Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Colonel Stone Johnson: Local Civil Rights Legend

Bethel Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala.
Photo from Wikipedia
Colonel Stone Johnson calls himself a "foot soldier" of the civil rights movement. He took on the job of security detail for Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth during the early days of the civil rights struggle when Birmingham, Alabama was dubbed "Bombingham." It was not until I was an adult that I heard the story of Mr. Johnson picking up a smoking bomb from the steps of Bethel Baptist Church and tossing it into the street before it could do harm. I wrote the following poem in the afternoon of the same day that I heard the story. As a relatively comfortable white person growing up in the South, I cannot presume to know what Mr. Johnson's experience was at the time, but these are the words I came away with.

To Colonel Stone Johnson
(and all who fight for justice, freedom, and peace)
By Charles Kinnaird

I heard he once picked up a smoking bomb
And threw it off the steps of Bethel Baptist Church.
Why did he take the risk?

It was not to save bricks and mortar
That he risked his own safety.
Bricks and mortar are easily replaced.

It was not in defense of faith.
Faith has already survived much harsher assaults.

Was it to save a life?
I don't know that anyone was in the building.

What he did do was to prevent
Yet one more insult
Against a downtrodden people.
He caused there to be one less act of degradation.

It was to say,
"This is one act of hatred
That will end in the street
Rather than on someone's doorstep."

It was an act of faith
That the chain of hatred can be broken;
That the cycle of violence can stop.

It was a sign of hope
That there will be other days
When someone will say,
"Not today.
There will be no violence today."


Note: I met Mr. Johnson a few years ago at a dinner in his honor. Fred Shuttlesworth was the keynote speaker and I had been invited to read my poem. I presented Mr. Johnson with a copy of my poem. The curator for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute requested a copy to be placed in the archives there. 



  1. This is a profound piece of work. I hope you don't mind, but I shared it on Facebook.

  2. incredible poignant poem, it gave me chills
    thank you for writing such touching and profound words


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