A year ago, ABC’s Juanita DeVaughn was honored by Assemblyman Chris Holden and California Black Caucus in a virtual ceremony that may have gone unnoticed because of the COVID shutdown. The account of this in a local news outlet focused on Juanita’s intimate involvement in one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most tragic moments, the bombing on September 15, 1963, that killed four young girls while they were putting on their choir robes at 16th Street Baptist Church:

Juanita De Vaughn was born in Boligee, Alabama, where she began her career as a lifelong educator and civil rights activist. She taught at the Industrial School for Girls and Boys in Alabama and worked as a Dietician at Talladega College and as a Nutritionist for the Headstart program in Birmingham. Active with the civil rights movement, she attended meetings with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, she helped provide the funeral repast meal, secretly pulling from her large resources as nutritionist for 47 schools in the Birmingham school district.1

A few years after that awful tragedy, poet Dudley Randall recreated the emotions of the moment in his poem “Ballad of Birmingham”:2

“Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?”

“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren’t good for a little child.”

“But, mother, I won’t be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free.”

“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children’s choir.”

She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.

The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.

For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?”

Today, in 2022, in communities all over the United States, misdirected activists are confronting school boards, insisting that teachers shouldn’t talk about historic events like this because they may make White children feel uncomfortable!

– Pastor George Van Alstine

1 https://www.coloradoboulevard.net/altadena-and-pasadena-community-leader-juanita-de-vaughn-honored/

2 Dudley Randall, Cities Burning, Broadman Press, 1968.