Shattered Glass in Birmingham traces the experiences of a white northern family during the climax of the civil rights movement in Alabama’s largest city. Recounted primarily from Randall Jimerson’s perspective as one of five children of Reverend Norman C. “Jim” Jimerson, executive director of the Alabama Council on Human Relations, the narrative explores the public and private impact of the civil rights struggle. Based on extensive archival research as well as oral histories, Shattered Glass in Birmingham offers the reader a ground-level view of prejudice, discrimination, violence, and courage.
In 1961 the Alabama Council on Human Relations charged Rev. Jimerson with the critical task of improving communications and racial understanding between Alabama’s black and white communities, employing him to travel extensively throughout the state to coordinate the activities of Human Relations chapters across Alabama. Along the way, he developed close working relationships with black and white ministers, educators, and businessmen and served as an effective bridge between the communities.
Rev. Jimerson’s success as a community activist was due largely to his ability to gain the trust of both white moderates and key figures in the civil rights movement: Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Lucius Pitts, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, Rev. Andrew Young, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He represents the hundreds of people who worked behind the scenes to help achieve the goals of civil rights activists.
After Klan members killed four young girls in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in September 1963, Rev. Jimerson preserved several pieces of stained glass that had blown out of the church’s windows. Similarly, Shattered Glass in Birmingham offers us a fresh and important perspective on these climactic events, supplying one of the many fragments that make up the complex story of our nation’s fight for civil liberties.
Randall C. Jimerson, professor of history and director of the graduate program in Archives and Records Management at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, is the author of The Private Civil War: Popular Thought during the Sectional Conflict and Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice.