On December 11, 1954, Charles Patrick drove to downtown Birmingham to buy a Boy Scout uniform for his son. Christmas traffic around the downtown department stores was heavy, and Patrick circled unsuccessfully until at last a streetside spot opened up and he began to pull in. As he did so, he was cut off by a woman who ordered him out of the way, as she was the wife of a city police officer. Patrick pulled away, remarking, “Ma’am, he doesn’t own the streets of Birmingham.”
Normal low-level urban hassle? Not in 1954 Birmingham, when the woman was white and Patrick black. The woman reported to her husband that a black man had sassed her, and Patrick was summarily arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, and placed in a cell where he was beaten by the husband and another police officer.
Usually that would have been the end of it, but Patrick was not the sort of man to meekly endure an injustice. He found an attorney, went to court to fight the charges, and brought his assailants to justice--as whites, blacks, politicians and the press offered public support.
This book tells the story of Patrick’s quest for justice in segregated Alabama on the eve of the civil rights movement and represents a telling instance of the growing determination of African Americans to be treated fairly, part of the broadening and deepening stream of resolve that led to the widespread activism of the civil rights movement.
“Dorsey has written a story that needs to be told; the account is interesting and even compelling.”
—Marlene H. Rikard, Samford University
“There are few essential volumes on life as lived in Alabama in this period written by African Americans. One longs for word from this silent realm and therefore cheers this offering from Ms. Dorsey. . . . The author has answered for the reader how Charles Patrick came to take such a heroic stance to challenge the abuse of Birmingham police.”
—Cleophus Thomas Jr., Attorney at Law, Trustee Emeritus of The University of Alabama
“Patrick did not intend to become a civil rights pioneer, but a minor dispute over a parking spot led to his arrest, beating while in custody, and eventual legal tribulations. His daughter's account of his ordeal is well researched, beautifully narrated, and extremely informative. Historians will find great value in mining the details from Dorsey's fine book. . . . The book offers indisputable evidence that the beating her father endured was just one example of routine police brutality against African American--incidents that almost always went unpunished. . . . [Speak Truth to Power is] an intimate, hauntingly personal view of white supremacist terror and black resistance in the South following World War II. It is worth reading if only for its epilogue, in which Dorsey follows her father as he flees to California; grapples with the Watts uprising, Black Power, and urban decay; and somehow maintains his dream of a beloved community.”—Journal of Southern History