Jesse Champion Sr.

BCRI Oral History Collection
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00:00:22 - Introduction to Interview

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Partial Transcript: This is an interview with Mr. Jesse Champion, Sr. for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute's Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Jesse Champion, Sr. is introduced

Keywords: Birmingham (Ala.); Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Birmingham, Ala.); Champion, Sr., Jesse; Miles College

Subjects: African Americans--Civil rights--History--20th century; Oral history interview

GPS: Miles College
Map Coordinates: 33.4810, -86.9089
GPS: The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Map Coordinates: 33.516200, -86.813870
Hyperlink: BCRI Homepage
00:00:40 - Family Background

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Partial Transcript: I would like to start by asking you some general questions about your family background.

Segment Synopsis: Champion states that he was raised in Dolomite, a community in the Birmingham area, along with seven other siblings. His father lost his eyesight as a result of working in the mines, and his mother had difficulties trying to raise the large family; his mother's first cousin offered to raise Champion, and then took him into her home.

Keywords: Birmingham (Ala.); Dolomite (Ala.); Jefferson County (Ala.)

Subjects: African American families

00:04:37 - The Smithfield Community During the Depression

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me what community you grew up in?

Segment Synopsis: Champion describes the Smithfield community in Birmingham during the Great Depression.

Keywords: Food stamps--Law and legislation; Smithfield; United States. Works Progress Administration

Subjects: Great Depression

00:06:12 - Elementary & High School Experience

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Partial Transcript: You started school at Graymont?

Segment Synopsis: Champion describes the education he received at Graymont and Parker High School, which included learning trade skills along with academics. He explains that he lived at the Woodward Iron Company's housing.

Keywords: Birmingham Public Schools (Birmingham, Ala.)

Subjects: Graymont Elementary School (Birmingham, Ala.); Parker High School (Birmingham, Ala.)

00:09:16 - Music Background & Fess Whatley

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Partial Transcript: And after that, I went to the band and would play in the band as well.

Segment Synopsis: Champion explains how he became a musician and emphasizes the values of precision and punctuality that director and famous musician J.T. "Fess" Whatley instilled into all his students.

Keywords: African American band directors; African American music teachers; Whatley, J. T.

Subjects: A.H. Parker High School Band; Whatley, Fess (Musician)

00:12:55 - Police in Smithfield

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Partial Transcript: Living in Smithfield at the time, teenage young man growing up in Smithfield, what was it like?

Segment Synopsis: Champion talks about how police in Smithfield would enforce a curfew for young, teenage men to keep them out of trouble.

Keywords: African American teenage boys; Police-community relations

Subjects: Birmingham (Ala.). Police Department; Smithfield (Ala.)

00:14:06 - Naval Service & Higher Education

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Partial Transcript: After you finished high school at Parker, what did you do?

Segment Synopsis: Champion states that after graduating from Parker, he joined the U.S. Navy and traveled to California. After a year and six months, he returned to the South to study at Morehouse College. He then transferred to Alabama A&M to study English, and then pursued a post-secondary degree from the University of Notre Dame. He taught at Carver High School, then after graduating from Notre Dame, he taught at Council School in Ensley, Alabama as a social studies teacher and band director.

Keywords: African American band directors; Alabama A & M University; Carver High School (Gadsden, Ala.); Council School (Ensley, Ala.); Morehouse College (Atlanta, Ga.); Sailor; Social studies for schools and colleges; United States. Navy--African Americans; University of Notre Dame

Subjects: African American teachers; Graduate School studies; Undergraduate; United States. Navy

00:18:48 - Arrest & Trial

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Partial Transcript: After four years, I had a run-in with "the men in blue"

Segment Synopsis: Champion talks about the time of his arrest in 1963. He saw a student of his in the back of a white man's car, having been accused of stealing. When Champion went to assist, the student ran and the police arrived with instructions from Bull Connor to arrest Champion. Champion went to trial and was convicted of inciting a riot. After being forced to resign from his job, Champion moved to Flint, Michigan to teach at Southwestern High School.

Keywords: Connor, Bull; Flint (Mich.); Southwestern High School (Flint, Mich.)

Subjects: Arrest--United States; Birmingham (Ala.). Police Department

00:23:49 - Description & Reflections on the Demonstrations

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Partial Transcript: Prior to going to Michigan, did you ever participate in any of the activities that were going on in Birmingham?

Segment Synopsis: Champion details his involvements in the Demonstrations and mass meetings and reflects on why he participated as well how non-violence in the Movement contributed to the resulting changes in society.

Keywords: Mass meetings; Nonviolence; Reflections on practice; Selma to Montgomery Rights March (1965 : Selma, Ala.)

Subjects: Civil rights demonstrations--Alabama

00:28:03 - "The First Black News Reporter" & Birmingham Radio

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Partial Transcript: What was it like being the first Black news reporter?

Segment Synopsis: Champion describes how he returned to Birmingham in 1970 and became a news reporter for WBRC radio, the only Black reporter working for the station at the time. He talks about his experiences of speaking to all-white audiences, and even interviewing Klan member, Don Black.

Keywords: Black, Don; Ku Klux Klan (1915- ); WBRC (Radio station : Birmingham, Ala.)

Subjects: African American radio broadcasters; News radio stations

00:33:04 - Changes in Birmingham & the Mindsets in the Black Community

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Partial Transcript: Tell me, how then do you view the changes over time in Birmingham from when you first came back to teach at Council to the present.

Segment Synopsis: Champion reflects on the changes in Birmingham for the Black community improved significantly, especially for social mobility. He expresses his personal observations that there is currently a societal complacency due to this progress, and he emphasizes the importance of maintaining cultural identity in the midst of integration.

Keywords: African Americans--Housing; Cultural assimilation; Social change

Subjects: African Americans--Race identity; Social structure and social change

00:37:43 - Conclusion of the Interview

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Partial Transcript: Mr. Champion, I want to thank you for coming in and taking your time and sitting with us today and I appreciate it very much.

Segment Synopsis: Conclusion of the Interview

Keywords: Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Birmingham, Ala.); Oral history interview