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Remembering the Birmingham Church Bombing

Birmingham became the center of the civil rights movement in spring 1963, when Martin Luther King, Jr. At that point, blacks were forced to attend ...read more

Fred Shuttlesworth, Noted Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 89

Born Freddie Lee Robinson in rural Mount Meigs, Alabama, Fred Shuttlesworth worked as a sharecropper, bootlegger and truck driver before entering the ministry and becoming pastor of Birmingham’s Bethel Baptist Church in 1953. Three years later, after the National Association for ...read more


The Foot Soldier of Birmingham with Malcolm Gladwell | E4/S2: Revisionist History podcast

Simon Says is an automated transcription service. We assist people and companies, such as those in the media, to swiftly transcribe audio and video files so they can find that meaningful dialogue. We are not associated with Revisionist History or Panoply Media we are just big fans. And we highly recommend you listen to the podcast if you can. We have provided the transcript below as a supplement. Enjoy!

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Transcripts for the entire Season 1 and Season 2 podcasts of Revisionist History are available here.

The Foot Soldier of Birmingham with Malcolm Gladwell

Episode 4 | Season 2| Revisionist History
Length: 34 min | Released: July 6, 2017

Malcolm Gladwell: Before we begin, a warning. This episode contains material that may be upsetting to some listeners.

Not long ago, I drove from Atlanta, Georgia to Birmingham, Alabama. It’s a straight shot west on I-20, 150 miles of rolling hills and piney woods. I got off the freeway on the downtown exit, just before what the locals call “the malfunction junction” and drove a few blocks south, until I came to Kelly Ingram Park, which covers a full city block right in front of the 16th Street Baptist Church. I wanted to see a statue that stands in the park, a famous statue. I’ve always loved statues, I find them moving, don’t know why. Maybe it’s because they’re a representation of something that we have chosen to take seriously, to memorialize in a permanent form. With a statue, you’re saying to the future, “This is what I want you to remember about my generation.”

The statue I came to see is at one end of Kelly Ingram Park. It’s of a police officer, big guy menacing, heavy pair of sunglasses. He has a dog on a leash, a big German shepherd, and the dog is lunging, huge fangs bared at a young Black boy, who’s leaning back hands to his sides, almost like he’s sacrificing himself. It’s called Foot Soldier. It looks simple, but that statue is not what you think, Trust me.

My name is Malcolm Gladwell. You’re listing to Revisionist History, my podcast about things overlooked and misunderstood. This episode is the second in what are going to be a few episodes this season on race and civil rights. On race in the United States, I’m an outsider, I’m Canadian. My family is half West Indian, which is a very different cultural experience than being an African-American. My mom had a friend, a Jamaican, who went down to Georgia once in 1970s. When she came back, she said, “The racism there cut like a knife.” I couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9, and that phrase startled me. It seems so visceral. But then I moved to the US as an adult and it seemed like the way race was discussed didn’t cut like a knife at all.

What I saw around race in the United States was evasion and euphemism. The subject of my last episode was the Brown decision. For half a century, the integration story has been told with all the suffering taken out. Why? Is it really necessary that every grand civil rights narrative be turned into a fairy tale? Which brings me to Kelly Ingram Park and its statue of the police officer and the dog and the boy. There’s a nice and tidy story you can tell about that statue. But the real story is much different.

Last summer, I got a call from a man who was friends with the widow of the police officer depicted in that statute. I’d written about the officer and the dog in my book, David and Goliath, but she wanted to tell me the rest of the story, so I met with her. Then I went back to Birmingham a second time to look for the boy in the statute, and then a third time to Tuskegee, two hours south of Birmingham. And there, on a long lazy afternoon, I sat in the town museum with an artist named Ronald McDowell.

Ronald McDowell: Me and Al Coltrane, me and James Brown and…

MG: Ronald McDowell is an extraordinary man, spidery and fine featured. He showed me his portfolio and told me, in his urgent confessional whisper, about how he was once walking down Sunset Boulevard, years ago, and ran into Louis Armstrong’s nephew, who took him to see Michael Jackson, who wanted McDowell to teach him art, which led, in turn, to McDowell helping out on the album Thriller.

RM: Yeah, I did the sketches for Michael, on Thriller.

RM: I was trying to make him into a Black Superman. And on the back of this piece of paper is a drawing Michael did for me, when we were working on Thriller. That’s Michael’s artwork. He did several pieces for me that’s just one of them.

MG: Richard Arrington, who was the first Black mayor of Birmingham, used to call Ron McDowell “Mac,” which suits him perfectly. He has an air of mischief about him, which we’ll get to.

RM: That’s pictures of and Johnnie Cochran, Spike Lee, Natalie Cole, that’s in the state capital, first African-American painting hanging in the state of Alabama.

RM: Governor Siegelman commissioned me to do that.

MG: Mac did the statue in Kelly Ingram Park. He’s the one responsible. Birmingham is a strange and beautiful place. It was a steel town, like Pittsburgh was, and at the height of the steel industry, there was a lot of money there. There’s an enormous hill on the south side of town, Mountain Brook, with a gorgeous country club and graceful, prewar homes. That’s the wealthy, White part of Birmingham. Down the hill is the other Birmingham where Blacks and Whites lived in uneasy proximity. They used to call Birmingham the Johannesburg of the South, or “Bombingham,” because bombs were the weapon of choice for White supremacists who wanted to keep Black people in their place. There’s an old joke from that period that tells you all you really need to know, a Black man in Chicago wakes up one morning and tells his wife that Jesus had come to him in a dream and told him to go to Birmingham. His wife is horrified. “Did Jesus say he’d go with you?” The husband replies, “He said he’d go as far as Memphis.”

Birmingham was where Martin Luther King staged one of the most dramatic protests of the civil rights movement and King chose Birmingham for a good reason. He wanted to strike at the symbol of racial oppression, to get ordinary Americans to understand just how bad things were for Black people in the south. So through the long spring of 1963, King and his people organized sit-ins to protest segregation, then boycotts, then marches. They called it Project C, for confrontation. They were trying to provoke the Birmingham Chief of Police, a troglodyte named Bull Connor, into doing something so outrageous that it would turn the tide of public opinion in their favor. And that’s exactly what happened.

May 3, 1963. King’s people start at 16th Street Baptist Church, right next to Kelly Ingram Park. They come out in waves, marching alongside the park and then continuing on through downtown Birmingham. There are huge crowds, tons of police. In the middle of everything, a photographer named Bill Hudson takes a picture of a White police officer with dark sunglasses and a big German shepherd the dog is lunging at a young Black teenager. The next day, The New York Times publishes the photograph above the fold across three columns on the front page of its weekend paper as does basically every other major newspaper in the country. President Kennedy is asked about the photo and he’s appalled. The secretary of state says it will, “Embarrass our friends abroad and make our enemies joyful.” It’s discussed on the floor of Congress, editorials are written, people have debates about it. It’s exactly what King wants, something to show the rest of the world just how bad things are in the south. And the tide turns. A year later, Congress passes the Civil Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of the United States. The Civil Rights Act, people always say, was written in Birmingham.

Kelly Ingram Park is now a shrine to the events of 1963. The first Black mayor of Birmingham, Richard Arrington, takes office in 1979 and decides to fill this little patch of history with sculptures that tell the story of the movement. He commissions one of Martin Luther King, another Fred Shuttlesworth, who was a key leader at the Birmingham protests. There’s one of the four little girls killed when White supremacists bomb the 16th Street Baptist church in September of 1963. Finally, Arrington turns to the photo, the famous photo, for one final statute. And he calls up Mac McDowell, who’s moved out to Tuskegee from California and transformed himself into a kind of house artist for the civil rights movement.

RM: He said, “I gotta get a statue done right ’cause the people that marched in the movement are complaining about the children don’t look like them.” The children had White features with Black hair and, and, there were, there were a lot of complaints. And he said, “I need you to do a, a design of this image, of this photograph, of this boy and this police officer and the dog attacking him.”

MG: The other artists with sculptures in Kelly Ingram Park are big names, White men with impressive resumes. Mac, a kid from the projects of Oakland, entirely self-taught, he had, in fact, never done a sculpture before, a detail that he conveniently failed to tell Richard Arrington. The mayor just wants Mac to do some sketches, provide a guide.

RM: This look on his face was of, a look of frustration, like, “Nobody’s doing what I want, they’re not getting it, none of the sculptures.” You know, I was, like, I can’t say no to him because he’s the powerful wizard, he’s the great Oz, you know, of Birmingham.

MG: The next thing you know, Mac’s doing the whole thing.

RM: And I started sculpting and then, three hours later, I was complete. And I took it to Arrington about… I didn’t want him to think I did it so quick, so I waited a week and took it to him and he said, “You got the commission. How much?” And so, the rest is history.

MG: It was unveiled in a special ceremony, in May 1995 it’s called Foot Soldier because that was a term used to describe the people who marched in Martin Luther King’s army. On the statue’s granite base it reads, “This sculpture is dedicated to the Foot Soldiers of the Birmingham civil rights movement.” On a little plaque next to it is famous photo on which the statue is based. If you want to see a picture of it, we have one up on revisionisthistory.com.

RM: And the first people to see it was Stevie Wonder’s and Emma Teel’s mother. And what I didn’t know at the time I did the statute, when you’re doing bronze, you have to smooth everything. Because I was untrained, I didn’t smooth the rocks, so Stevie was feeling the rocks and he cut his hand. And one of the men in the parks was there, and he told me, he said, “I, I’m getting blood on my hand because Stevie Wonder did.” I was, like, “Oh, My God.”

MG: But it’s almost, it’s almost, it’s almost biblical.

MG: It’s almost like he’s blessing the park with his blood.

RM: Yeah. Stevie got cut on those rocks of that sculpture.

MG: Foot Soldier is the most powerful sculpture in Kelly Ingram Park. Nothing else comes close. And maybe that’s where the trouble starts.

The name of the police officer in the photograph was Richard Middleton. Everyone called him Dick. His best friend on the force was Bobby Hayes, big guy, lives near a golf course outside Birmingham, must be in his 80s by now. Hayes and Middleton started as police officers in Birmingham right at the moment when the Civil Rights Movement was asserting itself. The police department was all White and all male back then, but in the streets, the balance of power was shifting. When integration came to the Birmingham school system, Hayes remembers it as bewildering.

Bobby Hayes: If you were a cop, nobody really liked you because we were carrying the Black kids into school, that’s what we were ordered to do and they were gonna get in. That’s just the way it was, we had no choice. The Black people didn’t like you because you were policeman, the White people didn’t like you because you’re protecting the Black kids and carrying them where the crowd, the goofies, didn’t want them to go.

MG: In 1963, King’s protest campaign was headquartered in 16th Street Baptist Church, which is an old red brick building on the northwest corner of Kelly Ingram Park. The protesters would come out in the late afternoon, march around the park on their way downtown. They were trained in nonviolence, marched according to a strict schedule. It was a military operation. Crowds of people would gather to see the spectacle, the police were supposed to keep the protesters and the crowd apart. The protests get bigger and bigger, the crowds get bigger and bigger, it’s late spring so it’s starting to get really hot. The police chief, Bull Connor, starts locking up everyone he can. Then Connor says, “To hell with it, bring in the dogs.”

BH: Of course, there was a lot of noise, a lot of, a lot of tension in the air, a lot of people yelling and screaming. Bricks started coming in, you know, throwing bricks. It, it got to be a, a really ugly sight real quick, real quick.

