On Dynamite Hill: a shattered childhood - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

On Dynamite Hill: a shattered childhood

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Civil rights attorney Arthur Shores Civil rights attorney Arthur Shores
Residents of Dynamite Hill gathered outside Shores' home after being bombed in 1963. Residents of Dynamite Hill gathered outside Shores' home after being bombed in 1963.
August 21, 1963 issue of a Birmingham Post-Herald reporting the first bombing of Shores' home on Dynamite Hill. August 21, 1963 issue of a Birmingham Post-Herald reporting the first bombing of Shores' home on Dynamite Hill.
September 5, 1963 issue of a Birmingham Post-Herald headlining a second bombing of Arthur Shores' home on Dynamite Hill. September 5, 1963 issue of a Birmingham Post-Herald headlining a second bombing of Arthur Shores' home on Dynamite Hill.
BIRMINGHAM - AL -

Frequent bombings and shootings in the 1960s shook the houses of prominent civil rights attorneys and activists. That area of Birmingham's Smithfield neighborhood became known as Dynamite Hill. The violence shattered the innocence of the children there. But some still call it home.

Anne-Marie Adams took a drive through her Smithfield neighborhood stopping at her childhood haunts.

"That very top floor up there- they had it shut off. We'd be afraid to go up there because we thought the house was haunted," said the Smithfield native of the old Davis off Center Street.

There were days filled with roller skating down the hill, pick up games of football, and Old Maid games. But childhood on the hill was far from simple.

Adams' father had their first racism talk on the way to kindergarten. She was sitting in the car. Her blonde hair was in Shirley Temple curls.

"[He said] you are going to be more rejected because of your color. He said whites are not going to like you because you have black blood. Blacks are not going to like you because you have light skin," she recalled.

In the fifties and sixties, there were rules.

"We were never allowed to play outside by ourselves," she said. "Once the sun went down, everyone went in."

The city had an ordinance preventing black families from moving onto the west side of Center Street. But white flight from the city made houses more available and black families started buying them. When they did, their houses were often burned or bombed.

Civil Rights attorney Arthur Shores took the issue to court and changed zoning laws. He also embarked on desegregating the schools, which made his house target of multiple bombings.

"Vibrations from the dynamite would actually put cracks in the walls," said Adams.

Even young Oscar Adams, son of the Civil Rights attorney and first black Alabama Supreme Court Justice, remembers the 24 hour watches.

"People would do night watches and ride around at night to make sure no dynamite was put under their house, so that was a little scary," he said.

"Sometimes it was successful. Sometimes it wasn't," said Adams.

"Actually a black family built a home on this property and the night before they were supposed to move in, it was mysteriously burned," pointed Adams to a school of Center Street. The family eventually sold it to the school district because no one else would purchase it.

Shores' daughter remembers the bombings and shootings at her house.

"We had this routine to follow as our windows were shot out. You get on the floor and crawl to a safe place. It angered me more than anything else," said Helen Shores Lee.

She and her sister armed themselves.

"She was a majorette, so she slept with a baton under her pillow. I slept with a Colt 45 under mine," said Lee.

Shores' house made headlines in August 1963 then again in September. That bombing injured Mrs. Shores.

Adams was on her first date.

"All of a sudden, my father and one of our neighbors came in the movie to get us out of there because there had been a bombing," she said. "I remember we couldn't park in front of the house. There were a couple thousand people. It was a riot and blacks were all around people's house because they [police] were shooting up here. I guess it was police shooting to keep rioting from breaking loose."

She says one of her neighbors was injured. She and her father had to take another route home.

"We had to crawl up that alley, past three houses and up to the door," she said.

The most terrifying bombing didn't even happen on Dynamite Hill. It took place at a downtown church a few weeks later and killed four girls who were in Sunday school. One of them was Adams' neighbor, 14 year old Cynthia Wesley.

"I was eighteen. I had just gone to college. I had been there one week," she said. "The very last words I spoke to Cynthia were, 'you be a good girl and you be here when I get back.'"

Adams wasn't sure why those were her final words.

Her father had to go with Cynthia's father to the church to identify her body. He later had to tell the rest of the Wesley family.

But it didn't shatter the will of men like attorneys Arthur Shores or Oscar Adams to fight segregation.

"My father stood his ground and said, 'no, this is where his work was," said Lee of her father's determination to never quite even though other family members tried to persuade him to join them in California and Michigan.

"One thing I love about that man [Adams]- he never left his people," said Adams who grew up and married Adams.

Their families never wanted to leave their roots.

Fifty years ago, it was a black and white world. But as children, they didn't realize how stark the contrast was until they ventured off Dynamite Hill. Friday night, we'll share their stories of fitting into a new world at 10.

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