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Shattered Glass in Birmingham

My Family's Fight for Civil Rights, 1961-1964

Randall C. Jimerson

Publication Year: 2014

Shattered Glass in Birmingham traces the experiences of a white northern family during the climax of the civil rights movement in Alabama's largest city. Recounted primarily from Randall Jimerson's perspective as one of five children of Reverend Norman C. "Jim" Jimerson, executive director of the Alabama Council on Human Relations, the narrative explores the public and private impact of the civil rights struggle. Based on extensive archival research as well as oral histories, Shattered Glass in Birmingham offers the reader a ground-level view of prejudice, discrimination, violence, and courage.

In 1961 the Alabama Council on Human Relations charged Rev. Jimerson with the critical task of improving communications and racial understanding between Alabama's black and white communities, employing him to travel extensively throughout the state to coordinate the activities of Human Relations chapters across Alabama. Along the way, he developed close working relationships with black and white ministers, educators, and businessmen and served as an effective bridge between the communities.

Rev. Jimerson's success as a community activist was due largely to his ability to gain the trust of both white moderates and key figures in the civil rights movement: Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Lucius Pitts, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, Rev. Andrew Young, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He represents the hundreds of people who worked behind the scenes to help achieve the goals of civil rights activists.

After Klan members killed four young girls in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in September 1963, Rev. Jimerson preserved several pieces of stained glass that had blown out of the church's windows. Similarly, Shattered Glass in Birmingham offers us a fresh and important perspective on these climactic events, supplying one of the many fragments that make up the complex story of our nation's fight for civil liberties.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Although told primarily from my own perspective, this is truly a family memoir. It incorporates stories and memories from my mother and father, my sisters Ann and Sue, and brothers Paul and Mark. I thank each of them for allowing me to retell their stories through my own point of view. Ann...

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pp. xiii-xviii

Jesus has no face. Looking at the damaged stained glass window, this detail shocks him. Most of the church windows have been blasted out completely, but in this tall centerpiece window only a few bits of glass have been shattered, including the face of Christ. Almost as soon as he notices this, he shifts his focus back to the wider...

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1. A Difficult Decision

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pp. 1-13

“But Daddy, if things are really that bad, we have to go!” When Ann said this, I knew we would be leaving Virginia. She was only nine, almost ten, and Dad couldn’t say no to her. For several months, November 1960 to March 1961, Dad and Mom had been debating whether he...

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2. Yankees in Virginia

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pp. 14-24

I had just goen used to Virginia when Dad decided to drag us all to Alabama. One evening I was lying on the family room floor, propped on my elbows, watching TV. Mom was behind me, ironing a basket of shirts and dresses. Balanced on the end of her folding ironing board was a glass Pepsi...

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3. Heart of Dixie

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pp. 25-33

All that summer, when I wasn’t thinking about baseball, I was thinking about moving. Dad would start his new job in Alabama on August 1, 1961. By the end of the school year in June, Mom had already begun the familiar rituals of cleaning, sorting, discarding, and packing. This time I was old...

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4. A Challenging Job

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pp. 34-50

Moving a family of four young children 750 miles away from their support network of relatives and friends must have added tremendous stresses to my parents’ lives. Mom had never liked the abrupt uprooting of frequent relocations. Now she was in a distant and dangerous new state, a two-day...

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5. Searching for a Church Home

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pp. 51-64

“Tell us about how you met Mommy!” we would o#en ask Dad. The story became a family favorite, a romantic tale of love and destiny. We children understood that we would not have been born if Mom and Dad had not met, had not decided to join their futures together. Dad would begin: “I went back to Ann Arbor to finish my degree, then took...

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6. Welcome to Klan Country

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pp. 65-76

Our problems in finding a church congregation that would welcome a civil rights minister and his family began a long, painful experience of ostracism and exclusion. In Birmingham even talking about race could lead to social rejection. Suspicious glares. Whispered conversations. Backs turned. Anonymous...

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7. Threats and Intimidation

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pp. 77-89

The ominous presence of the Ku Klux Klan soon became personal and inescapable for our family. As late as December 27, 1961, Dad wrote to Alabama Council Vice-President Nat Welch of Auburn: “I have not had any crank phone calls. I had expected that it would only be a maer of weeks when I...

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8. A Good Samaritan

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pp. 90-104

“Hey, Randy, did’ja hear? Mike got shot?” Monday morning. I was walking to school. One of the younger boys in the neighborhood ran to catch up to me. He said my best friend had been shot. “Yeah . . .” I mumbled. I was confused. Who would shoot Mike? Why? Would he die? I didn’t want to let on that I didn’t know something this important...

