Rev. Abraham Woods Jr.

BCRI Oral History Collection
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00:00:00 - Introduction to Interview

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Partial Transcript: This is an interview with the Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr. for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s Oral History Project. I’m Betty Lee Hanson and I’m the interviewer. We’re recording it at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on April 30, 1998.

Segment Synopsis: Reverend Abraham Woods in introduced.

Keywords: Oral history

Subjects: Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Birmingham, Ala.)

GPS: Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Map Coordinates: 33.516200, -86.813870
Hyperlink: BCRI Homepage
00:00:19 - Family Background

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Partial Transcript: Let’s talk about those early years, Rev. Woods in growing up in Birmingham. You spent all your early years growing up...Did I read that your father was from Pratt City? Tell me a little about that.

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods explains how he and all of his siblings are named after American Presidents; he is named after his father, also Abraham Lincoln Woods. He also details his parents' educational and work background.

Keywords: DuBois, WEB; East Thomas; McWane Pipe Company; Pratt City

Subjects: Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Views on slavery, [Views on temperance, etc.]

00:08:20 - Interest in Black History & Educational Background

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Partial Transcript: Was it because you had his name that made you interested in history, too? Or was it something you got from your family?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods details how taking a course called Negro Makers of History in high school led to his drive to be successful and an awareness of how Blackness affected his life.

Keywords: High School; Parker High School

Subjects: African American history

00:11:42 - The Emotional Toll of Social Segregation & Discrimination

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Partial Transcript: Then, there came a time when you couldn’t play with them anymore, right? Was that typical?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods details the process of being able to play with white kids while young, but being separated once they got older. He goes on to discuss the hurt and anger that resulted from segregation.

Keywords: Anger; Parker High School; Police

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Jim Dandy

00:20:33 - Higher Education Experiences & Brown vs. Board of Education

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Partial Transcript: After I finished school, I announced to them that I was going to go to college. So, I went to Morehouse. While at Morehouse, I came under the influence of Dr. Benjamin Mays. Morehouse gave me a tuition scholarship. Of course, I made plans to attend and of course, I received a letter from them saying that “we have accepted you and we’re giving you a tuition scholarship with the conditions that you continue to make a ‘B’ average, but we do not have dormitory space for you.”

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods details his educational journey and the community reaction to the ruling of Brown vs. Board fo Education.

Keywords: Daniel Payne College; Miles College; Plessy versus Ferguson

Subjects: Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka; Mays, Benjamin E. (Benjamin Elijah), 1894-1984; Morehouse College (Atlanta, Ga.)

00:26:53 - Working at McWane Pipe Shop

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Partial Transcript: After I left Morehouse I went to work at the company where my father worked.

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods discusses working at McWane Pipe Shop, getting badly burned and then moving on to become a janitor as to avoid similar work.

Keywords: McWane Pipe Shop; Phoenix Building

Subjects: Coal ash; Manual labor

00:33:28 - Atlanta Life Insurance Company

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Partial Transcript: I eventually quit, because I wanted to go back to school. I took a job with Atlanta Life Insurance Company. I worked as a Life underwriter for a number of years.

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods explains that he went on to work as a life underwriter at Atlanta Life Insurance Company. It was there that he was called to ministry.

Keywords: Black owned businesses; Daniel Payne College; Ministry

Subjects: Atlanta Life Insurance Company; Miles College

00:36:07 - The Importance of Work Ethic & Religion

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Partial Transcript: We are going to do that. I want two things. These are fascinating stories. Where did you get your work ethic?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods explains how he got his work ethic from his father and the Church.

Keywords: College Hills; East Thomas; Work ethic

Subjects: Domestic work

00:39:26 - Meeting & Working with Fred Shuttlesworth

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Partial Transcript: For example, when did you meet Fred Shuttlesworth? When did you start all that?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods details how he began working closely with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth as a Vice-President of the ACMHR after the NAACP was outlawed in 1956.

Keywords: Johnson, Bernice; NAACP; Sardis Baptist Church; Voter registration

Subjects: Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights; Shuttlesworth, Fred L., 1922-2011

00:46:30 - Committing to Non-Violence in the Movement

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Partial Transcript: How did you buy into non-violence when other people were willing to use violence? What made you buy into non-violence with all these human emotions you are experiencing?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods explains how he and Rev. Shuttlesworth modeled their non-violent methods off of Dr. Martin Luther King's efforts in Montgomery.

Keywords: Miles Hawkins school; Montgomery (Ala.); Non-violence

Subjects: King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968; Montgomery Bus Boycott, Montgomery, Ala., 1955-1956; Tallahassee (Fla.)

00:52:13 - Facing Death with Fred Shuttlesworth

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Partial Transcript: There were deaths happening to a lot of Negroes and some Whites that dared stand up. How did you get the courage to accept death as a possibility for what you were doing, Rev. Woods?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods describes being inspired by Rev. Shuttlesworth to face potential violence with courage and strength. That courage led him to drive to Rev. Shuttlesworth during his attempt to integrate Phillips High School.

