60 years later: City council apologizes to Shreveport church, BTW students

The Shreveport City Council offered formal apologies this week for violent encounters involving Shreveport police and civil rights activists following the bombing of a Birmingham church that killed six people – including four little girls – in September 1963.

The council approved Resolution 17, formally offering an apology to the members of Little Union Baptist Church and their descendants for an incident on September 22, 1963, as the nation observed a national day of mourning and local chapters of the NAACP across the country held memorial services.

“That day, resistance to justice and equality became a reality for all as displayed by Shreveport City Police in an act of sacrilege and desecration when they rode horses inside the newly renovated church sanctuary up and down the aisles, leaving a trail of horse manure before grabbing Reverend Harry Blake and savagely beating him outside the building,” the resolution reads.

Rev. Harry Blake, who was the president of the Shreveport chapter of the NAACP at the time, survived and went on to serve as pastor at Mt. Canaan Baptist Church for more than 52 years, retiring in 2018. The icon in the Civil Rights movement passed away in April 2020.

The next day, students at Booker T. Washington High School were attacked and beaten by Shreveport police officers as they marched in peaceful protest of Rev. Blake’s beating.

“The students were met by Police Chief George D’Artois and a mob of armed officers on foot and in squad cars. The students were ordered back to school but stood their ground in protest for the beating to Reverend Harry Blake on Sunday, September 22, 1963,” reads Resolution 18.

“When the children refused to turn back, police brutally attacked them with batons and teargas,” the resolution continues. “Students frantically ran from officers and returned to the campus of Booker T. Washington, police attempted to enter the school and proceeded to attack Principal R. H. Brown and several teachers as they attempted to protect the students.”

Several students and teachers were arrested and taken to jail, including Rev. H. Calvin Austin, who was charged with inciting a riot, unlawful assembly, and disturbing the peace. After spending 45 days in jail, Austin was expelled from Booker T. Washington High School by the Caddo Parish School Board and banned from attending public school in Caddo Parish and surrounding areas.

The resolution notes Austin was forced to complete his senior year of education in the City of New Orleans. In 2005, then-Caddo Parish school superintendent Ollie Tyler presented Austin with a high school diploma from Booker T. Washington.

“The City of Shreveport owes an official apology to the students of Booker T. Washington High School, led by Reverend H. Calvin Austin for the treatment they received at the hands of officers and employees of the City of Shreveport.”

Councilwoman Tabatha Taylor sponsored the apology resolutions during Tuesday’s meeting, saying those involved maintained their bravery in the face of danger.

Source: ArkLaTexNews by, Alexandra Meachum