Freedom Week


freedom weekBeing a city of freedom is a vision that can inspire us to serve as a national leader for Veterans Day, Civil Rights, and freedom.

By Dr. David Dyson

Three Freedoms Live in Birmingham, Ala.—two are already national distinctions:

1. Freedom of Life and Liberty—provided by veterans, first responders, and families.

2. Freedom of Civil and Human Rights—provided by civil rights foot soldiers, including many veterans.

3. Freedom of Callings and Choices—free to be our best selves as individuals and collectively as a city and state.

We should take none of these freedoms, nor Birmingham’s distinctions for advancing them for granted, or risk losing them—again. In 2003, the U.S. Congress credited another city and state for founding Veterans Day, reportedly having the idea in 1953, seven years after Birmingham’s Raymond Weeks proposed National Veterans Day to General Eisenhower. One reason for the loss: only an estimated 1% of our state’s citizens knew Veterans Day started here. Last year, Patriotism in Action chose a calling: restore the legacy of Raymond Weeks and Birmingham as founder of Veterans Day, brand Birmingham and Alabama for this national distinction, help educators teach students this history with Alabama school character traits like patriotism, courage, and perseverance, plus boost tourism and convention commerce.

Veterans Day

We shared with the U.S. Senate through Senator Jeff Sessions these facts and photos. In 1945, Birmingham City School graduate and WWII veteran Raymond Weeks returned home with a calling: America should have a National Veterans Day to honor all veterans and perpetuate peace—and it should start in Birmingham, Ala. In 1946, Weeks gained endorsement for his concept from General Eisenhower at the Pentagon. On Nov. 11, 1947, during the first two-day national celebration here, Eisenhower sent a telegram stating he hoped what Birmingham was doing, emphasizing the World Peace Dinner and “respect for the rights of all,” would spread throughout the nation. Seven years later, President Eisenhower signed into law Veterans Day as a national holiday.

In 1982, President Reagan introduced on national television Raymond Weeks of Birmingham, Ala., as “an American patriot” and “the driving force” for Veterans Day, then pinned on him the Presidential Citizens Medal. The photo is shown on the cover of Patriotism in Action, which features the story of starting Veterans Day in Birmingham and offers 10 character traits as a resource for teachers and students. COL Stretch Dunn (USA Ret.), who helped me write the book, moved to Birmingham because it is “veteran-friendly.”

Senator Sessions called with good news: the U.S. Senate passed a resolution recognizing Raymond Weeks for starting Veterans Day. The resolution states, on Nov. 13, 2012, the U.S. Senate “recognizes Birmingham, Ala., as the home to the first and longest running celebration of Veterans Day.” The official legacy has been restored—if we use and keep it.

Since 1954, expanding the annual traditions, Birmingham has honored the National Veteran of the Year. Honorees include General Omar Bradley; Brigadier General and film star James “Jimmy” Stewart; Brigadier General Charles Lindbergh; Astronaut Neil Armstrong; and more than 60 others who have visited Birmingham, many for their first time, to receive the National Veteran Award. One honoree, General Charles Krulak (USMC Ret.), stayed in our city to serve as president of Birmingham-Southern College. He serves on our Freedom Week steering committee.

Civil Rights

In 2013, National Veterans Day honors The Tuskegee Airmen, WWII heroes of flight who fought for America’s freedoms even before America had given them their full freedom of civil rights. Accepting the award at the banquet Nov. 10 will be Lt. Col. James Harvey (age 90), a “Top Gun” who will travel from Colorado. Movies like The Tuskegee Airmen and Red Tails tell the story of these African-American heroes who trained in Alabama to fight for America.

Freedom Week

Birmingham is benefitting from synergistic thinking and cooperative action, and Freedom Week is a result. After I shared with John Hornsby news of the U.S. Senate Resolution, and he heard plans for “50 Years Forward” at Rotary Club, John shared his concept: Birmingham is uniquely distinctive for Veterans Day, Civil Rights, and the shared value of freedom. Hosting Freedom Week would strengthen Veterans Day and promote our Civil Rights heritage and institutions. Life Leaders decided this was the right idea to expand what we started in 2012 to brand Birmingham for starting Veteran Day. At the National Veteran Award Banquet, Mayor Bell invited me to visit him to discuss how we could brand Birmingham as a “Top Five City” known for Veterans Day. John joined me at that meeting early 2013, introduced his concept, and Mayor Bell shared ideas for Veterans Day, Civil Rights, and freedom. John and I visited General Krulak about Freedom Week—he responded by writing a great article advocating Birmingham as  the “Freedom City” instead of the “Magic City.”

Freedom Week will be held from November 5–11.  Mayor Bell will join us at the Patriotism in Action Tribute to the Founder of Veterans Day at the Raymond Weeks Monument in Linn Park, Sunday, Nov. 10, 4:30–5 pm (free). The National Veteran Award Reception and Banquet follow.  On Nov. 11, Veterans Day presents the Memorial Service, JROTC Competitions, World Peace Luncheon, and parade. On Nov. 7, a new event presents Personal Leadership for Patriots at the Southern Museum of Flight to honor veterans (displays an exhibit of The Tuskegee Airmen).

Also during Freedom Week, guests can worship at the historic 16th Street Baptist Church, learn at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, see the new statue honoring “The Four Little Girls,” and walk the Civil Rights Trail. Programs at schools and civic clubs will add education, inspiration, and thought about an improved future. These and additional events should make the week of Veterans Day the largest ever, add a partnership with Civil Rights commemorations, and support a positive national perception for Birmingham to encourage convention and visitor business. To receive information about the more than 21 events and attractions planned for Freedom Week, as well as reports on progress and plans, visit www.FreedomLives.org and share your email address. With more friends of freedom, this program will succeed and results next year will grow and improve.

Several cities have claimed to have started Veterans Day. Several cities claim to be the birthplace of Civil Rights. Yet, Birmingham is the only city that has led the nation on both fronts—the callings of both are based on freedom. A recent internet search for “Magic City” showed the top result as an adult club in Atlanta. We agree with General Krulak: It’s about time for Birmingham to be the “Freedom City” instead of, or at least in addition to, “Magic City.” Being a city of freedom is a vision that can inspire us to serve as a national leader for Veterans Day, Civil Rights, and freedom. We can be a national leader in teaching the history of Veterans Day and Civil Rights. We can be our best selves, fulfilling our unique callings individually—and collectively as a city emerging as a national leader.

Dr. David Dyson serves as director of Freedom Week, a program presented by Life Leaders, a 501 (c)(3) organization. The Freedom Week Steering Committee consists of John Hornsby, chair;  Dr. David Dyson, director; Terry Slaughter, web site and public education advertising; Malena Cunningham, news and public information; and George Yeager, treasurer.

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