Monday, July 22, 2013

Lola Haynes Hendricks: Activist and Leader in the Birmingham Movement

Recently, we lost a civil rights stalwart and a great lady.  Mrs. Lola Haynes Hendricks (1932-2013) served as corresponding secretary of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) during the turbulent Birmingham Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Mrs. Hendricks was a native of Birmingham, so she knew firsthand what Birmingham justice looked like for Black Birminghamians during that time. Unsolved bombings across the city were commonplace as several neighborhoods in Birmingham transitioned from all-white to racially mixed.  Two pivotal events in her road to activism were the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 and the castration of Judge Aaron in Birmingham in 1957 (White 2002).  Both of these victims were Black men. These incidents convinced her to get involved in the new organization for civil rights in Birmingham.

Hendricks first learned of the ACMHR through her church, New Pilgrim Baptist Church.  Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a local minister, organized the ACMHR in 1956 to pressure white leaders to address civil rights issues in Birmingham following an injunction preventing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from operating in the state of Alabama.  He was joined by a group of young ministers and a few community leaders, such as W.E. Shortridge, local funeral home owner, and Rev. Nelson Smith, pastor of New Pilgrim Baptist and Mrs. Hendricks' pastor (Manis 1999, 95, 99). Since many of the mass meetings were held at her church, Hendricks began to participate and saw the ACMHR as a way to fight for equal rights in the city.  Eventually, Hendricks' husband Lincoln, their children, and her brother-in-law became foot soldiers in the fight against Jim Crow in Birmingham (Eskew 1997, 233).  

Once Hendricks got involved, she served in a variety of capacities, including the membership committee, investigations committee, and as the person responsible for keeping Rev. Shuttlesworth's calendar.  She also served as assistant corresponding secretary for the organization.  In an oral history interview with the author, Hendricks recounted her experiences working late into the night at the home of Mrs. Lucinda Robey to record memberships for the organization. She had a deep respect for Mrs. Robey, and often referred to her as her idol in the Movement. Mrs. Hendricks also talked about the many incidents of violence committed against Blacks and how she, Rev. Shuttlesworth, and others would pile into a car and speed to the scene to investigate.  When the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) came into Birmingham in 1963 to increase the pressure on the city's white power structure through nonviolent direct action campaigns, Mrs. Hendricks worked directly with Wyatt Walker and Andy Young to help them develop their plans for protests and the citizenship education program.  Mrs. Hendricks also played a central role in publicizing the Birmingham campaign beyond Alabama through her East Coast speaking tour with Carl and Anne Braden of the Southern Conference Education Fund in 1962.  This brought her in contact with the young Angela Davis who learned of the movement in Birmingham at their Brandeis speaking engagement.  Hendricks remained involved in the ACMHR and the civil rights struggle in Birmingham through the 1970s and 1980s         (White 2002).

Hendricks made a considerable contribution after the Birmingham Campaign as one of the people committed to collecting and preserving the story of the ACMHR and the local movement.  She volunteered with the Oral History program at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), working with Dr. Horace Huntley to capture the stories and experiences of those who had risked their lives for social change and racial equality. Mrs. Hendricks devoted countless hours to assisting researchers and providing first-hand accounts of her courageous stand against segregation and discrimination in Birmingham. 

Lola Hendricks was a devoted activist, leader, mother, church member, interviewer, volunteer, and chronicler of  Black citizens' determination to end racial segregation and discrimination in Birmingham.

Selected Sources:  

Eskew, Glenn T. 1997. But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Manis, Andrew Michael. 1999. A Fire You Can't Put Out: : The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham's Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

White, Tara Y. 2002. "Black women in the civil rights movement, 1954-1963: women of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights in Birmingham, Alabama." M.A. thesis, State University of New York College at Oneonta. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Another Birmingham Civil Rights Giant Transitions: Lola Haynes Hendricks

I met Mrs. Hendricks when I was selected to participate in the Young Scholars internship program at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI).  Mrs. Hendricks was a fixture at BCRI and spent most of her time telling the story of the Movement through tours, public programs and through the Institute's Oral History Program that my former professor, Dr. Horace Huntley, directed.  As I worked on more and more programs, I got to know Mrs. Hendricks personally.  She was a very bright woman and a tireless worker.  Her determination to make sure that she documented the stories of the Movement was unmatched.  She was critical in making sure that  the stories from participants and activists of the ACMHR and the Birmingham Movement were recorded, documented and preserved. As the former ACMHR corresponding secretary, she also helped to identify archival collections and organizational papers that were useful to historians studying the civil rights revolution in Birmingham.