MG: Dick Middleton, the cop in the photo, was a member of the city’s K9 Unit. He had a German shepherd named Leo. He and the other members of the tactical unit were posted behind a barricade, a row of wooden saw horses running parallel to the curb. There’s a line of cops and dogs in a kind of no-man’s land between the bystanders and the protesters.

BH: He was inside the barricade. The, the crowd was on the other side. And they were taunting the police, and then, of course, all we could do to was just stand. The police, all they do, just stand there at that time. Dick was well back, the way he told me, he was 10 yards, maybe, back of the barricades. And a, a guy came around a barricade.

MG: So here we have a Foot Soldier, in the middle of all the mayhem, cutting through the no-man’s land towards the sidewalk. And Middleton’s German shepherd Leo lunges at him. That’s the moment Bill Hudson captures in his famous photograph and Ron McDowell captures in his statue, the confrontation between the innocent Foot Soldier and the snarling face of racial oppression. Bill Hudson’s editor says later that he picked that particular photo out of the many taken that day because he was riveted by the saintly calm of the young man and the snarling jaws of the German shepherd. Here’s where the story starts to get complicated.

Interviewer: This is an interview, today Saturday May 25, 1996, at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, with Mr. Walter Gadsden, of Atlanta, Georgia. Okay, how did you get involved in the Civil Rights Movement?

Walter Gadsden: Now that’s, that’s one thing that, uh, I always had a problem with. I never did get involved with the Civil Rights Movement.

MG: Walter Gadsden is the boy in the photograph, the one bitten by Leo. He’s a mysterious figure. He was interviewed at the time about the photograph by Jet Magazine, back in 1963, but only briefly. From time to time, other people have come forward to say that they were the one in the photograph, not Gadsden, but those claims seem dubious. Meanwhile, Gadsden disappears, people try to find him and can’t. All that seems to exist is this oral history that you’re hearing done in honor of the unveiling of Ron McDowell’s statue. And the interview is strange because it doesn’t go the way the interviewer thinks it’s going to go. She starts with the obvious question, “You were a Foot Soldier. Tell me how that came about,” and he says, “I wasn’t a Foot Soldier.”

WG: But the fact is, the day of that movement, I was supposed to have been in school. But a friend of mine, a, uh, acquaintance of mine told me that, earlier that, uh, Martin Luther King was in town that day and that he was going to, uh, be there, and I said I wanted to be there, too. I wanted to come and find out what it was all about.

MG: Walter Gadsden is a bystander. The famous statue in Kelly Ingram Park, “Foot Soldier, is not, in fact, of a foot soldier. It gets stranger.

Interviewer: Okay, and when you left school, where did you come downtown?

WG: Uh, to, uh, the park area, the Kelly Ingram Park over there. So we started walking toward the, uh, activity and, as I approached and got closer, they turned and looked at me and I saw them coming toward me, so I turned to leave.

MG: He was walking down the street with the protestors coming towards him, so he veers off to get out of their way and rejoin the spectators on the sidewalk. Ducks in behind the row of saw horses, where he runs into Officer Middleton and Leo.

WG: So as I turned, and started to walk away, I was grabbed and the rest of it.

Interviewer: Grabbed by the policemen?

WG: Grabbed by the policeman and yanked toward him.

Interviewer: Is that when the dog bit you? And the dog bites you at that time?

WG: As I can remember that, that happened simultaneously.

Interviewer: Did you…?

WG: because, uh, the, the policeman grabbed me at, I don’t remember what hand, but the dog… They, he grabbed me with one hand… It, it happened so fast, there was nothing I could do except throw up a leg and try to protect myself. And as I was doing that, there I went.

MG: If you look at the famous photo, Gadsden’s explanation makes sense. Leo is lunging the bite is a millisecond away, but Gadsden and Middleton just look startled — the way people do if they unexpectedly bump into each other. Gadsden has his knee up as a reflex, and his hand on Middleton as if to steady himself. Middleton has one hand on Gadsden and his other arm is flexed. He’s yanking back on the leash. Leo has freaked out and he’s trying to restrain him. Leo, Whoa! Middleton’s colleague, Bobby Hayes, made the same point to me. Middleton’s not letting Leo loose on Gadsden quite the opposite.

BH: If you look at the picture, you can tell he’s holding the dog back. But that, that line’s taut, the dog’s feet are in the air, the best I recall, and Dick’s got him here. He’s holding that line. He’s not gonna let him bite that guy.

MG: Now, what does Gadsden say about all this? Does he think he’s been the victim of police brutality? Not at all. In fact, he can’t seem to understand why everyone makes such a big deal out of what happened to him that day.

Interviewer: How did your family members react to your participation?

WG: Well, they were angry because I didn’t attend school that day.

Interviewer: Okay.

MG: He appears in an image that transfixed the world and his parents are mad that he skipped school! The interviewer then tries to get at Gadsden’s connections to the struggle for civil rights.

Interviewer: Okay, well, the church where your parents or your family members were attending, were very involved in the Civil Rights Movement during that time, do you know?

WG: They never told me of it.

Interviewer: What benefits do you, uh, your family, and the community realize as a result to that, uh, movement?

MG: “None.” In answer to the question, “What benefits did your family receive from the Civil Rights Movement?” He answers, “None.” He’s not having any of it. Gadsden’s interview in fact, just gets weirder.

Interviewer: Okay. If you were in control of an organization or a movement or such, and could go back and change some things, what would you change?

WG: Okay, the things that I would change would be a more careful choice of people involved in all of those movements. There are too many, uh, well to be just blunt, crooked people. Many of the people that were involved and, and had notoriety became too crooked.

MG: The most famous photograph of the civil rights movement is of a startled cop trying desperately to hold his dog back from biting a bystander who wasn’t that much of a fan of the civil rights movement.

WG: I’m wondering, still, why me. Because I’ve never had any notoriety whatsoever concerning that picture. That picture was in the paper, but many other people were too, many other situations — buses, bombings.

Interviewer: Yes, but they chose to use the little boy, at 15, for that statue.

WG: The little boy in age, but not the little boy in size.

Interviewer: Were you surprised when we found out about it?

WG: I was totally flabbergasted I didn’t know what to think.

MG: And Gadsden’s main objection? He’s light-skinned. He says the statue makes him look dark-skinned.

WG: That statue doesn’t look like me. It looks like a totally different boy. That looks like an African boy.

Interviewer: The way you feel about it, it looks like an African boy?

WG: That looks like an African boy.

Interviewer: Uh, the color or the features?

WG: The features. The lips, the size. You take a look at the picture there, and the statue there, the boy’s short I was tall for my age.

MG: If you listen to the whole interview, it nearly goes off the rails at this point. The interviewer expected to find a heroic civil rights veteran. Instead, she’s getting a grumpy old man still wedded to some of the oldest and most awkward of Black prejudices.

Interviewer: We’re very proud of it and I hope you will be too. And now that we know who you are, we can add a name under there, that you were the young boy that the sculpture used.

WG: Well, I’m still wondering why, after all the information that I had given and, and, and all that. uh, all that does is establish me as being a young, African boy, which I’m not.

Interviewer: You prefer being called a Negro?

WG: I prefer being called what I am, a Colored.

Interviewer: Oh, oh you prefer… But weren’t Colored?

Interviewer: Okay, okay. Okay.

MG: Euphemism and evasion. At the beginning, I said that what I object to is the way so many stories about race get cleaned up, sanitized. So the Brown decision becomes a fairy tale in which Black people triumph without effort. Well, here’s the flip side. When we stop evading and just listen, it gets complicated. Our hero Walter Gadsden isn’t all that heroic. As for the bad guy, the officer, his colleague Bobby Hayes says he wasn’t a bad guy. Did Officer Hayes tell me things that surprised me? And did listening to Walter Gadsden shock me? Absolutely, because I’m no different from anyone else I like the fairy tale.

So the person who invited me down to Birmingham in the first place was Dick Middleton’s widow everyone calls her Mrs. Klingler. Her husband died not long ago and I think she felt it was time to speak out. We met at a barbecue restaurant in downtown Birmingham, sat upstairs.

MG: So he’s a police officer at a time when Birmingham is, obviously, going through some very tumultuous times. Can you tell me about that?

Mrs. Klingler: The first, that was the first 10 years, I was still learning to speak English. I didn’t really know what’s going on I didn’t understand what’s going on.

MG: Mrs. Klingler was from Germany, she met Richard when he was stationed there with the army. She says what happened on that spring day in 1963 was like a shadow over her husband.

Mrs. Klingler: He went to work and come home and enjoyed the family. Uh, but I knew something is going on, you know, then later on, you see the picture in the paper, uh, he never really discussed it.

MG: She had a big book with her, filled with clippings of her husband’s career and other photographs from that day in Kelly Ingram Park. She wanted to set the record straight. Her husband was unfairly vilified.

Mrs. Klingler: He’d done his job. And he was, he was spit at, he was thrown rocks at, and he did not let the guy put the dog to him. He was holding the leash away from him, if you see other pictures what happened. This was not the right picture. This was not the truth.

MG: “This was not the truth.” For the longest time afterwards, they got hate mail.

MG: So how soon did the letters start coming?

Mrs. Klingler: Just right, I’m sure right the next month or so when it went all over the world. Just as ugly as you can imagine.

MG: Yeah. Did he ever talk to any journalist or… Do you know?

Mrs. Klingler: No.

MG: He never gave interviews?

Mrs. Klingler: No. He didn’t give no interviews because I think he felt like what he was portrayed as… They would not tell the truth.

MG: Yeah, yeah.

Mrs. Klingler: No matter what he say, no matter what he would do, they would not believe him. All they’ll look at the picture, that’s all.

MG: Do you think your husband suffered?

Mrs. Klingler: I think he has, yes.

MG: There’s a statue in Kelly Ingram Park of one of the most iconic moments in civil rights history and everyone directly involved in that moment thinks it didn’t happen that way. Oh Mac, what did you do?

MG: You said earlier that when you draw, you try to inhabit the characters.

MG: Tell me your emotional reactions to that photograph.

RM: Well, I saw that the boy was being about 6ɴ, the officer was maybe 5✐, 5ɹ. And I said, ‚ÄúThis is a movement about power.‚Äù So I made the little boy younger and smaller, and the officer taller and stronger. The arm of the law is so strong, that‚Äôs why his arm is almost, like, straight. And the dog is more like a wolf than a real dog. Because if I‚Äôm a little boy, that‚Äôs what I would see. I would see like this superman hovering over me, putting this big old giant monster of a dog in my groin area, in my private area. And so, that‚Äôs what I envisioned when I first saw the photograph.

MG: And you changed it. In the photograph I noticed the boy is leaning in and in your sculpture, he’s leaning back. Tell me about that.

RM: He’s leaning back because I wanted to depict him showing that, “I’m not going to fight you, I’m not leaving, I’m not moving, I’m standing, but I’m not gonna fight you. This is a non-violent protest.” That’s why his hands are open and he’s going back, like, “Do whatever you’re gonna do. Put the dog on me, beat me with the club, whatever you wanna do.” And I saw all of that when I saw the photograph.

MG: We were in the Tuskegee History Center, a museum on Elm Street, not far from the university. It’s in what looks like an old bank and it’s filled with exhibits of the town’s extraordinary history. The infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, The Tuskegee airmen, Rosa Parks, Tuskegee native. McDowell’s work was all over the walls. He took me on a little tour then we sat down and he took out his portfolio.

RM: Here are the statues.

MG: Those glasses are like… Were the glasses the same… Did you make the glasses bigger too?

RM: They’re bigger.

MG: Mac has a whole section on the statue — preliminary drawings, sketches, photographs.

