'We will not be written out of history:' Miles College unveils historical marker denoting Civil Rights Movement role
FAIRFIELD, Alabama - Miles College President George French on Monday told a crowd gathered on the lawn in front of Brown Hall that when he first moved to Birmingham more than a decade ago, he visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
There, he saw over and over again how college students were at the core of the movement, but, he said, "I didn't see the name 'Miles College' anywhere."
"If the story needs to be told, the story ought to be told accurately," French said. "We will not be written out of history."
On Monday, Miles College made sure that its place in the Civil Rights Movement would be enshrined in history. The historically black college unveiled a historic marker on its campus. The marker tells the story of former Miles College President Lucius Pitts -- who encouraged students to participate in the movement and organized meetings with white merchants -- faculty members Abraham Lincoln Woods Jr. and Jonathan McPherson Sr., and former SGA President Frank Dukes.
"With the support of Pitts and faculty members Rev. Abraham Lincoln Woods Jr., and Jonathan McPherson Sr., among others, Student Government Association president Frank Dukes led students in a successful 'selective buying campaign' at department stores and major retailers in early 1963," the marker reads in part. "The term 'boycott' was not used because a city ordinance prohibited the practice."
"He stood up to the establishment," French said Monday, in reference to Frank Dukes, who was in the audience. "He stood up to Bull Connor."
The marker also notes the role of Miles College students and faculty in inviting Martin Luther King Jr. to Birmingham to help lead the campaign here, among several other contributions Miles faculty and students made to the movement.
As part of the festivities - which included multiple performances from the Miles College marching band and the college's choir - French and other speakers recognized the foot soldiers of the movement who attended the unveiling.
"Foot soldiers, this is your day," French said. "We celebrate you. We come to say thank you, for our young people do not really realize that we decide to go downtown and march, or we go to march in Washington over some justice or inequity in 2014, we're not risking our lives.
"But you all risked your lives that we might be here today. You all risked your lives, your careers, your health, your families, and we ought to say thank you."
Alabama state Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, presided over the unveiling.
"You just don't get these markers," Givan said, at one point during the ceremony. "It takes a lot of hard work."
As part of the day's festivities, Miles College hosted its first annual George T. French Sr. Lyceum Speaker Series, which is modeled after the W.E.B. DuBois Lecture Series at Harvard. According to Miles College, the series "will recognize persons of outstanding achievement who contribute to our better understanding of African-American life, history and culture."
The first speaker in the series was U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, who gave a forceful 30-minute talk that encouraged students to learn the history of African-Americans and to represent Alabama well. She called several Alabama cities - Birmingham, Fairfield, Selma, Montgomery - "ground zero" for the Civil Rights Movement.
"I submit to all of you that because we are at battleground zero, that we have a special charge, a very special charge," Sewell said. "And that charge requires us to not only know our history, not only live our history, but to make our own history.
"It is incumbent upon you, the Talented Tenth, to decide how you will pay it forward," Sewell said. "And I submit to you that we have lots of work to do."