My relationship with her took a turn one day at the former WENN radio station.  She and I were there to promote upcoming BCRI programs.  As we waited for news director Bennie Myles to complete her segment before our interview, Hendricks told me that she had heard that I was on my way to graduate school.  I told her that I was excited about the new opportunity, a little hesitant about my pending move to upstate New York, and at a loss for what I would study once I arrived in Cooperstown.  Without batting an eyelash, Hendricks told me that I already had a topic for my masters thesis.  Stunned, I looked at her and asked her to continue.  She then TOLD me that I would write my masters thesis on the women in the Birmingham Movement.  In typical black Southern fashion, I said "Yes ma'am" and we kept going.  I did not question her request (demand??).  Once I got to Cooperstown, I immediately told my professors that I had a topic and started the research.

During the course of this project, Mrs. Hendricks did not waver in her commitment to assist me with completing the thesis for my M.A.  She gave me the same focus and dedicated assistance that she gave to every project.  She made contacts and cajoled, fussed out, pleaded and flattered to get former activists to talk to me.  And, she gave of her own time, months on end, to review, revise, correct and explain things that I did not understand.  She was kind and warm, and I remember many days meeting her in her lovely Center Street home to review the latest.  Sometimes, there were meals but there were always words of encouragement and a commitment to seeing the thesis project through.   Over time, we talked about life and adulthood ( I was every bit of 25!) and she had advice there, too.  I was one of her children and I looked forward to visiting BCRI and seeing her beautiful smile and those deep dimples in her cheeks! She was precious to me then and she remains so.  My very last conversation with her was after she got her Alzheimer's diagnosis.  She was worried about it but was determined to do whatever she could "before it all went away." From time to time, I would ask others about her.  I got an opportunity to chat with her daughter Audrey in 2007 about her before her untimely death.  Mrs. Hendricks was a lovely lady, a jewel, really.  And I am grateful that she chose me to tell her story and the stories of the countless women leaders of the Birmingham Movement.

HENDRICKS, LOLA H. passed away on May 17, 2013 at the age of 80. Interment will be held at Elmwood Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2013 at 11 am. A Memorial service will follow at 12 noon at New Pilgrim Baptist Church. Davenport & Harris directing.

Published in The Birmingham News from May 21 to May 22, 2013

Links to other stories about Hendricks' death:

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tribute: Dr. Yvonne Kennedy (1945-2012)

The State of Alabama lost a trailblazing political leader and educator this December.  Dr. Yvonne Kennedy was an educator, former college president, state legislator, civic and organizational leader.  Among the first wave of Black political leaders to reap the benefits of civil rights activism in Alabama, Dr. Kennedy was first elected to the Alabama state house to represent the city of Mobile in 1979.   In addition to her political office, she served as the president of Bishop State Community College in Mobile.  Dr. Kennedy held many titles and positions, but I am sure that serving as the 19th National President of her beloved Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was among her top honors.  Dr. Kennedy was on her way out of office when I was initiated into the same sisterhood. It was an honor for me to come into the sisterhood circle during the presidency of a fellow Alabamian.

Since Dr. Kennedy wore many hats, I could have made this a very long tribute.  I decided, however, to allow her friend, self-described "homegirl," sorority sister, and fellow public servant, the Honorable Alexis Herman, to do the honors. I placed the video of former Secretary Herman's tribute to Dr. Kennedy above this post.