RM: So he’s almost like a blind officer. He doesn’t even see the kid, because he’s so far beyond that. “Killed this nigger. Attack this nigger.” He saw past the reality of this is a hu-, innocent chi-, human child, a human being, that’s why he was wearing blind people glasses like that.

MG: That is so interesting, because when you see that, that’s the thing I couldn’t put my finger on. The officer is behaving as if he’s blind. The dog is attacking he doesn’t even see the boy.

RM: You’re the first person I told that to.

MG: That’s so interesting.

RM: See how vicious the dog looks?

MG: Oh, my! That is a wolf.

RM: Mm-hmm. I did the hair with a… I don’t have, I, I didn’t know what instruments to use, I did all this with a pencil. Penciled in the hairs and I just do the teeth like that and…

MG: Oh, look at the teeth!

RM: Mm-hmm, I did that on purpose.

MG: Curved…

RM: Oh, yeah. Because if you have a curved tooth, like, you see those, those, uh, werewolf pictures, the teeth are curved, because once there’s, like, a snake, when he bites you, if he doesn’t retract, then he’s gonna rip. It’s not going and coming out. When he comes out, he’s gonna rip flesh.

MG: When you’re face to face with the statue, it has historical authority it’s in the shadow of 16th Street Baptist Church, inside Kelly Ingram Park, at the actual site of the Birmingham marches. But it’s a work of imagination. It’s not a literal representation it’s art.

Wait, are there other details that, I mean, you would say, you, there’s the blind officer, there’s the curved teeth on the dog.

RM: See, the officer moved all of his anger into the dog and it’s the dog that’s attacking the boy. You know, that’s what you do with, with racism.


Contents

In 1963, Birmingham was one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States. Only 10% of the city's black population was registered to vote in 1960. 2 Pay scale differences between white and black workers at the local steel mills were common. Time Magazine noted in 1958 that the only thing white workers had to gain from desegregation was more competition from black workers. 3 Fifty unsolved racially motivated bombings after 1945 earned the city the nickname "Bombingham." A neighborhood in Birmingham that began to be integrated with white and black families was so concentrated in bombings and arson that it got the name "Dynamite Hill." 4

Fred Shuttlesworth was the head of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, that was organized in 1956 to challenge the City of Birmingham's segregation policies through lawsuits and other protests. When the courts overturned the segregation of the city's parks, the city responded by closing them. In response, Shuttlesworth's home was repeatedly bombed, as well as Bethel Baptist Church, the church of which he was the pastor. 5 Shuttlesworth invited Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC to Birmingham, reasoning, "If you come to Birmingham, you will not only gain prestige, but really shake the country. If you win in Birmingham, as Birmingham goes, so goes the nation." 6

Martin Luther King, Jr. had recently been in Albany, Georgia, trying to change the city's policies of segregation and had not been successful. His reputation had been affected by the campaign in Albany, and he was eager to change it. The Albany movement proved to be an important education for the SCLC when it undertook the Birmingham Campaign in 1963. The Campaign focused on several concrete goals that concentrated on the downtown of Birmingham, rather than total desegregation of the city as in Albany: the desegregation of Birmingham's downtown merchants, fair hiring practices in shops and city employment, reopening of public parks, and the creation of a bi-racial committee to set a timetable and oversee the desegregation of Birmingham's public schools. 7

Eugene "Bull" Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety had lost a recent election for mayor to Albert Boutwell, who was slightly less enthusiastic about segregation than Connor himself, but refused to accept the new mayor's authority. 8 Commissioner Connor had a notorious past with protesters, being described as an "arch-segregationist" by Time Magazine. 9 Connor stated plainly and confusingly, "We ain't gonna segregate no niggers and whites together in this town." 10 He responded to FBI allegations of police misconduct in 1958 when police arrested ministers organizing a bus boycott by saying, "I haven't got any damn apology to the FBI or anybody else," and predicting, "If the North keeps trying to cram this thing (desegregation) down our throats, there's going to be bloodshed." 3 Connor allowed freedom riders in 1961 to be beaten by local mobs. Religious leaders and protest organizers were repeatedly harassed by the police when all the cars parked at mass meetings were ticketed, plainclothes police officers attended meetings and took notes, and the Birmingham Fire Department interrupted meetings to search for "phantom fire hazards." 11 Connor had previously run for several elected offices, to lose out in all of the races except the one for Public Safety Commissioner. Connor's demeanor was so antagonistic towards the Civil Rights Movement, that he actually galvanized support for black Americans. John F. Kennedy later said of him, "The Civil Rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He's helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln." 8

Birmingham manifesto

The aims of the planned demonstrations were outlined in a document called the "Birmingham Manifesto", compiled by SCLC's Wyatt Walker and issued on April 2, 1963 with the signatures of Fred Shuttlesworth and Nelson Smith of the ACMHR. It was distributed by handbill and as a press release.

The manifesto's demands included:

  • Immediate desegregation of lunch counters, restrooms and drinking fountains in downtown department and variety stores.
  • The establishment of fair hiring practices in Birmingham businesses.
  • Dismissal of charges against non-violent protesters in previous ACMHR boycotts.
  • Establishment of a merit system to open the way for African American city employees.
  • Re-opening of closed parks and swimming pools on an integrated basis.
  • Establishment of a bi-racial committee to work out a schedule for desegregation in other areas of life.

The manifesto and its local backing was largely ignored in the press, which continued to characterize the demonstrations as unnecessary "stirring up" of black residents by "outside agitators" for self-serving reasons.

Selective Buying Campaign

Modeling after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, protest actions began on April 3, 1963 and were designed to undercut the second busiest shopping season of the year as Easter approached.

King and the leaders of the boycott planned a 6-week abstinence from blacks shopping in the downtown business district, and organizers walked downtown to make sure blacks weren't shopping in stores that promoted or tolerated segregation. If black shoppers were found in these stores, organizers confronted them and shamed them into participating in the boycott. Shuttlesworth recalled a woman had her $15 US hat destroyed by boycott participants. 11 Boycott participant Joe Dickson recalled, "We had to go under strict surveillance. We had to tell people, say look: if you go downtown and buy something, you're going to have to answer to us." 12 Martin Luther King, Jr. chose to affect Birmingham store owners economically after learning that a direct action against political leaders in Albany was ineffective since too few blacks were registered to vote. King recalled, "We decided to center the Birmingham struggle on the business community, of we knew that the Negro population had sufficient buying power so that its withdrawal could made the difference between profit and loss for many businesses." After several business owners in Birmingham took down "white only" and "colored only" signs, Commissioner Connor threatened business owners should any of them not follow the segregation ordinances, they would lose their business licenses. 13

King's presence in Birmingham was not welcomed by all in the black community. A black attorney was reported in Time Magazine saying, "The new administration should have been given a chance to confer with the various groups interested in change." Hotel owner A. G. Gaston stated, "I regret the absence of continued communication between white and Negro leadership in our city." A white Jesuit priest assisting in desegregation negotiations attested, "These demonstrations are poorly timed and misdirected." 14 Protesters suspected they would meet with violence from the Birmingham Police Department, but chose a confrontational approach to get the attention of the federal government. 7 Wyatt Tee Walker headed the planning of what he titled "Project C" that stood for "confrontation". The plan called for direct nonviolent action to attract media attention to "the biggest and baddest city of the South." 6 Walker timed walking distance from the 16th Street Baptist Church to the downtown area and scoped out lunch counters of department stores and even planned for secondary targets of federal buildings should the police block the protesters' entrances into the primary targets.

The Campaign used a variety of nonviolent methods of confrontation, including sit-ins at libraries, kneel-ins by black visitors at local white churches, and a march to the county building to mark the beginning of a drive to register voters. A few hundred people were arrested, including jazz musician Al Hibbler (who was immediately released by Connor), 15 but not nearly enough to stop the functioning of the city.

Good Friday march

On April 10, Commissioner Conner however, obtained an injunction barring all such protests, and subsequently raised bail bond for all arrested protesters from $300 to $1200. Remembering that the Albany protests had been ineffective in part to their following court injunctions, and convinced that the order was unconstitutional, the Campaign leaders defied it and prepared for mass arrests of its supporters. Along with Ralph Abernathy, King elected to be among those arrested on Good Friday, April 12, 1963. It was King's thirteenth arrest. 15

Martin Luther King Jr jailed

While in jail on April 16, King wrote his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" on the margins of a newspaper, since he had not been allowed any writing paper while held in solitary confinement by jail authorities. The letter responded to eight white clergymen who were protesting King's presence in Birmingham, that he was agitating local residents, and had not given the incoming mayor a chance to make any changes. Supporters pressured the Kennedy administration to intervene to obtain his release or better conditions. King eventually was allowed to call his wife, who was recuperating at home after the birth of their fourth child, and was released on April 20.

King's arrest did indeed attract national attention. As well, many of Birmingham's downtown businesses were national chains with headquarters in the North. With King arrested, profits of the chain stores began to be affected nationally. The national business owners also put pressure on the Kennedy administration. Jacqueline Kennedy called Coretta Scott King to express her concern for Dr. King while he was incarcerated. 7


Contents

Civil War and Reconstruction

Before the American Civil War, eight serving presidents had owned slaves, almost four million black people remained enslaved in the South, only white men with property could vote, and the Naturalization Act of 1790 limited U.S. citizenship to whites. [14] [15] [16] Following the Civil War, three constitutional amendments were passed, including the 13th Amendment (1865) that ended slavery the 14th Amendment (1869) that gave black people citizenship, adding their total population of four million to the official population of southern states for Congressional apportionment and the 15th Amendment (1870) that gave black males the right to vote (only males could vote in the U.S. at the time). [17] From 1865 to 1877, the United States underwent a turbulent Reconstruction Era during which the federal government tried to establish free labor and the civil rights of freedmen in the South after the end of slavery. Many whites resisted the social changes, leading to the formation of insurgent movements such as the Ku Klux Klan, whose members attacked black and white Republicans in order to maintain white supremacy. In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant, the U.S. Army, and U.S. Attorney General Amos T. Akerman, initiated a campaign to repress the KKK under the Enforcement Acts. [18] Some states were reluctant to enforce the federal measures of the act. In addition, by the early 1870s, other white supremacist and insurgent paramilitary groups arose that violently opposed African-American legal equality and suffrage, intimidating and suppressing black voters, and assassinating Republican officeholders. [19] [20] However, if the states failed to implement the acts, the laws allowed the Federal Government to get involved. [20] Many Republican governors were afraid of sending black militia troops to fight the Klan for fear of war. [20]

Disenfranchisement after Reconstruction

After the disputed election of 1876, which resulted in the end of Reconstruction and the withdrawal of federal troops, whites in the South regained political control of the region's state legislatures. They continued to intimidate and violently attack blacks before and during elections to suppress their voting, but the last African Americans were elected to Congress from the South before disenfranchisement of blacks by states throughout the region, as described below.

From 1890 to 1908, southern states passed new constitutions and laws to disenfranchise African Americans and many Poor Whites by creating barriers to voter registration voting rolls were dramatically reduced as blacks and poor whites were forced out of electoral politics. After the landmark Supreme Court case of Smith v. Allwright (1944), which prohibited white primaries, progress was made in increasing black political participation in the Rim South and Acadiana – although almost entirely in urban areas [21] and a few rural localities where most blacks worked outside plantations. [22] The status quo ante of excluding African Americans from the political system lasted in the remainder of the South, especially North Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, until national civil rights legislation was passed in the mid-1960s to provide federal enforcement of constitutional voting rights. For more than sixty years, blacks in the South were essentially excluded from politics, unable to elect anyone to represent their interests in Congress or local government. [20] Since they could not vote, they could not serve on local juries.

