Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Jesse Champion was born in the Dolomite community of Birmingham in 1927. While attending Parker High School, he worked under Fess Whatley, the well-known musician and music instructor, from whom he learned to play the clarinet and drums. After high school, he served in the Navy before entering Morehouse College in Atlanta. A scholarship to Alabama A&M enabled him to complete his undergraduate education in 1950. As a high school teacher in Gadsden, Alabama in the 1950s, Champion spent summers attending graduate school at Notre Dame. In 1960, he and his family returned to Birmingham.
While teaching at Council Elementary School in the Ensley area of Birmingham, Champion had a run-in with the Birmingham Police Department. The incident, which occurred during the April 1963 demonstrations by local high school students, cost him his position with the school system.
Listen to Jesse Champion talk about his experience as a high school teacher at the height of the Birmingham demonstrations.