Thursday, January 22, 2009

In Honor of Virgil Ware

We're pretty proud of our dad, retired Capt. E. Dan Jordan, proud dad and granddad that he is. Along with his being a loving father and grandfather, and being there for us all these years (even through all our crazy shenanigans), he has also lived an interesting life which includes an illustrious career as a law enforcement officer. That career is highlighted by the decade of the 1960's, the civil rights era, during which my dad and his department, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, shone brightly at moments through some pretty dark days. The events my dad saw firsthand, and were involved in, are part of civil rights history. The infamous day of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, in which four little girls died and which sparked a day of violence and sorrow here in Birmingham, was one day during those days he will never forget.

My dad was just beginning to enjoy his day off when the bomb blasted through the basement of the downtown church building that Sunday morning at 10:22 a.m., September 15th, 1963. He wanted to go immediately to the site but was ordered by Sheriff Mel Bailey, along with every other available deputy and officer, into patrol cars. Rioting and violence were looming threats; reports were beginning to come in of rocks thrown, anger erupting. The day was spent patrolling the city, trying to be a presence in hopes of quelling violence before it broke out. Detective Jordan was frustrated at not being able to be on the scene of the tragedy downtown, but knew he was doing what was needed and following orders.

That evening, though, the dispatcher's voice came over the squad car radio with the request that my dad find a phone and immediately call in. A phone was found, and when Detective Jordan made the call, he was told that there had been one last, tragic death that day--a 13-year-old black male had been shot and killed while riding down Sandusky Road on the handlebars of his older brother's bike. The boy's name was Virgil Ware.

My dad was told to get to the scene and begin the investigation, and he did. The story of what happened to Virgil Ware and his brother James that sad day, and the subsequent search for the killers and the attempt to see justice done, is the story we went to hear my dad tell to a crowd of about 100 people at the downtown Birmingham Public Library yesterday. Virgil died in 1963, and retired Captain E. Dan Jordan is 80 years old now, but we were spell-bound as he told us about Virgil and James; the details of their tragedy are part of a much larger story that, as my dad said, brings hope as we witness the inauguration of the first African-American President of the United States. This helps us see, my dad said, that the deaths of those little girls that Sunday morning, and of young Virgil, were not in vain.

Several members of the Ware family were there yesterday, and a beautiful family they are. That's my dad, second from the left, and James Ware to the right of him. The little guy in the background, looking just over James's shoulder, is Virgil.

I am so very impressed at the graciousness, and the grace that's at work, in this precious family. You can read more about the Ware's story in this 2003 Time magazine article.


Laurie M. said...

What a great story. Thanks so much for sharing it. It's hard for me to grasp what it was like in the south in those days. I grew up in L.A. with children of all races in my schools. For a big part of my school years (4-12th grades) about half of my classmates were black. I grew up with little awareness that race was an issue. A precious thing is, when I was very young (1-3rd) grades, I was a teased and outcast child. The two girls who were my great comfort during those years were little black girls, sisters. I remember in 2nd grade being invited to one of their birthday parties, being the only little white girl there, and being the little pet who they felt sorry for and taught to dance. Those are still sweet memories.

jeri said...

That is indeed a sweet memory. I wish I had some like that, but too many of us, black and white, sat side-by-side in classrooms without really knowing each other as friends outside school. I think that has changed now to an encouraging extent, but still remains too much the case. It's a complex issue. There may be in some ways an unspoken allegiance to each other here (black and white) just because we share a common, difficult history; kind of like siblings who don't seem to interact that much, but just wait til somebody from outside the family messes with one of us...! :)

Not, for a moment, that that's good enough. :(

claire said...

Hello Jeri.

My family and I believe that this is a special, God-ordained time in the earth. A time for Truth. Reconciliation between races. A Time for Truth. Justice. Reconciliation. AND Redemption for all our souls.

Thank you for starting your blog. Thank you for who you are. But, as (if not more importantly) please tell your father than I say THANK YOU. From me. And my elders. And my children. And their children. Tell him THANK YOU.

And, if I can be so bold, I think you and your father are on this reconciliation journey. And I’m blessed to know you through your blog.