During this period, the white-dominated Democratic Party maintained political control of the South. With whites controlling all the seats representing the total population of the South, they had a powerful voting bloc in Congress. The Republican Party—the "party of Lincoln" and the party to which most blacks had belonged—shrank to insignificance except in remote Unionist areas of Appalachia and the Ozarks as black voter registration was suppressed. The Republican lily-white movement also gained strength by excluding blacks. Until 1965, the "Solid South" was a one-party system under the white Democrats. Excepting the previously noted historic Unionist strongholds the Democratic Party nomination was tantamount to election for state and local office. [23] In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington, president of the Tuskegee Institute, to dine at the White House, making him the first African American to attend an official dinner there. "The invitation was roundly criticized by southern politicians and newspapers." [24] Washington persuaded the president to appoint more blacks to federal posts in the South and to try to boost African-American leadership in state Republican organizations. However, these actions were resisted by both white Democrats and white Republicans as an unwanted federal intrusion into state politics. [24]

During the same time as African Americans were being disenfranchised, white southerners imposed racial segregation by law. Violence against blacks increased, with numerous lynchings through the turn of the century. The system of de jure state-sanctioned racial discrimination and oppression that emerged from the post-Reconstruction South became known as the "Jim Crow" system. The United States Supreme Court made up almost entirely of Northerners, upheld the constitutionality of those state laws that required racial segregation in public facilities in its 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson, legitimizing them through the "separate but equal" doctrine. [26] Segregation, which began with slavery, continued with Jim Crow laws, with signs used to show blacks where they could legally walk, talk, drink, rest, or eat. [27] For those places that were racially mixed, non-whites had to wait until all white customers were served first. [27] Elected in 1912, President Woodrow Wilson gave in to demands by Southern members of his cabinet and ordered segregation of workplaces throughout the federal government. [28]

The early 20th century is a period often referred to as the "nadir of American race relations", when the number of lynchings was highest. While tensions and civil rights violations were most intense in the South, social discrimination affected African Americans in other regions as well. [29] At the national level, the Southern bloc controlled important committees in Congress, defeated passage of federal laws against lynching, and exercised considerable power beyond the number of whites in the South.

Characteristics of the post-Reconstruction period:

    . By law, public facilities and government services such as education were divided into separate "white" and "colored" domains. [30] Characteristically, those for colored were underfunded and of inferior quality. . When white Democrats regained power, they passed laws that made voter registration more restrictive, essentially forcing black voters off the voting rolls. The number of African-American voters dropped dramatically, and they were no longer able to elect representatives. From 1890 to 1908, Southern states of the former Confederacy created constitutions with provisions that disfranchised tens of thousands of African Americans, and U.S. states such as Alabama disenfranchised poor whites as well. . Increased economic oppression of blacks through the convict lease system, Latinos, and Asians, denial of economic opportunities, and widespread employment discrimination.
  • Violence. Individual, police, paramilitary, organizational, and mob racial violence against blacks (and Latinos in the Southwest and Asians in the West Coast).

African Americans and other ethnic minorities rejected this regime. They resisted it in numerous ways and sought better opportunities through lawsuits, new organizations, political redress, and labor organizing (see the Civil rights movement (1896–1954)). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909. It fought to end race discrimination through litigation, education, and lobbying efforts. Its crowning achievement was its legal victory in the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education (1954), when the Warren Court ruled that segregation of public schools in the US was unconstitutional and, by implication, overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine established in Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896. [7] [31] Following the unanimous Supreme Court ruling, many states began to gradually integrate their schools, but some areas of the South resisted by closing public schools altogether. [7] [31]

The integration of Southern public libraries followed demonstrations and protests that used techniques seen in other elements of the larger civil rights movement. [32] This included sit-ins, beatings, and white resistance. [32] For example, in 1963 in the city of Anniston, Alabama, two black ministers were brutally beaten for attempting to integrate the public library. [32] Though there was resistance and violence, the integration of libraries was generally quicker than the integration of other public institutions. [32]

National issues

The situation for blacks outside the South was somewhat better (in most states they could vote and have their children educated, though they still faced discrimination in housing and jobs). In 1900 Reverend Matthew Anderson, speaking at the annual Hampton Negro Conference in Virginia, said that ". the lines along most of the avenues of wage-earning are more rigidly drawn in the North than in the South. There seems to be an apparent effort throughout the North, especially in the cities to debar the colored worker from all the avenues of higher remunerative labor, which makes it more difficult to improve his economic condition even than in the South." [33] From 1910 to 1970, blacks sought better lives by migrating north and west out of the South. A total of nearly seven million blacks left the South in what was known as the Great Migration, most during and after World War II. So many people migrated that the demographics of some previously black-majority states changed to a white majority (in combination with other developments). The rapid influx of blacks altered the demographics of Northern and Western cities happening at a period of expanded European, Hispanic, and Asian immigration, it added to social competition and tensions, with the new migrants and immigrants battling for a place in jobs and housing.

Reflecting social tensions after World War I, as veterans struggled to return to the workforce and labor unions were organizing, the Red Summer of 1919 was marked by hundreds of deaths and higher casualties across the U.S. as a result of white race riots against blacks that took place in more than three dozen cities, such as the Chicago race riot of 1919 and the Omaha race riot of 1919. Urban problems such as crime and disease were blamed on the large influx of Southern blacks to cities in the north and west, based on stereotypes of rural southern African-Americans. Overall, blacks in Northern and Western cities experienced systemic discrimination in a plethora of aspects of life. Within employment, economic opportunities for blacks were routed to the lowest status and restrictive in potential mobility. Within the housing market, stronger discriminatory measures were used in correlation to the influx, resulting in a mix of "targeted violence, restrictive covenants, redlining and racial steering". [34] The Great Migration resulted in many African Americans becoming urbanized, and they began to realign from the Republican to the Democratic Party, especially because of opportunities under the New Deal of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration during the Great Depression in the 1930s. [35] Substantially under pressure from African-American supporters who began the March on Washington Movement, President Roosevelt issued the first federal order banning discrimination and created the Fair Employment Practice Committee. After both World Wars, black veterans of the military pressed for full civil rights and often led activist movements. In 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which ended segregation in the military. [36]

Housing segregation became a nationwide problem following the Great Migration of black people out of the South. Racial covenants were employed by many real estate developers to "protect" entire subdivisions, with the primary intent to keep "white" neighborhoods "white". Ninety percent of the housing projects built in the years following World War II were racially restricted by such covenants. [37] Cities known for their widespread use of racial covenants include Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, [38] Los Angeles, Seattle, and St. Louis. [39]

Said premises shall not be rented, leased, or conveyed to, or occupied by, any person other than of the white or Caucasian race.

While many whites defended their space with violence, intimidation, or legal tactics toward black people, many other whites migrated to more racially homogeneous suburban or exurban regions, a process known as white flight. [41] From the 1930s to the 1960s, the National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) issued guidelines that specified that a realtor "should never be instrumental in introducing to a neighborhood a character or property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individual whose presence will be clearly detrimental to property values in a neighborhood." The result was the development of all-black ghettos in the North and West, where much housing was older, as well as South. [42]

The first anti-miscegenation law was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 1691, criminalizing interracial marriage. [43] In a speech in Charleston, Illinois in 1858, Abraham Lincoln stated, "I am not, nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people". [44] By the late 1800s, 38 US states had anti-miscegenation statutes. [43] By 1924, the ban on interracial marriage was still in force in 29 states. [43] While interracial marriage had been legal in California since 1948, in 1957 actor Sammy Davis Jr. faced a backlash for his involvement with white actress Kim Novak. [45] Davis briefly married a black dancer in 1958 to protect himself from mob violence. [45] In 1958, officers in Virginia entered the home of Richard and Mildred Loving and dragged them out of bed for living together as an interracial couple, on the basis that "any white person intermarry with a colored person"— or vice versa—each party "shall be guilty of a felony" and face prison terms of five years. [43]

Invigorated by the victory of Brown and frustrated by the lack of immediate practical effect, private citizens increasingly rejected gradualist, legalistic approaches as the primary tool to bring about desegregation. They were faced with "massive resistance" in the South by proponents of racial segregation and voter suppression. In defiance, African-American activists adopted a combined strategy of direct action, nonviolence, nonviolent resistance, and many events described as civil disobedience, giving rise to the civil rights movement of 1954 to 1968.

Protests begin

The strategy of public education, legislative lobbying, and litigation that had typified the civil rights movement during the first half of the 20th century broadened after Brown to a strategy that emphasized "direct action": boycotts, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, marches or walks, and similar tactics that relied on mass mobilization, nonviolent resistance, standing in line, and, at times, civil disobedience. [46]

Churches, local grassroots organizations, fraternal societies, and black-owned businesses mobilized volunteers to participate in broad-based actions. This was a more direct and potentially more rapid means of creating change than the traditional approach of mounting court challenges used by the NAACP and others.

In 1952, the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), led by T. R. M. Howard, a black surgeon, entrepreneur, and planter organized a successful boycott of gas stations in Mississippi that refused to provide restrooms for blacks. Through the RCNL, Howard led campaigns to expose brutality by the Mississippi state highway patrol and to encourage blacks to make deposits in the black-owned Tri-State Bank of Nashville which, in turn, gave loans to civil rights activists who were victims of a "credit squeeze" by the White Citizens' Councils. [47]

After Claudette Colvin was arrested for not giving up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in March 1955, a bus boycott was considered and rejected. But when Rosa Parks was arrested in December, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson of the Montgomery Women's Political Council put the bus boycott protest in motion. Late that night, she, John Cannon (chairman of the Business Department at Alabama State University) and others mimeographed and distributed thousands of leaflets calling for a boycott. [48] [49] The eventual success of the boycott made its spokesman Martin Luther King Jr., a nationally known figure. It also inspired other bus boycotts, such as the successful Tallahassee, Florida boycott of 1956–57. [50]

In 1957, King and Ralph Abernathy, the leaders of the Montgomery Improvement Association, joined with other church leaders who had led similar boycott efforts, such as C. K. Steele of Tallahassee and T. J. Jemison of Baton Rouge, and other activists such as Fred Shuttlesworth, Ella Baker, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin and Stanley Levison, to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The SCLC, with its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, did not attempt to create a network of chapters as the NAACP did. It offered training and leadership assistance for local efforts to fight segregation. The headquarters organization raised funds, mostly from Northern sources, to support such campaigns. It made nonviolence both its central tenet and its primary method of confronting racism.

In 1959, Septima Clarke, Bernice Robinson, and Esau Jenkins, with the help of Myles Horton's Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, began the first Citizenship Schools in South Carolina's Sea Islands. They taught literacy to enable blacks to pass voting tests. The program was an enormous success and tripled the number of black voters on Johns Island. SCLC took over the program and duplicated its results elsewhere.

