As a teenager we’d sometimes get called out by Reverend Shuttlesworth because we would be eating things that we should not have been eating in church: dill pickles that were smelly, skins and potato chips making noise in church and he would pick a song and we would all have to stand in front of the church and sing a song because we were not doing what we should have been doing. And you know the end results when we got home.
I was really born up the street, a few houses away. I started coming to Sunday school here. At 10 years old I was baptized here. The pool was right up where the choir stand is today. It was cold but, it didn’t bother me.
Growing up in Bethel as a child was very exciting. Bethel was always a church that was filled up on Sundays. And there were a lot of educators in our church and we had our Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights meetings started right here on Monday nights so we were here every Monday night.
And at that time we had the little fiery Reverend Shuttlesworth. He believed in doing things right for the people. And he led us and we followed him.
We just learned so much about being strong.
The first time we were bombed was on a Christmas night. The Reverend was in bed, and it just tore the structure down, but he walked out, didn’t have a scratch. And I thought as a teenager, who would bomb a church? That particular night, my parents had Reverend and Mrs. Shuttlesworth stay with us at our house. The paper man came the next morning. And when he threw the paper and it hit the house, we all jumped up thinking another bomb
After the first bombing my grandfather turned his front porch into a room to have the watchmen sit and watch the church. They guarded 24/7.
Then the next bomb we had was over on the side of the church. Stonewall Johnson was one of the persons out there. He saw it and he was brave enough to get in and get it away from the church so it didn’t tear the church up.
The very next bomb that we had I was playing for a Christmas program on a Friday night we had rehearsal. That’s when the ceiling came down. The windows blew in and we just went to our knees and my grandfather said, “Just keep your head down, crawl out.” And I didn’t realize it until I got home that my shoes were bloody because my legs were cut from crawling on the glass straight down the side. So they are constant reminders to me about the bombing. But we still had church that Sunday with no windows.
The significance, I think, of preserving any building is to make others that come behind you aware of where you been, aware of the struggles; because it was not written in the textbooks or tell them. So it had to come from people who were actually there.
I try to always tell people when they come here to visit that the significance of Bethel to me was the very light at the end of the tunnel for segregation. We were all in darkness and the light started right up in that pulpit with Reverend Shuttlesworth.