Anyhow-- I hope to be in Bham tomorrow to join my former professor with Congressman John Lewis and a congressional delegation visiting three Alabama cities March 6th – 8th. (See:

This evening, while looking for information about Virgil to take to the delegation, I "stumbled" upon you and your father and his story. While looking for Virgil, I found your blog! And, sad to say, even tho I am a native Alabamian, I just too recently learned about young 2005!

But tonite, God kicked in even more. (I don't think God has a problem w/a sense of humor SMILE)

I also "stumbled" on information about the life of another Black young man WHO WAS MURDERED BY BHAM POLICE THE SAME AFTERNOON AS WAS VIRGIL MURDERED.

HIS NAME WAS JOHNNY ROBINSON. (Also spelled JOHNNIE in some news accounts—it’s a shame. I don’t even know his name. Just like one article referred to Virgil ad Virgil WaDe.)


And also see:

So, I’ve written too much already.

I hope that we will correspond frequently.

I hope we will get to meet TOMORROW. At 16th Street Baptist Church. 3:00pm for the Faith and Politics worship service.

I really do hope my son and I will get to meet you and your Father.

And, my hope is in The Lord who does not and cannot fail.

Every blessing~

jeri said...

Hi Claire,

I am so glad you found the article and commented. I read all the articles you linked to and was filled with emotion. Thanks so much for sharing those.

I will definitely send your gracious thoughts and greetings to my dad; he will be very happy.

I was not aware of the Faith and Politics journey, but now I've read about it. What a wonderful experience that must be! I will try to catch coverage of it in the media. I don't watch much television but I did "happen" to see a story not long ago about Elwin Wilson's apology to Rep. Lewis. How beautiful--I can understand your feeling and hope that God is indeed at work, bringing about a wonderful reconciliation through the hope of our risen Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. Amen to it.

I would love to stay in touch with you, Claire. You have blessed my day by stopping by! I will not be able to attend the Faith and Politics service today, but maybe next year, if the Lord is willing. It would be wonderful to meet you and your son.

Many blessings on this special day.

jeri said...

Claire (and any others interested!),

Here is a link to a recent interview with retired Capt. E. Dan Jordan (my dad) about Virgil Ware:

claire said...

Hello Jeri,

Last weekend was a blessing. I have not processed it all. It's in my spirit but my soul and body haven't caught up! I will write more next week.

Suffice it to say this: I think it is absolutely amazing how God is setting the stage for us to return to God. To reconcile with one another. To speak TRUTH. Do justice. Love mercy. And walk humbly. The prophet Micah said it. We humans are getting another chance to live it. TO HEAL. And way The Lord is orchestrating all this truth-telling fascinates me more and more.

As I said earlier, I'll write again later this week. Just wanted to touch bases with you, your family, and especially your father.

I simply cannot get over Capt. Tanner's story. I am touching actually history. Me! I am so blessed, and I must do much with this blessing, this opportunity to know-- and who knows?--help correct some mistaken ideas about a very critical time in our country's history. I don't remember--Has your father written a book about his experiences? We all have stories; I'm a listener and story-teller myself :)

Another of my recent acquaintances is the son of the Bishop of the Alabama Episcopal Diocese during that time the six children were murdered. His name was Bishop Carpenter. He was one of the Bham clergy who wrote Rev. King and to whom Rev. King responded in his now famous LETTER FROM THE BIRMINGHAM JAIL. I've learned from the Bishop's son, Doug Carpenter (a retired Episcopal Priest) that the historical record does not correctly portray his father (either). Bishop Carpenter, according to Doug, advocated and (did what he could-- in his mind) supported of Black people’s being equally treated, in all spectra of society. (Is the plural form of spectrum "spectra" or "spectrums"? LOL) Doug further says that his Dad disagreed with Rev. King on tactics. Not objectives. I'm just now reading about that, too. But my gut believes Doug.
Ps When telling memories about his father, Doug reflected that at his retirement celebration, his father (the Bishop) presented everyone with toy kangaroos...and told them they were members of the “Order of Kangaroos"! I think that’s what sold me—and don’t ask me why I got hooked by a bunch of kangas! SMILE

Gotta go.
Every blessing to you all~


claire said...

Hello Jeri,
My regards to you and your Dad.

every blessing~

jeri said...

Hi Claire--hope all is well with you and your family. I will certainly pass on your regards to my Dad.

God's grace and blessings to you.