Brown v. Board of Education, 1954

In the spring of 1951, black students in Virginia protested their unequal status in the state's segregated educational system. Students at Moton High School protested the overcrowded conditions and failing facility. [51] Some local leaders of the NAACP had tried to persuade the students to back down from their protest against the Jim Crow laws of school segregation. When the students did not budge, the NAACP joined their battle against school segregation. The NAACP proceeded with five cases challenging the school systems these were later combined under what is known today as Brown v. Board of Education. [51] Under the leadership of Walter Reuther, the United Auto Workers donated $75,000 to help pay for the NAACP's efforts at the Supreme Court. [52]

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, that mandating, or even permitting, public schools to be segregated by race was unconstitutional. [7] Chief Justice Warren wrote in the court majority opinion that [7] [31]

Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. [53]

The lawyers from the NAACP had to gather plausible evidence in order to win the case of Brown vs. Board of Education. Their method of addressing the issue of school segregation was to enumerate several arguments. One pertained to having exposure to interracial contact in a school environment. It was argued that interracial contact would, in turn, help prepare children to live with the pressures that society exerts in regards to race and thereby afford them a better chance of living in a democracy. In addition, another argument emphasized how "'education' comprehends the entire process of developing and training the mental, physical and moral powers and capabilities of human beings". [54]

Risa Goluboff wrote that the NAACP's intention was to show the Courts that African American children were the victims of school segregation and their futures were at risk. The Court ruled that both Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which had established the "separate but equal" standard in general, and Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education (1899), which had applied that standard to schools, was unconstitutional.

The federal government filed a friend of the court brief in the case urging the justices to consider the effect that segregation had on America's image in the Cold War. Secretary of State Dean Acheson was quoted in the brief stating that "The United States is under constant attack in the foreign press, over the foreign radio, and in such international bodies as the United Nations because of various practices of discrimination in this country." [55] [56]

The following year, in the case known as Brown II, the Court ordered segregation to be phased out over time, "with all deliberate speed". [57] Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) did not overturn Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Plessy v. Ferguson was segregation in transportation modes. Brown v. Board of Education dealt with segregation in education. Brown v. Board of Education did set in motion the future overturning of 'separate but equal'.

On May 18, 1954, Greensboro, North Carolina, became the first city in the South to publicly announce that it would abide by the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling. "It is unthinkable,' remarked School Board Superintendent Benjamin Smith, 'that we will try to [override] the laws of the United States." [58] This positive reception for Brown, together with the appointment of African American David Jones to the school board in 1953, convinced numerous white and black citizens that Greensboro was heading in a progressive direction. Integration in Greensboro occurred rather peacefully compared to the process in Southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, and Virginia where "massive resistance" was practiced by top officials and throughout the states. In Virginia, some counties closed their public schools rather than integrate, and many white Christian private schools were founded to accommodate students who used to go to public schools. Even in Greensboro, much local resistance to desegregation continued, and in 1969, the federal government found the city was not in compliance with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Transition to a fully integrated school system did not begin until 1971. [58]

Many Northern cities also had de facto segregation policies, which resulted in a vast gulf in educational resources between black and white communities. In Harlem, New York, for example, neither a single new school was built since the turn of the century, nor did a single nursery school exist – even as the Second Great Migration was causing overcrowding. Existing schools tended to be dilapidated and staffed with inexperienced teachers. Brown helped stimulate activism among New York City parents like Mae Mallory who, with the support of the NAACP, initiated a successful lawsuit against the city and state on Brown 's principles. Mallory and thousands of other parents bolstered the pressure of the lawsuit with a school boycott in 1959. During the boycott, some of the first freedom schools of the period were established. The city responded to the campaign by permitting more open transfers to high-quality, historically-white schools. (New York's African-American community, and Northern desegregation activists generally, now found themselves contending with the problem of white flight, however.) [59] [60]

Emmett Till's murder, 1955

Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American from Chicago, visited his relatives in Money, Mississippi, for the summer. He allegedly had an interaction with a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, in a small grocery store that violated the norms of Mississippi culture, and Bryant's husband Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam brutally murdered young Emmett Till. They beat and mutilated him before shooting him in the head and sinking his body in the Tallahatchie River. Three days later, Till's body was discovered and retrieved from the river. After Emmett's mother, Mamie Till, [61] came to identify the remains of her son, she decided she wanted to "let the people see what I have seen". [62] Till's mother then had his body taken back to Chicago where she had it displayed in an open casket during the funeral services where many thousands of visitors arrived to show their respects. [62] A later publication of an image at the funeral in Jet is credited as a crucial moment in the civil rights era for displaying in vivid detail the violent racism that was being directed at black people in America. [63] [62] In a column for The Atlantic, Vann R. Newkirk wrote: "The trial of his killers became a pageant illuminating the tyranny of white supremacy". [2] The state of Mississippi tried two defendants, but they were speedily acquitted by an all-white jury. [64]

"Emmett's murder," historian Tim Tyson writes, "would never have become a watershed historical moment without Mamie finding the strength to make her private grief a public matter." [65] The visceral response to his mother's decision to have an open-casket funeral mobilized the black community throughout the U.S. [2] The murder and resulting trial ended up markedly impacting the views of several young black activists. [65] Joyce Ladner referred to such activists as the "Emmett Till generation." [65] One hundred days after Emmett Till's murder, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. [66] Parks later informed Till's mother that her decision to stay in her seat was guided by the image she still vividly recalled of Till's brutalized remains. [66] The glass topped casket that was used for Till's Chicago funeral was found in a cemetery garage in 2009. Till had been reburied in a different casket after being exhumed in 2005. [67] Till's family decided to donate the original casket to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American Culture and History, where it is now on display. [68] In 2007, Bryant said that she had fabricated the most sensational part of her story in 1955. [63] [69]

Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott, 1955–1956

On December 1, 1955, nine months after a 15-year-old high school student, Claudette Colvin, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and was arrested, Rosa Parks did the same thing. Parks soon became the symbol of the resulting Montgomery bus boycott and received national publicity. She was later hailed as the "mother of the civil rights movement". [70]

Parks was secretary of the Montgomery NAACP chapter and had recently returned from a meeting at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee where nonviolence as a strategy was taught by Myles Horton and others. After Parks' arrest, African Americans gathered and organized the Montgomery bus boycott to demand a bus system in which passengers would be treated equally. [71] The organization was led by Jo Ann Robinson, a member of the Women's Political Council who had been waiting for the opportunity to boycott the bus system. Following Rosa Parks’ arrest, Jo Ann Robinson mimeographed 52,500 leaflets calling for a boycott. They were distributed around the city and helped gather the attention of civil rights leaders. After the city rejected many of its suggested reforms, the NAACP, led by E. D. Nixon, pushed for full desegregation of public buses. With the support of most of Montgomery's 50,000 African Americans, the boycott lasted for 381 days, until the local ordinance segregating African Americans and whites on public buses was repealed. Ninety percent of African Americans in Montgomery partook in the boycotts, which reduced bus revenue significantly, as they comprised the majority of the riders. In November 1956, the United States Supreme Court upheld a district court ruling in the case of Browder v. Gayle and ordered Montgomery's buses desegregated, ending the boycott. [71]

Local leaders established the Montgomery Improvement Association to focus their efforts. Martin Luther King Jr. was elected President of this organization. The lengthy protest attracted national attention for him and the city. His eloquent appeals to Christian brotherhood and American idealism created a positive impression on people both inside and outside the South. [49]

Little Rock Crisis, 1957

A crisis erupted in Little Rock, Arkansas, when Governor of Arkansas Orval Faubus called out the National Guard on September 4 to prevent entry to the nine African-American students who had sued for the right to attend an integrated school, Little Rock Central High School. [72] Under the guidance of Daisy Bates, the nine students had been chosen to attend Central High because of their excellent grades.

On the first day of school, 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford was the only one of the nine students who showed up because she did not receive the phone call about the danger of going to school. A photo was taken of Eckford being harassed by white protesters outside the school, and the police had to take her away in a patrol car for her protection. [73] Afterwards, the nine students had to carpool to school and be escorted by military personnel in jeeps.

Faubus was not a proclaimed segregationist. The Arkansas Democratic Party, which then controlled politics in the state, put significant pressure on Faubus after he had indicated he would investigate bringing Arkansas into compliance with the Brown decision. Faubus then took his stand against integration and against the Federal court ruling. Faubus' resistance received the attention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was determined to enforce the orders of the Federal courts. Critics had charged he was lukewarm, at best, on the goal of desegregation of public schools. But, Eisenhower federalized the National Guard in Arkansas and ordered them to return to their barracks. Eisenhower deployed elements of the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to protect the students.

The students attended high school under harsh conditions. They had to pass through a gauntlet of spitting, jeering whites to arrive at school on their first day, and to put up with harassment from other students for the rest of the year. Although federal troops escorted the students between classes, the students were teased and even attacked by white students when the soldiers were not around. One of the Little Rock Nine, Minnijean Brown, was suspended for spilling a bowl of chili on the head of a white student who was harassing her in the school lunch line. Later, she was expelled for verbally abusing a white female student. [74]

Only Ernest Green of the Little Rock Nine graduated from Central High School. After the 1957–58 school year was over, Little Rock closed its public school system completely rather than continue to integrate. Other school systems across the South followed suit.

The method of nonviolence and nonviolence training

During the time period considered to be the "African-American civil rights" era, the predominant use of protest was nonviolent, or peaceful. [75] Often referred to as pacifism, the method of nonviolence is considered to be an attempt to impact society positively. Although acts of racial discrimination have occurred historically throughout the United States, perhaps the most violent regions have been in the former Confederate states. During the 1950s and 1960s, the nonviolent protesting of the civil rights movement caused definite tension, which gained national attention.

In order to prepare for protests physically and psychologically, demonstrators received training in nonviolence. According to former civil rights activist Bruce Hartford, there are two main branches of nonviolence training. There is the philosophical method, which involves understanding the method of nonviolence and why it is considered useful, and there is the tactical method, which ultimately teaches demonstrators "how to be a protestor—how to sit-in, how to picket, how to defend yourself against attack, giving training on how to remain cool when people are screaming racist insults into your face and pouring stuff on you and hitting you" (Civil Rights Movement Archive). The philosophical method of nonviolence, in the American civil rights movement, was largely inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's "non-cooperation" policies during his involvement in the Indian independence movement which were intended to gain attention so that the public would either "intervene in advance," or "provide public pressure in support of the action to be taken" (Erikson, 415). As Hartford explains it, philosophical nonviolence training aims to "shape the individual person's attitude and mental response to crises and violence" (Civil Rights Movement Archive). Hartford and activists like him, who trained in tactical nonviolence, considered it necessary in order to ensure physical safety, instill discipline, teach demonstrators how to demonstrate, and form mutual confidence among demonstrators (Civil Rights Movement Archive). [75] [76]

For many, the concept of nonviolent protest was a way of life, a culture. However, not everyone agreed with this notion. James Forman, former SNCC (and later Black Panther) member, and nonviolence trainer was among those who did not. In his autobiography, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Forman revealed his perspective on the method of nonviolence as "strictly a tactic, not a way of life without limitations." Similarly, Bob Moses, who was also an active member of SNCC, felt that the method of nonviolence was practical. When interviewed by author Robert Penn Warren, Moses said "There's no question that he (Martin Luther King Jr.) had a great deal of influence with the masses. But I don't think it's in the direction of love. It's in a practical direction . . ." (Who Speaks for the Negro? Warren). [77] [78]

According to a 2020 study in the American Political Science Review, nonviolent civil rights protests boosted vote shares for the Democratic party in presidential elections in nearby counties, but violent protests substantially boosted white support for Republicans in counties near to the violent protests. [79]

Sit-ins, 1958–1960

In July 1958, the NAACP Youth Council sponsored sit-ins at the lunch counter of a Dockum Drug Store in downtown Wichita, Kansas. After three weeks, the movement successfully got the store to change its policy of segregated seating, and soon afterward all Dockum stores in Kansas were desegregated. This movement was quickly followed in the same year by a student sit-in at a Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City led by Clara Luper, which also was successful. [80]

Mostly black students from area colleges led a sit-in at a Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina. [81] On February 1, 1960, four students, Ezell A. Blair Jr., David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College, an all-black college, sat down at the segregated lunch counter to protest Woolworth's policy of excluding African Americans from being served food there. [82] The four students purchased small items in other parts of the store and kept their receipts, then sat down at the lunch counter and asked to be served. After being denied service, they produced their receipts and asked why their money was good everywhere else at the store, but not at the lunch counter. [83]

The protesters had been encouraged to dress professionally, to sit quietly, and to occupy every other stool so that potential white sympathizers could join in. The Greensboro sit-in was quickly followed by other sit-ins in Richmond, Virginia [84] [85] Nashville, Tennessee and Atlanta, Georgia. [86] [87] The most immediately effective of these was in Nashville, where hundreds of well organized and highly disciplined college students conducted sit-ins in coordination with a boycott campaign. [88] [89] As students across the south began to "sit-in" at the lunch counters of local stores, police and other officials sometimes used brutal force to physically escort the demonstrators from the lunch facilities.

