Class of 1963 Birmingham Prom: A Celebration 50 Years in the Making
(The Root) — Ethel and Eugene Arms have three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Now, after 49 years of marriage, the Birmingham, Ala., couple have something they’ve waited on for 50 years: prom memories.
The Ullman High School sweethearts didn’t go to the prom in 1963, because for students who attended black high schools in Birmingham, there wasn’t one. In May 1963, hundreds of these students had protested for civil rights as part of the Children’s March — facing fire hoses, dogs and police with clubs. Many went to jail, and several were kicked out of school.
Officials at the time canceled senior proms and several other school activities, for safety reasons, they said. Students said the cancellations were punishment aimed at those who dared to stand up to protest segregation laws.
Neither Ethel nor Eugene Arms marched in the Children’s March, but they were supportive, Eugene said. “I attended rallies. I worked, and I contributed money, but I yielded to my mother’s wishes and didn’t march,” he said. “But just because you didn’t march doesn’t mean you didn’t face discrimination or experience the denial of rights and privileges.”
The year 1963 was a turning point in the South, but the changes did not come without sacrifice. People were beaten. Churches and residences were bombed. Images from Birmingham were shown around the world, raising awareness of the intense grip of segregation on blacks and forcing the courts and the government to yield to the call for human and civil rights.