Keywords: Courage; Phillips High School

Subjects: Bomb threats; Integration; Violence

00:59:55 - Riding First Class on the Bus

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Partial Transcript: Nobody’s with me. I’m a first class citizen. One morning I decided I was going to ride first class on the bus. They didn’t arrest me when we rode...

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods explains his decision to and actions during a Birmingham bus sit-in. He successfully and safely rode the bus to his destination while sitting next to an angry white man.

Keywords: Bus Sit-in

Subjects: Discrimination in municipal services; Shuttlesworth, Fred L., 1922-2011

01:05:04 - Registering to Vote

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you about when you registered to vote for the first time. How did that come about? These are very momentous things.

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods details how he helped get the community registered to vote by preparing them for the the extensive poll tests. He passed on the first try.

Keywords: Miles College; Poll test

Subjects: Conner, Bull; Voter registration

01:07:25 - Death Threats

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Partial Transcript: Rev. Woods, lets go back to that time. You said you got your courage, A: watching Fred Shuttlesworth and seeing his and then testing it yourself. How far would that courage have extended, you think, if your wife and your children had been [inaudible]? And were they?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods describes how his family was treated, but Rev. Lamar Weaver was the main target as white ally to the Movement at the time.

Keywords: Boutwell; SCLC; Weaver, Lamar

Subjects: Shuttlesworth, Fred L., 1922-2011; Vann, David

01:11:07 - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Comes to Birmingham

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Partial Transcript: So, now these things have happened. Shuttlesworth is working with you and several other people independently. What turned the tide and what made King decide to come to Birmingham?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods details his experience with Dr. King speaking at the SCLC convention before being assaulted by an agitated white man.

Keywords: Drew, Deenie; SCLC; Walker, Wyatt Tee

Subjects: King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968

01:14:42 - Teaching at Miles College & the Role of Dr. Lucius Pitts

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Partial Transcript: I finished Miles in the spring of ‘62 and I asked Dr. Pitts for a job and he gave me a job.

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods describes how he came to work with Dr. Lucius Pitts while he taught at Miles College. Dr. Pitts was one of Dr. King's advisors and Movement planning commonly took place in his office.

Keywords: Bible Education; Conner, Bull; Pitts, Lucius; Voter education

Subjects: Miles College; NAACP; Reese, Carlton

01:23:33 - The Bombing of 16th St. Baptist Church, Demonstrations, and Jail

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Partial Transcript: 1963, obviously the bombing of the church. Do you think that changed everything? Or had it started because of the march in Washington first?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods tells his perspective on what led to the 16th Street Church Bombing. He specifically details the sit-in at Loveman's lunch counter and his experience being jailed as a result.

Keywords: Hooper City; Loveman's; Lunch counter sit-in; Newberry's

Subjects: 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, Birmingham, Ala., 1963; Birmingham (Ala.). Police Department; Birmingham City Jail

01:32:25 - The Use of Children During the Movement

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Partial Transcript: How did you feel about taking the children?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods describes how he did not know children would be involved in demonstrations, but he believes their arrests were an important tipping point in the Movement.

Keywords: 1963; Birmingham City Jail; Hamilton, Hershel

Subjects: African Americans--Civil rights--History--20th century; Children's Crusade; Children's March

01:39:03 - Violence & Counter-Movements

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Partial Transcript: After that. It wasn’t going to be till August, the march on Washington. The bombing of Sixteenth Street was in September. We were going to [inaudible]. We went through some turbulent things.

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods details the tension and anger folks opposed to the Movement felt after the successes of the Selective Buying Campaign and demonstrations. He gives accounts of various events that lead to Birmingham's nickname, Bombingham.

Keywords: Bombings--Alabama; Ku Klux Klan

Subjects: 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, Birmingham, Ala., 1963; Shores, Arthur D. (Arthur Davis), 1904-1996; Shuttlesworth, Fred L., 1922-2011

01:49:39 - The March on Washington

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Partial Transcript: What brought about the decision to march on Washington?

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods recounts the moving experience of attending the March on Washington.

Keywords: Demonstration

Subjects: Jackson, Mahalia, 1911-1972; King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968. I have a dream; March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963 : Washington, D.C.)

01:56:14 - 16th Street Church Bombing

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Partial Transcript: The sick minded folk, the Klan, was not going to let us rejoice. They decided that they would show us, that they would pull the ultimate of horror out of their book. This is when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed on the 15th.

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods describes hearing the Sixteenth Street Church Bombing and arriving to the scene shortly after.

Keywords: Bombing; Dynamite

Subjects: 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, Birmingham, Ala., 1963; Ku Klux Klan

01:58:40 - Resulting Anger, Violence and Police Brutality

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Partial Transcript: When I left there feeling bad, I went down toward my car and there was a group of Black young men with piles of rocks. Every car that passed with a White face they were throwing rocks.

Segment Synopsis: Rev. Woods describes the interpersonal violence and police brutality that ensued after the Sixteenth Street Church Bombing in 1963.

Keywords: Police brutality--United States; Virgil Ware

Subjects: Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (Birmingham, Ala.)