The "sit-in" technique was not new—as far back as 1939, African-American attorney Samuel Wilbert Tucker organized a sit-in at the then-segregated Alexandria, Virginia, library. [90] In 1960 the technique succeeded in bringing national attention to the movement. [91] On March 9, 1960, an Atlanta University Center group of students released An Appeal for Human Rights as a full page advertisement in newspapers, including the Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta Journal, and Atlanta Daily World. [92] Known as the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR), the group initiated the Atlanta Student Movement and began to lead sit-ins starting on March 15, 1960. [87] [93] By the end of 1960, the process of sit-ins had spread to every southern and border state, and even to facilities in Nevada, Illinois, and Ohio that discriminated against blacks.

Demonstrators focused not only on lunch counters but also on parks, beaches, libraries, theaters, museums, and other public facilities. In April 1960 activists who had led these sit-ins were invited by SCLC activist Ella Baker to hold a conference at Shaw University, a historically black university in Raleigh, North Carolina. This conference led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). [94] SNCC took these tactics of nonviolent confrontation further, and organized the freedom rides. As the constitution protected interstate commerce, they decided to challenge segregation on interstate buses and in public bus facilities by putting interracial teams on them, to travel from the North through the segregated South. [95]

Freedom Rides, 1961

Freedom Rides were journeys by civil rights activists on interstate buses into the segregated southern United States to test the United States Supreme Court decision Boynton v. Virginia (1960), which ruled that segregation was unconstitutional for passengers engaged in interstate travel. Organized by CORE, the first Freedom Ride of the 1960s left Washington D.C. on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17. [96]

During the first and subsequent Freedom Rides, activists traveled through the Deep South to integrate seating patterns on buses and desegregate bus terminals, including restrooms and water fountains. That proved to be a dangerous mission. In Anniston, Alabama, one bus was firebombed, forcing its passengers to flee for their lives. [97]

In Birmingham, Alabama, an FBI informant reported that Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor gave Ku Klux Klan members fifteen minutes to attack an incoming group of freedom riders before having police "protect" them. The riders were severely beaten "until it looked like a bulldog had got a hold of them." James Peck, a white activist, was beaten so badly that he required fifty stitches to his head. [97]

In a similar occurrence in Montgomery, Alabama, the Freedom Riders followed in the footsteps of Rosa Parks and rode an integrated Greyhound bus from Birmingham. Although they were protesting interstate bus segregation in peace, they were met with violence in Montgomery as a large, white mob attacked them for their activism. They caused an enormous, 2-hour long riot which resulted in 22 injuries, five of whom were hospitalized. [98]

Mob violence in Anniston and Birmingham temporarily halted the rides. SNCC activists from Nashville brought in new riders to continue the journey from Birmingham to New Orleans. In Montgomery, Alabama, at the Greyhound Bus Station, a mob charged another busload of riders, knocking John Lewis [99] unconscious with a crate and smashing Life photographer Don Urbrock in the face with his own camera. A dozen men surrounded James Zwerg, [100] a white student from Fisk University, and beat him in the face with a suitcase, knocking out his teeth. [97]

On May 24, 1961, the freedom riders continued their rides into Jackson, Mississippi, where they were arrested for "breaching the peace" by using "white only" facilities. New Freedom Rides were organized by many different organizations and continued to flow into the South. As riders arrived in Jackson, they were arrested. By the end of summer, more than 300 had been jailed in Mississippi. [96]

.. When the weary Riders arrive in Jackson and attempt to use "white only" restrooms and lunch counters they are immediately arrested for Breach of Peace and Refusal to Obey an Officer. Says Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett in defense of segregation: "The Negro is different because God made him different to punish him." From lockup, the Riders announce "Jail No Bail"—they will not pay fines for unconstitutional arrests and illegal convictions—and by staying in jail they keep the issue alive. Each prisoner will remain in jail for 39 days, the maximum time they can serve without loosing [sic] their right to appeal the unconstitutionality of their arrests, trials, and convictions. After 39 days, they file an appeal and post bond. [101]

The jailed freedom riders were treated harshly, crammed into tiny, filthy cells and sporadically beaten. In Jackson, some male prisoners were forced to do hard labor in 100 °F (38 °C) heat. Others were transferred to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where they were treated to harsh conditions. Sometimes the men were suspended by "wrist breakers" from the walls. Typically, the windows of their cells were shut tight on hot days, making it hard for them to breathe.

Public sympathy and support for the freedom riders led John F. Kennedy's administration to order the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to issue a new desegregation order. When the new ICC rule took effect on November 1, 1961, passengers were permitted to sit wherever they chose on the bus "white" and "colored" signs came down in the terminals separate drinking fountains, toilets, and waiting rooms were consolidated and lunch counters began serving people regardless of skin color.

The student movement involved such celebrated figures as John Lewis, a single-minded activist James Lawson, [102] the revered "guru" of nonviolent theory and tactics Diane Nash, [103] an articulate and intrepid public champion of justice Bob Moses, pioneer of voting registration in Mississippi and James Bevel, a fiery preacher and charismatic organizer, strategist, and facilitator. Other prominent student activists included Dion Diamond, [104] Charles McDew, Bernard Lafayette, [105] Charles Jones, Lonnie King, Julian Bond, [106] Hosea Williams, and Stokely Carmichael.

Voter registration organizing

After the Freedom Rides, local black leaders in Mississippi such as Amzie Moore, Aaron Henry, Medgar Evers, and others asked SNCC to help register black voters and to build community organizations that could win a share of political power in the state. Since Mississippi ratified its new constitution in 1890 with provisions such as poll taxes, residency requirements, and literacy tests, it made registration more complicated and stripped blacks from voter rolls and voting. Also, violence at the time of elections had earlier suppressed black voting.

By the mid-20th century, preventing blacks from voting had become an essential part of the culture of white supremacy. In June and July 1959, members of the black community in Fayette County, TN formed the Fayette County Civic and Welfare League to spur voting. At the time, there were 16,927 blacks in the county, yet only 17 of them had voted in the previous seven years. Within a year, some 1,400 blacks had registered, and the white community responded with harsh economic reprisals. Using registration rolls, the White Citizens Council circulated a blacklist of all registered black voters, allowing banks, local stores, and gas stations to conspire to deny registered black voters essential services. What's more, sharecropping blacks who registered to vote were getting evicted from their homes. All in all, the number of evictions came to 257 families, many of whom were forced to live in a makeshift Tent City for well over a year. Finally, in December 1960, the Justice Department invoked its powers authorized by the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to file a suit against seventy parties accused of violating the civil rights of black Fayette County citizens. [107] In the following year the first voter registration project in McComb and the surrounding counties in the Southwest corner of the state. Their efforts were met with violent repression from state and local lawmen, the White Citizens' Council, and the Ku Klux Klan. Activists were beaten, there were hundreds of arrests of local citizens, and the voting activist Herbert Lee was murdered. [108]

White opposition to black voter registration was so intense in Mississippi that Freedom Movement activists concluded that all of the state's civil rights organizations had to unite in a coordinated effort to have any chance of success. In February 1962, representatives of SNCC, CORE, and the NAACP formed the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO). At a subsequent meeting in August, SCLC became part of COFO. [109]

In the Spring of 1962, with funds from the Voter Education Project, SNCC/COFO began voter registration organizing in the Mississippi Delta area around Greenwood, and the areas surrounding Hattiesburg, Laurel, and Holly Springs. As in McComb, their efforts were met with fierce opposition—arrests, beatings, shootings, arson, and murder. Registrars used the literacy test to keep blacks off the voting roles by creating standards that even highly educated people could not meet. In addition, employers fired blacks who tried to register, and landlords evicted them from their rental homes. [110] Despite these actions, over the following years, the black voter registration campaign spread across the state.

Similar voter registration campaigns—with similar responses—were begun by SNCC, CORE, and SCLC in Louisiana, Alabama, southwest Georgia, and South Carolina. By 1963, voter registration campaigns in the South were as integral to the Freedom Movement as desegregation efforts. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, [11] protecting and facilitating voter registration despite state barriers became the main effort of the movement. It resulted in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which had provisions to enforce the constitutional right to vote for all citizens.

Integration of Mississippi universities, 1956–1965

Beginning in 1956, Clyde Kennard, a black Korean War-veteran, wanted to enroll at Mississippi Southern College (now the University of Southern Mississippi) at Hattiesburg under the G.I. Bill. William David McCain, the college president, used the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, in order to prevent his enrollment by appealing to local black leaders and the segregationist state political establishment. [111]

The state-funded organization tried to counter the civil rights movement by positively portraying segregationist policies. More significantly, it collected data on activists, harassed them legally, and used economic boycotts against them by threatening their jobs (or causing them to lose their jobs) to try to suppress their work.

Kennard was twice arrested on trumped-up charges, and eventually convicted and sentenced to seven years in the state prison. [112] After three years at hard labor, Kennard was paroled by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. Journalists had investigated his case and publicized the state's mistreatment of his colon cancer. [112]

McCain's role in Kennard's arrests and convictions is unknown. [113] [114] [115] [116] While trying to prevent Kennard's enrollment, McCain made a speech in Chicago, with his travel sponsored by the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. He described the blacks' seeking to desegregate Southern schools as "imports" from the North. (Kennard was a native and resident of Hattiesburg.) McCain said:

We insist that educationally and socially, we maintain a segregated society. In all fairness, I admit that we are not encouraging Negro voting. The Negroes prefer that control of the government remain in the white man's hands. [113] [115] [116]

Note: Mississippi had passed a new constitution in 1890 that effectively disfranchised most blacks by changing electoral and voter registration requirements although it deprived them of constitutional rights authorized under post-Civil War amendments, it survived U.S. Supreme Court challenges at the time. It was not until after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that most blacks in Mississippi and other southern states gained federal protection to enforce the constitutional right of citizens to vote.

In September 1962, James Meredith won a lawsuit to secure admission to the previously segregated University of Mississippi. He attempted to enter campus on September 20, on September 25, and again on September 26. He was blocked by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, who said, "[N]o school will be integrated in Mississippi while I am your Governor." The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held Barnett and Lieutenant Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr. in contempt, ordering them arrested and fined more than $10,000 for each day they refused to allow Meredith to enroll.

