Tommy Wrenn, a long-time civil rights activist and Birmingham foot soldier, died last week. He did more to help me understand the true meaning and spiritual concepts of the Movement more than any book I’ve ever read. It is a shame when living icons leave. But fortunately, he left behind a grio’s legacy of stories and remembrances to touch the next generation of city leaders.
When I first sought to learn about the Civil Rights Movement, Tommy was one of the first people I went to see. He was patient as I stumbled around with all the acronyms he threw out so easily, as if I should be as familiar with them as with the NAACP. Sadly, I wasn’t. I had not taken the time to learn more details about the Movement, nor did I learn much about it in school, despite Alabama’s pivotal role in the Civil Rights era.
No one put the history in context the way he did. And it made me think about what the Movement meant then, but more importantly to me, what it means for the generations who benefited from the huge sacrifices he and others made to make America a country for ALL its citizens.
He relished telling his stories to anyone who came to listen, including students who made pilgrimages to the Civil Rights district and the Historic Fourth Avenue Business District, where his office was located. I mentioned some of his sayings in in a previous post. But you can listen to some of them yourself in these audio clips.
Here are some excerpts from my first — and unfortunately, my only — recorded interview with Tommy Wrenn. May he rest in peace. And may his stories and wisdom from what he learned from the Movement never die.
The Scientific, Spiritual Movement: “For science, you had to study the behavior of your enemy . . . and when you figured it out, you operated on faith to project that which you had discussed . . . We organized a non-violent army. The only difference was between our army and the United States Army was we didn’t have no rifles.” [ti_audio media=”248″]
How the Movement Started: “Fear– that’s what controlled Jim Crow. But when the Spirit come into you, it made you feel like you was a man.” [ti_audio media=”247″]
Racial Insanity: “Insanity produces white supremacy, white supremacy produces racism, racism produces prejudices and it blinds the vision of men. ” [ti_audio media=”249″]
We Don’t Know Our History: “Folks running around here don’t even know what happened because the schools won’t teach it, the home don’t know . . . and the preacher don’t know and won’t ask nobody. See, it’s bad when you don’t know. But it’s a tragedy when you don’t want to know. [ti_audio media=”229″]
Alabama is Holy Ground: “Look at what happened in Alabama (Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma) . . . They changed the policy of the most powerful nations on earth, and didn’t fire a bullet at nobody.” [ti_audio media=”228”]