Bethel Baptist Church, was bombed by Klansmen.”
“Fred and Ruby Shuttlesworth, on the frontlines of the Birmingham civil rights movement, were assaulted while trying to integrate city schools. In 1956, his home attached to his church, the Historic Bethel Baptist Church, was bombed by Klansmen.”
“Ira Sims was a child soldier in the Birmingham civil rights movement, jailed for his participation in anti-racism demonstrations, and went on to fight for his country in Vietnam.”
“Ira Sims was a child soldier in the Birmingham civil rights movement, jailed for his participation in anti-racism demonstrations, and went on to fight for his country in Vietnam.”
“As a teenager, Gloria Washington Lewis-Randall had a harrowing experience in jail when she was arrested during the Children’s Crusade, including defending fellow female activists from sexual assault by on-duty officers.”
“As a teenager, Gloria Washington Lewis-Randall had a harrowing experience in jail when she was arrested during the Children’s Crusade, including defending fellow female activists from sexual assault by on-duty officers.”
“Myrna Carter Jackson—arrested and jailed multiple times for peacefully protesting—strives to educate students today, including those at her alma mater of Parker High, about their heritage and the struggles required to win their rights.”
“Myrna Carter Jackson—arrested and jailed multiple times for peacefully protesting—strives to educate students today, including those at her alma mater of Parker High, about their heritage and the struggles required to win their rights.”
“He volunteers at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute today, but Clifton Casey says he fell into the fight against segregation ‘by accident.’ He was one of thousands of activists who stuffed local jails to their breaking point, a deliberate tactic by movement organizers.”
“He volunteers at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute today, but Clifton Casey says he fell into the fight against segregation ‘by accident.’ He was one of thousands of activists who stuffed local jails to their breaking point, a deliberate tactic by movement organizers.”
“A fellow member of the Children’s Crusade, jailed and mocked for his protests, as an adult, Ray Goolsby shares the wisdom he gained during the movement with school kids and visitors to the Civil Rights Institute from around the world.”
“A fellow member of the Children’s Crusade, jailed and mocked for his protests, as an adult, Ray Goolsby shares the wisdom he gained during the movement with school kids and visitors to the Civil Rights Institute from around the world.”
“Terry Collins went from being a youngster protesting regular police harassment to working in the office of Birmingham’s mayor after segregation. Image by Bill Ricker, courtesy of Terry Collins.”
“Terry Collins went from being a youngster protesting regular police harassment to working in the office of Birmingham’s mayor after segregation. Image by Bill Ricker, courtesy of Terry Collins.”

Read more: Civil Rights & Social Justice History Resources

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