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy sent in a force of U.S. Marshals and deputized U.S. Border Patrol agents and Federal Bureau of Prisons officers. On September 30, 1962, Meredith entered the campus under their escort. Students and other whites began rioting that evening, throwing rocks and firing on the federal agents guarding Meredith at Lyceum Hall. Rioters ended up killing two civilians, including a French journalist 28 federal agents suffered gunshot wounds, and 160 others were injured. President John F. Kennedy sent U.S. Army and federalized Mississippi National Guard forces to the campus to quell the riot. Meredith began classes the day after the troops arrived. [117]

Kennard and other activists continued to work on public university desegregation. In 1965 Raylawni Branch and Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong became the first African-American students to attend the University of Southern Mississippi. By that time, McCain helped ensure they had a peaceful entry. [118] In 2006, Judge Robert Helfrich ruled that Kennard was factually innocent of all charges for which he had been convicted in the 1950s. [112]

Albany Movement, 1961–62

The SCLC, which had been criticized by some student activists for its failure to participate more fully in the freedom rides, committed much of its prestige and resources to a desegregation campaign in Albany, Georgia, in November 1961. King, who had been criticized personally by some SNCC activists for his distance from the dangers that local organizers faced—and given the derisive nickname "De Lawd" as a result—intervened personally to assist the campaign led by both SNCC organizers and local leaders.

The campaign was a failure because of the canny tactics of Laurie Pritchett, the local police chief, and divisions within the black community. The goals may not have been specific enough. Pritchett contained the marchers without violent attacks on demonstrators that inflamed national opinion. He also arranged for arrested demonstrators to be taken to jails in surrounding communities, allowing plenty of room to remain in his jail. Pritchett also foresaw King's presence as a danger and forced his release to avoid King's rallying the black community. King left in 1962 without having achieved any dramatic victories. The local movement, however, continued the struggle, and it obtained significant gains in the next few years. [119]

Birmingham campaign, 1963

The Albany movement was shown to be an important education for the SCLC, however, when it undertook the Birmingham campaign in 1963. Executive Director Wyatt Tee Walker carefully planned the early strategy and tactics for the campaign. It focused on one goal—the desegregation of Birmingham's downtown merchants, rather than total desegregation, as in Albany.

The movement's efforts were helped by the brutal response of local authorities, in particular Eugene "Bull" Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety. He had long held much political power but had lost a recent election for mayor to a less rabidly segregationist candidate. Refusing to accept the new mayor's authority, Connor intended to stay in office.

The campaign used a variety of nonviolent methods of confrontation, including sit-ins, kneel-ins at local churches, and a march to the county building to mark the beginning of a drive to register voters. The city, however, obtained an injunction barring all such protests. Convinced that the order was unconstitutional, the campaign defied it and prepared for mass arrests of its supporters. King elected to be among those arrested on April 12, 1963. [120]

While in jail, King wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" [121] on the margins of a newspaper, since he had not been allowed any writing paper while held in solitary confinement. [122] Supporters appealed to the Kennedy administration, which intervened to obtain King's release. Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers, arranged for $160,000 to bail out King and his fellow protestors. [123] King was allowed to call his wife, who was recuperating at home after the birth of their fourth child and was released early on April 19.

The campaign, however, faltered as it ran out of demonstrators willing to risk arrest. James Bevel, SCLC's Director of Direct Action and Director of Nonviolent Education, then came up with a bold and controversial alternative: to train high school students to take part in the demonstrations. As a result, in what would be called the Children's Crusade, more than one thousand students skipped school on May 2 to meet at the 16th Street Baptist Church to join the demonstrations. More than six hundred marched out of the church fifty at a time in an attempt to walk to City Hall to speak to Birmingham's mayor about segregation. They were arrested and put into jail. In this first encounter, the police acted with restraint. On the next day, however, another one thousand students gathered at the church. When Bevel started them marching fifty at a time, Bull Connor finally unleashed police dogs on them and then turned the city's fire hoses water streams on the children. National television networks broadcast the scenes of the dogs attacking demonstrators and the water from the fire hoses knocking down the schoolchildren. [124]

Widespread public outrage led the Kennedy administration to intervene more forcefully in negotiations between the white business community and the SCLC. On May 10, the parties announced an agreement to desegregate the lunch counters and other public accommodations downtown, to create a committee to eliminate discriminatory hiring practices, to arrange for the release of jailed protesters, and to establish regular means of communication between black and white leaders.

Not everyone in the black community approved of the agreement—Fred Shuttlesworth was particularly critical, since he was skeptical about the good faith of Birmingham's power structure from his experience in dealing with them. Parts of the white community reacted violently. They bombed the Gaston Motel, which housed the SCLC's unofficial headquarters, and the home of King's brother, the Reverend A. D. King. In response, thousands of blacks rioted, burning numerous buildings and one of them stabbed and wounded a police officer. [125]


Timeline of Birmingham’s 150-Year History

The Birmingham Times

1871 –City of Birmingham founded now the state’s most populous city, Birmingham was founded at the crossing of two rail lines near one of the world’s richest deposits of minerals.

1873 — Birmingham becomes seat of Jefferson County.

–First Colored Baptist Church founded.

—Birmingham particularly hard hit by cholera due to the lack of urban infrastructure and the poor housing conditions. At least 128 people died from cholera, which struck in the height of summer and persisted for several weeks. The outbreak caused about half of Birmingham’s 4,000 residents to flee.

1874 – Birmingham Iron Age newspaper in publication.

Sloss Furnaces. (Birmingham, Ala. Public Library Archives)

1882 — Sloss Furnace begins operating.

1885 — Birmingham Barons baseball team originally established as Birmingham Coal Barons.

1888 – Evening News and Birmingham Age-Herald newspapers in publication.

1890 — The Penny Savings Bank, founded by the Rev. William Reuben Pettiford in Birmingham, opens becoming the first black-owned and black-operated financial institution in Alabama.

1893 — Cathedral of Saint Paul built. St. Mark’s School opens.

1898 — Miles College founded by the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. It was chartered as Miles Memorial College, in honor of Bishop William H. Miles.

1902 — Woodward Building, construction completed on the first of four steel-frame skyscrapers that would make up Birmingham’s “Heaviest Corner on Earth.”

1903 – Social worker Carrie A. Tuggle opens the Tuggle Institute and School, the first orphan home in Alabama for African-American boys. The Institute operated until Tuggle’s death on November 5th, 1924 and was later renamed Tuggle Elementary School in 1936.

1904 — Vulcan Statue, the world’s largest cast-iron statue, created as Birmingham’s entry in the St. Louis World’s Fair, was sculpted by Giuseppe Moretti.

1907 — Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company acquired by United States Steel Corporation.

1909 — City expands to include Ensley, North Birmingham, Pratt City, Woodlawn.

–Birmingham Terminal Station and Empire Building constructed.

1912 – John Hand Building constructed.

1913 – City Federal Building constructed.

1914 — Birmingham’s Lyric Theatre established as one of the first in the South where black and white audiences could see the same show for the same price, though blacks sat in an isolated section with inferior accommodations

1918 — Birmingham College and Southern University merged to establish Birmingham-Southern College.

1922 – WAPI radio begins broadcasting.

1923 – Traffic lights installed.

1925 — The Pittsburgh of the South, Birmingham is the largest cast iron and steel producer in the Southern U.S. – WBRC radio begins broadcasting.

1927 – Alabama Theatre opens.

1929 – Thomas Jefferson Hotel built.

1936 — Local Steel Workers Organizing Committee formed

Vulcan is seen through the trees. (Photo by Mark Almond)

–Vulcan statue erected atop Red Mountain.

1941 — World War II. The demand for steel during the war brought Birmingham out of the Great Depression.

1949 – WAPI-TV and WBRC-TV (television) begins broadcasting.

1950 — Birmingham Post-Herald newspaper in publication.

The exterior of the Birmingham Museum of Art is shown. (Photo by Mark Almond)

1951 — Birmingham Museum of Art opens. It is currently home to one of the finest collections in the Southeast, with extensive holdings from around the globe dating from ancient to modern times.

1954 — A.G. Gaston Motel, founded by entrepreneur and activist A.G. Gaston to provide higher class service to black visitors.

1955 – Birmingham Zoo opens.

1956 — The home of Birmingham minister and civil rights leader Fred Shuttlesworth is bombed. Although the structure is severely damaged, Shuttlesworth emerges uninjured.

–During a mass meeting at Birmingham’s Sardis Baptist Church, Shuttlesworth and other local black ministers establish the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). Founded in response to the State of Alabama’s recent ban on the NAACP, which lasted eight years, ACMHR was central to the civil rights movement in Birmingham.

–The Freedom Riders arrive at the Greyhound bus terminal in Montgomery where they are attacked by an angry mob. The Freedom Ride, an integrated bus trip from Washington D.C., through the Deep South, was formed to test the 1960 Supreme Court decision prohibiting segregation in bus and train terminal facilities.

1956 — Alabama Symphony Orchestra changes name to Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

1963 — After previously establishing the ACMHR and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Shuttlesworth invites Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Birmingham to lead what becomes the Birmingham Campaign for Desegregation.

–King writes Letter From Birmingham Jail.

–Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombed killing four young girls in an attack against the Civil Rights Movement and humanity.

–Birmingham Botanical Gardens open.

–The Birmingham Times newspaper founded

1966 — The University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Alabama extension center and the School of Medicine merged to create a four-year university. Now a public research university and medical center that is the state’s largest employer.

1966 – Oscar Adams Jr. becomes the first African American to join the Birmingham Bar Association.

1968 – Arthur Shores appointed to the Birmingham City Council, making him the first African-American to serve as a councilman.

1969 – Birmingham Terminal Station demolished.

1974 — J. Richmond Pearson and U.W. Clemon first African Americans elected since Reconstruction to the Alabama State Senate.

1979 — Richard Arrington Jr. elected as the first African-American mayor of Birmingham. Arrington serves in that post for nearly 20 years, until his resignation in July 1999.

1980 – Oscar Adams Jr. appointed to the Alabama Supreme Court, making him the first African-American justice to hold that office.

1984 — J. Mason Davis becomes the first African-American president of the Birmingham Bar Association. He is also the first minority adjunct professor at The University of Alabama School of Law School, serving from 1972 to 1997

1986 — Reuben Davis and Chris McNair elected to the County Commission, the first district by district election, and are the first African-Americans to serve on the commission

–South Trust Tower, Birmingham’s largest skyscraper, built. It has since become Wachovia Tower Wells Fargo Tower and now Shipt Tower.

1989 – AmSouth-Harbert Plaza built in downtown Birmingham.

1990 — Birmingham Islamic Society formed.

1991 – Carole Smitherman appointed to become the first African-American woman to serve as a circuit court judge in Alabama

1992 — Birmingham Civil Rights Institute opens at Kelly Ingram Park in the Civil Rights District

1993 — Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame opens.

1998 – An F-5 tornado with winds estimated at more than 260 mph at its peak would tear through Tuscaloosa and Jefferson Counties killing 32 people, injuring 250 and destroying 1,000 homes.

1999 – Bernard Kincaid elected mayor

2002 — Shelia Smoot elected first black female Jefferson County Commissioner

2003 — Helen Shores Lee becomes the first African-American woman to serve as judge on the Jefferson County Circuit Court.

2003 — The Barber Motorsports Park, an 880 acre, multi-purpose racing facility located on the eastern fringes of Birmingham opens. It is built by George Barber and includes the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum, which has been named “World’s Largest Motorcycle Museum” by the Guinness World Records.

2005 — Condoleezza Rice, Birmingham native named U.S. Secretary of State.

–Birmingham Post-Herald newspaper ceases publication.

2007 – Larry Langford elected mayor

2008 — The national subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession plunges the county’s debt to junk bond status because of failure of the derivative markets. This triggers penalties and higher interest rates for Jefferson County sewer debt. The county begins technical default. Bond insurers sue.

