Grady Jr., Janice Brown, Tina James (neighbor),Muscular Spotters, Martha D. Parker, and Teresa Parker (Jennings) Sister.
Martha D. Parker with neighborhood friends and cousins (Wow) what a Gymnastic Team!
Carl Sherrod (neighbor), Cherry Lynn Thomas (Cousin), Ivan Parker, and “Sput” neighbor.
Special to the Times
Tribute to a local Shero
André Parker remembers his mother, Martha Doris Parker, as a community leader who not only taught the youth that they were worthy, but established a platform to help lift them up. She established a traveling gymnastics group called the Daredevils for her kids and others in the community, which allowed them exposure they might otherwise have never known during an era of discrimination and segregation. As both her son and her former student, Parker, 56, continues to hold his mother in high regard.
Though the group was created before his birth, Parker recalled that his mother’s enthusiasm for the sport was born of sheer intrigue. “She saw Caucasians doing gymnastics on TV, and she taught herself by watching them,” he said. Later she taught her children and other relatives, as well as other neighborhood kids what she had learned.
Parker, along with his two brothers, sister and cousins, became part of the Daredevils. The troupe mostly traveled around the country with the Birmingham Black Barons, performing in front of the same crowds. He recalled practicing moves and stunts in a local studio and even making appearances on the Cousin Cliff Show.
Mother Parker made the uniforms and helped to create the props. She was dedicated to perfection throughout every aspect. “She was like a drill sergeant. We had to be precise. Everything had to be perfect.” He added, “It taught us a lot of discipline and focus.” They performed before all-Black audiences as well as all-white ones. “We would get donations from the audience at the end of the performances, which helped with our outfits, traveling and food.”
Charles E. Williams, Mother Parker’s father, also worked with the team, heading up public relations for the group and serving as the photographer.
Mother Parker died in 2010 at 84. According to her son, she could still perform some of her acrobatic moves up until her 70s.
Today, he wants her to be remembered for being a pioneer. “She felt that just because you were Black, didn’t mean that you were disadvantaged,” he recalled. “She taught us to keep our heads up.”