African American Public Relations Corporation

Exalting a positive image of African Americans

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr.

Rev. Abraham Woods Jr.;
MLK-Era Rights Leader
By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 10, 2008; B05

The Rev. Abraham Woods Jr., 80, a civil rights leader in Birmingham, Ala., who stood behind the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial, died of complications from cancer Nov. 7 at Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham.
Rev. Woods, a founder and longtime president of the Birmingham chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, began his civil rights work in the mid-1950s, working with the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth as well as with King and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy.
After Alabama outlawed the NAACP, Rev. Woods and his brother, the Rev. Calvin Woods, along with Shuttlesworth, founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights.
In the spring of 1963, Rev. Woods led the first sit-in at a department store in Birmingham. Shuttlesworth and the Woods brothers invited King to Birmingham to help push for an end to segregation and unfair employment practices.
They were arrested for violating a judge's order against demonstrating, as was their sister, Lottie Woods Hall, and hundreds of other nonviolent demonstrators.
King penned his "Letter From Birmingham Jail" while incarcerated.

In a 2005 interview with the Greenville (S.C.) News, Hall recalled hearing King preach an Easter sunrise sermon at the jail. "I climbed up a high wall and looked out. Dr. King, my brother and other men were out in the court-way in the rain, and Dr. King was preaching."

The ministers had been worshiping in their cell, she recalled, "and I guess the police got mad at them, and they put them out."

On Sept. 15, 1963, a few weeks after the March on Washington, a bomb exploded at Birmingham's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls. Rev. Woods left his own church and was among the first to arrive at the scene. "The smell of dynamite, kids screaming, and some people cussing and swearing threats. . . . It was a tremendous, traumatic experience," he told the Greenville newspaper.

"It felt like something was swallowing your heart. You said to yourself, 'If they wanted to kill somebody, why not kill us, the so-called leaders? Why do this to the church and these little innocent girls.' "

Later that week, Rev. Woods preached at the funeral of another child, an African American boy shot in the back on the afternoon of the bombing. "He was throwing rocks, and was shot . . . with a shotgun when he started to run," Rev. Woods recalled.

In 1993, Rev. Woods pushed the FBI to reopen the bombing case, which resulted in the convictions of former Ku Klux Klansmen Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry.
"I felt very good about that, because something within me could have some satisfaction and rest because I was bothered down through the years, as long as the other assailants escaped the bar of justice," Rev. Woods said in the 2005 interview.

He also pushed to integrate law enforcement in Birmingham and was instrumental in the 1979 election of Richard Arrington, the city's first African American mayor.
In 1990, he protested the exclusion of minorities and women from Shoal Creek, a private golf club in Birmingham. The controversy was resolved when the club agreed to admit a black insurance executive as an honorary member, nine days before the PGA Championship.
The Rev. Abraham Lincoln Woods Jr. was one of 11 children born in Birmingham to the Rev. Abraham Lincoln Woods Sr., a Baptist minister, and Maggie Woods, a homemaker and housekeeper.
He said his involvement in the civil rights movement was inspired in part by what he learned in a black history class in high school. "It gave me a great sense of pride and self-esteem. I came to believe that I certainly was much more than what the Southern way of life had tried to portray me," he told the Greenville News.
Rev. Woods received an undergraduate degree in theology from Birmingham Baptist College, an undergraduate degree in sociology from Miles College and a master's degree in American history from the University of Alabama.
In 1968, he became the first African American to teach history at the University of Alabama. He also taught history at Miles for 41 years, retiring in 2002.
He became pastor of St. Joseph's Baptist Church in 1967 and was still serving at the time of his death. He stepped down as president of the local SCLC in 2006 and passed on the presidency to his brother Calvin.

Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Marian Ann Woods of Birmingham; seven children; four brothers; four sisters; 18 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.


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