Wales and the American Civil Rights Movement

John Petts' window - A Gift from Wales
John Petts' window - A Gift from Wales

Only today I discovered that the people of Wales had a remarkable involvement with the American Civil Rights movement. On 15 September 1963 (a fortnight after Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech) a bomb was planted in a Birmingham, Alabama Baptist church and four little girls were killed. The anger round the world was keenly felt by Welsh artist John Petts who resolved to donate a stained glass window to go into the rebuilt church. He enlisted the help of the Western Mail which appealed for subscriptions, the maximum donation being 2s 6d (12.5p today) so no rich person could pay for it all. The people of Wales – especially the children – responded in their tens of thousands and the window was installed in the rebuilt church in 1965.

The event was dramatically captured in Joan Baez’s haunting song Birmingham Sunday (see it on You Tube here) – long a favourite of mine. No other issue has shaped my philosophy, passion for justice, hatred of discrimination and my respect for all men than the Civil Rights movent. I grew up in the 60s with Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter Paul and Mary, Woodie Guthrie and other protest singers and I can still cry with some of the songs and images of the times.

Today was one of my proudest moments in many years – to learn that the people of Wales joined in solidarity and friendship with the black people in the most racially bigoted city in the United States. I was never prouder to be Welsh.

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