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9. Brother Mark

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pp. 105-118

As the constant tension of threatening phone calls, social ostracism, and potential danger created intense stress, Mom found comfort in two things: an informal network of white women supporting integration and civil rights, and anticipation of a new baby, due in late July 1962, approximately one year...

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10. Eye of the Storm

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pp. 119-126

Mark’s birth had marked the end of our first full year in Alabama. As a family, we had grown accustomed to experiences almost unimaginable twelve months before. Telephone hate calls. Death threats. Church ministers and congregations asking us not to worship with them. Epithets of “commie” and...

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11. State of Alabama v. Norman C. Jimerson

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pp. 127-140

Few people outside the state of Alabama had heard of Talladega in 1962. It was a typical sleepy southern town, far from the big-city bustle of Birmingham, the political center of Montgomery, or the civil rights symbolism of nearby Anniston. The Talladega Superspeedway would not be built until...

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12. Behind the Scenes

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pp. 141-151

By late 1962, racial tensions in Birmingham had built pressure that threatened to explode. People used different clichés: a powder keg waiting for a spark, a match near a short fuse, sitting on a case of dynamite. But for us, it felt like a pressure cooker, with steadily increasing intensity and no sign...

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13. Family Time

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pp. 152-158

Although Dad poured his energies into civil rights concerns with intense missionary zeal, he sometimes paused to catch his breath. His work and travel meant that for long stretches Mom by herself had to tend to five children, including a young infant, take care of the household needs of a growing...

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14. Peacemaker in Birmingham

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pp. 159-172

The “Year of Birmingham” began inauspiciously. The importance of Birmingham’s civil rights revolution of 1963 couldn’t be predicted as the year began. Fearing the loss of support from southern Democrats, President John F. Kennedy rebuffed appeals for a dramatic gesture to mark the centennial of...

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15. Celebrities

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pp. 173-179

The world had flocked to Birmingham for the big showdown over segregation. Dad met with more journalists and writers than he could remember, including some already famous and others who would later become household names. One school-day a#ernoon during the April 1963 demonstrations, Dad...

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16. Gaston Motel

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pp. 180-195

As the Birmingham campaign continued during April and May of 1963, the police—under the on-scene control of Bull Connor—used trained attack dogs to control the crowds. Images of police dogs snarling on their chains, lunging at demonstrators, and ripping their clothes appeared repeatedly in television...

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17. Summertime

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pp. 196-204

The excitement and tension of Birmingham’s spring 1963 civil rights campaign eventually gave way to summertime exhaustion. The entire community seemed to need rest and time to catch our breath. For the Jimerson children summer meant, as well, a constant effort to escape the oppressive Alabama...

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18. September 15, 1963

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pp. 205-216

The inspirational optimism of the March on Washington soon gave way to the harsh realities of Birmingham’s racial climate. The negotiated settlement of the spring and summer mass demonstrations quickly proved only temporary. Project C and the children’s crusade gained some small concessions in...

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19. Four Funerals

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pp. 217-225

In the aftermath of the bombing, reporters from all over the country converged upon Birmingham for the funerals of the young victims. National and international attention focused on the four young girls brutally killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. The loss of innocent young lives...

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20. How Many Deaths Will It Take?

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pp. 226-239

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the murders of Virgil Ware and Johnnie Robinson, the beginning of a new school year blurred past me. Ninth grade at Homewood Junior High, with not even the hint of integration. I was there but I wasn’t there. My...

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21. Nigger-lover

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pp. 240-253

In the first few weeks following the assassination of President Kennedy, my father wrote at least two letters to the new president. In the first letter, he urged President Lyndon Johnson to honor the slain president’s memory by pushing the Civil Rights Act through Congress. Kennedy had supported such...

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22. Leaving Alabama

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pp. 254-266

The pressure and harassment of working for civil rights in Alabama had become overwhelming for my father. He knew he needed to leave before he succumbed to stress. Moving back north would solve another problem. Mom had always regretted being so far from her family in Pennsylvania, and...

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pp. 267-276

I have told these stories of my family’s experiences during the civil rights struggle in Birmingham from my own perspective as a teenager. Fifty years a#er these events, it is time to hear from each of the Jimerson children about the impact and meaning of our individual—and very personal—engagement...


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pp. 277-280

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Note on Sources

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pp. 281-284

A historical era as complex and controversial as the twentieth-century civil rights movement cannot easily be compressed into a single volume, nor understood from one specific vantage point. The “long” civil rights era in the United States surely dates from the first introduction of African slaves...

Principal Sources

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pp. 285-286


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pp. 287-297


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pp. 1-8

E-ISBN-13: 9780807154380
E-ISBN-10: 0807154385
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807154373

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 8 halftones
Publication Year: 2014