–Jefferson County and creditors attempt to reach a settlement of the $3.14 billion sewer debt, but any deal would need to erase $1 billion or more of that debt.

2009 – Carole Smitherman becomes Birmingham’s first African-American female mayor.

–Roderick Royal becomes mayor

2010 – William Bell elected mayor

—Railroad Park, 19-acre park opened, becomes a catalyst for revitalization in downtown Birmingham

2011 — After the Alabama Supreme Court upholds a judge’s ruling on the occupational tax, the county again puts hourly workers on a 32-hour workweek and shuts down four satellite courthouses to save $21 million annually.

–Jefferson County puts 547 workers on administrative leave without pay, but restores the 40-hour workweek for those who remain. Officials announce that roadside mowing and most paving will stop. Sheriff Mike Hale says deputies no longer will respond to traffic accidents.

–A massive storm in April, causing numerous powerful tornadoes rips through the southeastern United States with 250 people killed in Alabama, including 20 people in Jefferson County communities of Pleasant Grove (10), Concord (6), Cahaba Heights (1), Pratt City (1), Forestdale (1), and McDonald Chapel (1).

–The County Commission in November votes 4-1 to file the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

–Terri Sewell becomes U.S. representative for Alabama’s 7th congressional district.

2012 — Cooper Green Mercy Hospital downsized. The Jefferson County Commission votes 3-2 to close the inpatient care unit and emergency room at Cooper Green following weeks of debate and protests from community leaders who have begged the county to continue operating the facility for the sick poor.

2013 — The County Commission unanimously approves the sale of the county’s nursing home.

2014 — Jefferson County emerges from bankruptcy in December after closing on about $1.8 billion in new sewer warrants used to pay creditors.

–The University of Alabama at Birmingham announces it will end its football program. After intense pressure, the program makes a comeback three years later.

2015 – The International World Game Executive Committee selects Birmingham for the 2021 World Games (moved to 2022 because of COVID-19). Birmingham beats Lima, Peru and Ufa, Russia for the event and supporters of Birmingham say landing the event could have a $256.5 million economic impact to the region.

— Negro Southern League Museum opens with permanent exhibits telling the story of African-American baseball, 7,050 square feet for special events, space for a rooftop restaurant with a terrace overlooking Regions Field, and a gift shop.

–The Birmingham Times newspaper sold to the Foundation for Progress in Journalism

2016 — Lynneice Washington elected District Attorney for the Bessemer Cutoff, the first African-American DA in the state of Alabama.

–Theo Lawson named first African American Jefferson County attorney.

–Representative Terri Sewell introduces legislation leading to Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument designation by presidential proclamation one year later.

–The completely renovated Lyric Theater in downtown reopens with a three-day Vaudeville-style variety show featuring local performers.

2017 – Randall Woodfin elected, becomes city’s youngest mayor in over 120 years.

–John Henry joins the Jefferson County Commission Finance Department and becomes the county’s first black chief financial officer.

–The Pizitz Building formally opens. Located on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 19th Street North, in the heart of Birmingham’s historic retail and theater district, it features The Pizitz Food Hall, two restaurants, 143 multifamily residences, modern co-working office space named Forge and newly opened Sidewalk Film Center + Cinema.

2018 — Danny Carr and Mark Pettway elected the county’s first black district attorney and first black sheriff, respectively.

–Highlands Bar & Grill wins prestigious James Beard Award for Most Outstanding Restaurant under the direction of Chef Frank Stitt

2019 — Walter Gonsoulin named the first permanent African American superintendent of the Jefferson County School System

2020 — A 4,300 square-foot A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club clubhouse opens on the grounds of the CrossPlex campus in western Birmingham.

–Felicia Rucker-Sumerlin named the first female Deputy Chief in the 200-year history of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

–COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe including, Birmingham, Jefferson County and Alabama completely disrupting lives around the world and killing millions.

–Long lines form at polling places around the city for a historic presidential election as Democrat Joe Biden defeats Republican Donald Trump in the U.S. Presidential election.

2021 – January Woodfin hospitalized and later released with COVID pneumonia

–-Woodfin pardons 15,000 misdemeanor marijuana convictions

–Woodfin creates city’s first ever Civilian Review Board

–Alabama Agriculture and Mechanical defeats Alabama State University in the Magic City Classic which had been delayed for six months because of COVID-19.

Source: The Birmingham Public Library Bhamwiki The Birmingham Times


Bethel Baptist Church served as headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and rose to prominence under the leadership of the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth during the Civil Rights Movement.

Because of the church’s visibility in the fight for integration, segregationists targeted the church on three separate occasions. On Christmas Day 1956, a bomb destroyed the parsonage. Shuttlesworth was in the building but remarkably was unharmed.

On June 29, 1958, civil rights guards removed a bomb from the church before it exploded, saving the church from certain damage. On December 14, 1962, a third bomb inflicted minor damage to the church.

A new sanctuary was opened in 1995, and the original church building was preserved as a monument to the Civil Rights Movement. In 2005, the parsonage – built in 1926 and rebuilt in 1957 – and the James Revis house across the street were granted National Historic Landmark status. Revis was a deacon in the church during the Shuttlesworth pastorate.


Birmingham 1963

In 1963, Birmingham became a focus for the civil rights movement. Birmingham, as a city, had made its mark on the civil rights movement for a number of years. Whether it was through the activities of Bull Connor or the bombed church which killed four school girls, many Americans would have known about Birmingham by 1963. Both SNCC and the NAACP were relatively inactive in Birmingham so any civil rights campaign could be lead by SCLC without too much rivalry. Martin Luther King’s brother was also a pastor in the city so family connections helped the role of SCLC.

Why was Birmingham so important?

It was a KKK stronghold and King described it as America’s worst city for racism. City businessmen actually believed that racism held back the city but their voices were usually quiet. In recent years, the KKK had castrated an African American pressured the city to ban a book from book stores as it contained pictures of black and white rabbits and wanted black music banned on radio stations.

Any civil rights campaign in the city would almost certainly provoke trouble and gain the movement the national outcry that would result. Any serious trouble could lead to King’s desired policy – federal intervention. The head of the police was called “Bull” Connor – a man who believed in segregation. When the Freedom Riders had driven through Birmingham and were attacked, there were no police to assist them as Connor had given them the day off as it was Mother’s Day……..Birmingham and Connor would get the civil rights movement back on track after the problems it had experienced.

Unlike Albany, the SCLC’s campaign in Birmingham was better planned but not without problems. In this sense King lead the movement rather than followed events. However, the local SCLC leader was not well liked among the African American community and demonstrations were poorly attended. Demonstrations were held in areas where African Americans lived – not conspicuously in the city centre. At one stage, African American onlookers were asked to join in to give the impression of mass commitment among the community of Birmingham. The lack of local involvement was the result of the imminent retirement of Bull Connor – many felt that things would improve once he was gone.

King’s saving grace was Connor. He had a notorious temper and he saw what were in fact relatively low key protests as a threat to his ‘rule’ in Birmingham. He set police dogs on to the protesters and suddenly Birmingham got national attention. King was arrested for defying an injunction that denied his right to march. He was kept in solitary confinement and was refused the right to see his lawyer. Only the intervention of J F Kennedy got his release.

To continue the campaign in Birmingham, King used children. Many adults still remained distanced from the protest. Though King did not want to use children, the film of Connor’s men using high pressure hoses and dogs on them was shown throughout USA. 500 youths were arrested and jailed.

Birmingham appeared to be descending into chaos when King called for a one-day halt to the protests. This angered local civil rights leaders who called King “Mister S-H-I-T”. Why did King call for a halt?

JF Kennedy had stated that what was happening in Birmingham was damaging America. King responded accordingly. However, many realised that it was Kennedy who had got King out of jail in Birmingham………Many local civil rights leaders felt that King was submitting to the power of white politicians – hence the “Uncle Tom” tag which followed King around in some quarters until his death in 1968.

Stores were desegregated opportunities for African Americans in jobs ‘improved’ (though from what to what?) and a biracial committee was set up to improve Birmingham’s troubled community.

However, the talks were wrecked by the bombing of the house that belonged to King’s brother. King’s motel room was also bombed. These outrages provoked riots among the local African-American community.

The white response? 1100 students who had attended the demonstrations were expelled for truancy from city schools and colleges. Only a federal court order got them reinstated.

What was gained at Birmingham ?

The SCLC had gauged Connor correctly. Had he behaved in an ‘Albany manner’, Birmingham would have been much less of a success.
The scenes of police dogs attacking children and youths pushed Kennedy into greater action – civil rights legislation shortly followed.
The media had once again shown America what life was like for African Americans in the South and probably provided the movement with its greatest boost.
Extra money poured into the SCLC’s coffers as a result of this event.


How did Birmingham improve?

Stores were desegregated an ongoing ‘‘program of upgrading Negro employment’’ was planned and a biracial committee was set up to improve Birmingham’s troubled community.

On a national level, the scenes of violence outraged the nation and jolted Kennedy into action. SCLC also received far more donations owing to the publicity of its work.

However, the demonstrations triggered mass resistance in Birmingham. Following negotiations, a bomb destroyed a motel room that King had stayed at the night before. A few months later four girls were killed in a church bombing in the city.


Boutwell, Albert

During the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, Martin Luther King addressed Mayor Albert Boutwell in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” writing that he hoped the Birmingham mayor would see the wisdom of not resisting desegregation.

The grandson of two Confederate veterans, Boutwell was born 13 November 1904 in Montgomery, Alabama. After earning an LLB from the University of Alabama in 1928, he began practicing law in Birmingham, Alabama. Boutwell was elected to the State Senate in 1946 and served for three terms until 1958. During this time, he served as Chairman of the Interim Legislative Committee on Segregation in the Public Schools and authored the 1956 Alabama Pupil Placement Act, which successfully maintained segregation in Alabama’s public schools after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. In 1958 he was elected lieutenant governor of Alabama for the 1959 to 1963 term.

When the city of Birmingham held its first election for mayor in 1963, after changing from a commission form of government, Boutwell ran against Public Safety Commissioner Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor, a vehement segregationist. Hoping for Connor’s defeat, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, headed by Fred Shuttlesworth, postponed their planned desegregation campaign until after the election. On 2 April 1963 Boutwell defeated Connor by 7,982 votes to become mayor of Birmingham, an outcome that Connor attributed to a 10,000-strong “Negro bloc vote” that favored Boutwell’s more moderate stance (“Connor Blames Negro Vote”).

Although newspaper coverage after Boutwell’s victory projected racial progress in Birmingham under the new mayor, King and his aides were not so optimistic. Dubbed by Shuttlesworth as “just a dignified Bull Connor,” Boutwell had declared that he would not tolerate violence and would “arrest, jail, and punish anyone who disturbs the peace or safety of our citizens” (King, 55 Spotswood, “Boutwell, Connor Push Campaigns”). After being elected, he urged Birmingham’s citizens, both black and white, to ignore the movement in Birmingham.

King was arrested on Good Friday, 12 April 1963, for violating an injunction against the desegregation protest and was imprisoned. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King declared that while Boutwell was less harsh than Connor he was still, like Connor, a segregationist.

On 10 May 1963 a truce declared between movement leaders and Birmingham’s leading businessmen ended the Birmingham Campaign. Later that year, Boutwell told the Birmingham School Board that he felt that the city’s integration was “not in the best interest of our school children” (Baker, “Now Wallace Faces”). Boutwell served as mayor of Birmingham until 1967, when he lost a bid for reelection. He died 3 February 1978.


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Watch the video: Civil Rights protests of Birmingham, Alabama