Birmingham Children’s Campaign

Meeting hatred with nonviolence, 1963.

This song is dedicated to Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of UMBC (the University of Maryland in Baltimore County). It tells the true story of his encounter with Bull Connor during the Children’s Crusade.

Words and music by Sarah Pirtle, © 2009 Discovery Center Music, BMI

Lyrics

Birmingham, 1963. 

Dr. King still in jail. We must not fail.

We launched the children’s campaign.

Yes, I was afraid.

But I was walking with the ones who came before.

 

I was marching down the street singing, “Freedom.”

Walking with the ones who came before.

I was in my Sunday best. I knew I would face a test.

I must put my feet on freedom’s shore.

 

“We were singing, “Freedom.” We were singing, “Freedom.”

Walking with the ones who came before.

I was twelve and I dared

to walk up and kneel in prayer.

I must put my foot on freedom’s shore.

 

Then Bull Connor blocked the way.

The chief who tried to stop us. 

Walking with the ones who came before.

Bull’s voice rang like a drum.

He growled at me, “Why have you come?”

I must put my foot on freedom’s shore.

 

We were singing, “Freedom,”

We were singing, “Freedom,” 

Walking with the ones who came before.

Right in front, standing by,

I looked him eye to eye.

I must put my foot on freedom’s shore.

 

Bull said -- “Stay in your place.”

He spat on my face.

But I was walking with the ones who came before.

All across the sky I knew who was standing by

when I put my foot on freedom’s shore.

 

I told him -- “I am here for my freedom.

Freedom, freedom,” I say.

Call it faith, call it fate,

I have the power not to hate.

For I am walking with the ones who came before.

 

Birmingham, 1963

Dr. King still in jail. Oh, I did not fail.

We launched the children’s campaign.

Yes, I was afraid.

But I was walking with the ones who came before.

 

My name is Freeman.

My name was heaven sent.

My name is Freeman,

Now I’m a college president.

I’m still walking,

I’m still walking with the ones who came before.

Recorded 2016 at the Winter National Gathering of the People's Music Network.

About this Song:

A little known moment helped push the world further towards positive change. Freeman was in the front of the line at age twelve during the Children's Crusade. When Bull Connor spat upon him and asked what he was doing there, Freeman had the presence of mind and the depth of heart to actually answer. He said, "I am here for my freedom." That caused a ripple within the soul of the world.

The summer of 2007 I was inspired to hear Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski speak when he was a commencement speaker at my son’s college graduation. As President since 1992 of the University of Maryland in Baltimore County he brought the college to become a powerhouse in science, engineering and mathematics. Here is his favorite quote that he shared in his talk.

Watch your thoughts,
For they become your words.
Watch your words
For they become your actions.
Watch your actions
For they become your habits.
Watch your habits
For they become your character.
Watch your character,
For it becomes your destiny.

Rev. James Bevel organized hundreds of school students in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 2 and May 3, 1963, to protest the arrest and jailing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As Wikipedia recounts,"Many kids escaped from their school in order to be arrested, set free then arrested the next day.”

Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski carries the name of his grandfather, also Freeman, who was never enslaved. As he told those assembled for graduation, those decisions to take part in the crusade, to lead the line, and to stand up to Bull Conner shaped the rest of his life. During that time, he was jailed for almost a week. He went on to be named by TIME magazine as one of the ten best college presidents.