By Shawna Bray
Shortly after arriving at school on May 2nd, 1963, Raymond Goolsby, a junior at Huffman High School in Birmingham, snuck out and hurried to be a part of something much bigger than he was. He became part of the first group of children to pour out of 16th Street Baptist Church and into the streets to fight for civil rights in what would later be known as the Children’s Crusade.
“As a kid growing up I saw the things that I couldn’t attend or go to and I knew something, I knew it wasn’t right. I knew something wasn’t right,” Goolsby said.
Each day prior to that, he made his way to school and pondered why he was not treated the same as the white kids were. It seemed so unfair. Even at such a young age, Goolsby knew he was not treated with equality. The Civil Rights Movement and meeting The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. magnified his feelings and he knew he wanted to get involved.
“Well I was kind of concerned because I wasn’t really all together,” Goolsby said, “but I met Dr. King, he came and stood right beside me just before we went out, and after he got through I had no doubt in my mind I was doing the right thing.”
The march, which started at the 16th Street Baptist Church, was planned to stretch 10 miles long. However, the first group barely made it across the street to Kelly Ingram Park — a whites only park at the time — before being attacked by fire hoses, dogs and police officers.
At the time, parents were scared to march because they would be fired from their job immediately. As a result children stepped in to help their parents by marching. Despite the childrens’ good intentions, some parents of the marchers had mixed opinions about their children participating in something so dangerous.
“[My parents] didn’t say one way or the other, but I think I surprised them by going,” Goolsby said. “I called my mother [and] she said, ‘I know where you are. I saw you on TV.’ She knew where I was and she didn’t oppose to it per se.”
Goolsby’s role in the protest was to be a decoy so the other groups could make it downtown. He was on 6th avenue, and others were on 2nd and 3rd. He was stopped by police and then jailed for five days. After being released from jail, the senior class that year was denied their prom.
At an age when kids should be innocent and carefree, Goolsby and thousands of others like him silenced their fear to prove segregation would not be tolerated.
“When you see children marching … see that it would have not been successful had it not been the children’s march,” Goolsby said.
Childrens’ ability to comprehend they were being treated unfairly, showed the conditions of the time. However, it was then-Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor’s reaction that got people’s attention.
“When Bull Connor turned fire hoses and dogs on children, that got people’s attention, more than anything that had occurred before,” said Doug Jones, an attorney who prosecuted two of the 16th Baptist Church bombers.
“The kids were taken to the street in a nonviolent way and Bull Connor put fire hoses and dogs on them to keep a segregated way of life,” he said. “It just was out of control.”
Right after those events occurred, U.S. President John Kennedy appeared on TV and made it clear that civil rights was a priority.
“I knew it was special, especially as we went to jail and heard about the other thousands that were behind us,” Goolsby said, looking back on it. “And I knew from the movement meetings that we would attend, and the bombing that happened in Birmingham unsolved, that this was something of great magnitude, you know, and that made us just that much more determined.”
When reflecting on the Civil Rights Movement, it is evident that the Children’s Crusade was one event that produced other activities within the Civil Rights Movement. The children’s endless bravery helped people realize how far the country had strayed from justice.
“Well I think [the Children’s Crusade] had a direct impact [on the movement]. Direct,” Goolsby said.
Through the eyes of such a painful story, a happy ending lies.
“When you see today people around the world who march for freedom… and they are singing freedom songs — “We Shall Overcome” — that comes right back to Birmingham, there is no question,” Jones said, “that heroics and courage of the children who faced down Bull Connor can never be underestimated.”
Children today are allowed to live a carefree life, enjoy the company of whomever they choose, and not be confined by the color of their skin. They are the triumph of the Children’s Crusade.
“I still think we have a long way to go … It’s still a struggle, but we’ve made great stride,” Goolsby said. “I’ve come to realize that there are white people just as supportive of us being integrated. Back in the day all we said was we don’t want anybody to give us nothing, something given to you is not worth having. You need to be given the opportunity, that’s all,” Goolsby said. “That’s why I got three sons and I tell them study hard, get your lesson, and when you’ve got the credentials you can go anywhere, you know you have opportunity to go anywhere you want to go.”
The Civil Rights Movement will always be part of Goolsby’s story, and all he has to do is take a look around to be reminded how far Birmingham has come.
“I live right across from the park… and I can stand at my window and see all this history all over here 50 years later,” Goolsby said, “but I think that we made tremendous progress, tremendous.”