Links to other tributes to Dr. Yvonne Kennedy:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fearless and Very Outspoken: Mrs. Lucinda Brown Robey, civil rights activist

Southern Courier, 1967

Mrs. Lucinda Thelma Brown Robey (1910-1975) was a local educator, civic leader and civil rights activist.  Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1910, Robey grew up in the Titusville community.  After graduating from high school in 1929, Robey became an elementary school teacher in rural Covington County, Alabama while pursuing a degree at the historically black State Teachers College in Montgomery.  She left Covington County in 1935 and returned to Birmingham to work as an adult education teacher with the Birmingham Public Schools.  In 1941, Robey graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in education from State Teachers College. Robey did graduate work at the George Peabody College in Nashville and Florida State University in Tallahassee.  She married fellow educator Bruce B. Robey in 1942.

Robey’s exceptional education career spanned more than four decades, which included experience as a classroom teacher and as a principal.  She served as principal of Inglenook Elementary, Dudley School, Forty-Second Street School, and Moore School in Birmingham. In 1956, she was elected “Teacher of the Year” by a panel of leading citizens in Birmingham for her leadership, excellence, and commitment to education.  Later, she was selected “Principal of the Year” by the Birmingham Progressive Education Association for the 1967-68 school year.

Jet Magazine, October 1971
A lifelong civil rights activist, Robey was a steadfast member of the Birmingham branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  She was the youth director for the branch and later became NAACP youth director for the state of Alabama.  She helped to establish youth councils around the state and advised youth chapters at Miles College and in the Titusville community.  In June 1956, Robey became a founding member of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), and the only woman listed on the organization’s charter. Her fearlessness and bravery earned her the respect of her male minister colleagues of the ACMHR, and inspired other female movement workers.   In addition to working as a key movement strategist, she also served as youth director and organist for many of the nightly mass meetings.

She exemplified leadership in community organizations, and her affiliations were impressive.  Robey was a former chairperson of the black Eighth Avenue YWCA and co-chair of the public relations committee for the Community Chest in Birmingham.  She also served as chair of her local delegation to the Alabama State Teacher’s Association, the professional organization for the state’s black teachers, and as a board member of the Birmingham Negro Teachers Association. Robey, a former basileus of the Birmingham chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, also served her sorority as regional marshal and national board member.

Lucinda Robey was a steadfast, active Baptist woman until the end of her life.  She succumbed to a heart attack during the meeting of the National Baptist Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress in Birmingham in 1975.  Upon her death, church leaders, civic leaders, educators and civil rights activists from around the country celebrated her leadership, public service, and commitment to equal rights.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Famous Alabama Black Women

Most of us know famous black women who either hail from or adopted Alabama as home.  One of the most famous names is Rosa Parks.  But, do you know that Coretta Scott King was an Alabama native? Margaret Murray Washington, third wife of Booker T., wasn't born in Alabama (she's from Mississippi), but she did her most important work in Alabama.  Although the famed writer would call Eatonville, Florida her home, Zora Neale Hurston was born in Alabama.  So were writers Margaret Walker Alexander and Sonia Sanchez.  Activist and scholar Angela Davis is from Alabama as well.  The list goes on and on and on for these wonderful women.  Finally, I know this is reaching, but the mothers of three of my all-time favorite musicians were from Alabama: Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Karen Clark-Sheard (and her sisters, the Clark Sisters). I'm sure I can find more.  We've also produced several famous political women, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman.  Let's also not forget the current Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Regina Benjamin, hails from Alabama; so does freshman Congresswoman Terri Sewell.  Whether it's because of or in spite of, Alabama has produced some phenomenal, historical black women.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chaka Khan I'm Every Woman

Black Women in Alabama

"Only the BLACK WOMAN can say "when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me." ~Dr. Anna Julia Cooper

Since they landed in America, Black women have held a precarious position within American society.  From the enslavement period through the twenty-first century, Black women have been identified with and defined by their race and their gender.  Power relationships often dictated how they were defined by others.  Many times, for example, they had no control over how they were depicted.  At other times, however, Black women were historical agents, actively creating and carefully constructing the images that they wanted others to see.

I hope to tell the stories of black women from a variety of socioeconomic levels and to show how their lives were shaped by the dynamics of race, class, and gender in Alabama and vice-versa.  Sounds so academic... I want to present historical black women from Alabama--women who had an effect on their communities, raised families, worked jobs, served in churches, taught school, worked as domestics, were seamstresses, cooks, nannies, nurses, housewives, but whose lives were important.