The Challenges and Triumphs of Foot Soldier Jeff Drew

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Jeff Drew was one of the first black students to attend what was then Ensley High School in Birmingham. It was all white, and for students like Drew, it wasn’t easy. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a close friend of Drew’s father. King often used the Drew home to meet and sometimes spend the night during the civil rights campaign. Growing up in that family environment helped shape Drew.

The 66-year-old businessman recently spoke with WBHM’s Sherrel Wheeler Stewart about the triumphs and the struggles of those days.

Growing up on Dynamite Hill:

“Terrorism’s nothing new to me. Dynamite Hill is all rock. So when the bombs were thrown at Uncle Arthur’s House, [civil rights attorney] Arthur Shores, we could feel the concussion up here easily. So much so that it bounced me and the television set right up off the floor.”

Marching in the Movement:

“You gotta remember we wanted to march. We wanted to go to jail. It was a badge of courage to say, ‘I’ve been to jail, or I marched.’”

Encouragement for Activism from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

“‘Nephew,’ he says. ‘Go round up some of your buddies. We’ve got to integrate these high schools, otherwise these white folks are going to think we don’t want integration.’ Back in those days, we would have jumped off the Empire State Building if he said jump.”

Challenges of Integrating Schools:

“We were spat upon. We had bubble gum in our afros. We got cut from the football teams. We were not allowed any intramural activities whatsoever. They told us they didn’t even have a junior/senior school prom, which was a lie.”

Today, Drew runs an insurance company downtown. He says he wants the youth to know the sacrifices others made before them to pave the way.

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