Column: History is happening now, and you and I are in it together

Published 2:43 pm Friday, March 1, 2024

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By Rev. Dr. Allen J. Sims Sr. | Pastor at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church

I was recently called to the stage at Clanton’s Conference and Performing Arts Center to receive a medal and certificate from the West End Neighborhood Watch Association. The organization recognized local history makers at its “Celebrating our Own” award ceremony on Feb. 18, 2024. To say that I am honored to be among them may sound trite or clichéd. It is most certainly not.

Clanton is home to me. I lived there with family and extended family during some of the most significant years of my childhood. I lived in the West End. Because I was born in 1964, when the events of the Civil Rights movement were coming to fruition in places like Clanton, I was among the inaugural cohort of first-graders to attend desegregated schools.

Clanton is where my faith took root. At Union Missionary Baptist Church, I attended Sunday School and Cub Scouts meetings, sang in the Youth Choir, and belonged to the Crusaders youth group. It’s where I was baptized — and where I would preach my first sermon.

Sitting at the edge of the Lay Dam bridge, hoping for a fish to tug on my line and looking out over the water, I never imagined that I would one day stand behind the pulpit where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stood, looking out over the sanctuary of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.

But there was someone in my life who showed me the value of persistence and the wisdom of hope. My grandfather, John T. “Chief” Sims Sr. was an educator who taught high-school agriculture for more than twenty years. But he had his eye on another position in the community. In 1983, after multiple, unsuccessful campaigns, he was finally elected to Clanton’s City Council, becoming the first Black citizen to serve there.

As I sat in the Clanton’s Conference and Performing Arts Center, alongside my wife Marcellar, I turned the pages of the event program and found a part of my family’s history I had never seen before. There, I found images of my uncle, John T. Sims Jr., on the basketball court and football field of Chilton County High School. A few years older than I, he was among the first of his generation to integrate high school classes as well as athletics.

The photographs were accompanied by a tribute to my late uncle, penned by his classmate Larry Mahaffey, who wrote: “It was John that would remind me that (playing sports) was a life-changing decision because of the prevailing attitudes toward integration and segregation during that time. … (History has) proved that the will of the state, to advocate for segregation forever, was not the will of God.”

Pay attention. History is happening now. You and I are in it together.