Birmingham campaign

Birmingham campaign

", inspired international support for the demonstrators.cite journal
title=Birmingham 1963
work=100 Photographs that Changed the World
publisher="Life", reproduced in "The Digital Journalist"
] Image credit: Charles Moore, Black Star"]

The Birmingham campaign was a strategic effort by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to promote civil rights for black Americans. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, and aimed at ending the city's segregated civil and discriminatory economic policies, the campaign lasted for more than two months in the spring of 1963. To provoke the police into filling the city's jails to overflowing, Martin Luther King, Jr. and black citizens of Birmingham employed nonviolent tactics to flout laws they considered unfair. King summarized the philosophy of the Birmingham campaign when he said, "The purpose of ... direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation". [Garrow, (1986) p. 246.]

Protests in Birmingham began with a Selective Buying Campaign to pressure business leaders to open retail sales jobs and other employment to people of all races, as well as to end segregated facilities in the stores. When business leaders resisted the boycott, King and the SCLC began what they termed Project C, a series of sit-ins and marches intended to provoke arrest. After the campaign ran low on adult volunteers, it recruited children for what became known as the "Children's Crusade". High school, college, and elementary students were trained to participate, and hundreds were arrested. During the protests, the Birmingham Police Department, led by Eugene "Bull" Connor, used high-pressure water jets and police dogs to control protesters, including children. Media coverage of these events brought intense scrutiny on segregation in the South.

Not all of the demonstrators were peaceful, despite the avowed intentions of the SCLC. In some cases, bystanders attacked the police, who responded with force. Scenes of the ensuing mayhem caused an international outcry. It led to federal intervention by the Kennedy administration. King and the SCLC were criticized for putting children in harm's way. By the end of the campaign, King's reputation improved immensely, Connor lost his job, the "Jim Crow" signs in Birmingham came down, and public places became more open to blacks.

The Birmingham campaign was a model of direct action protest, as it effectively shut down the city. In attracting media attention to the adverse treatment of black Americans, it brought national force to bear on the issue of segregation. Although desegregation occurred slowly in Birmingham, the campaign was a major factor in the national push towards the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in hiring practices and public services in the United States.


City of segregation

In 1960, Birmingham's population of almost 350,000 was roughly 65 percent white and 35 percent black, [cite web
last=U.S. Census of Population and Housing
title="Birmingham's Population, 1880-2000"
publisher=Birmingham (Alabama) Public Library
] and the city was one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States. Racial segregation of public and commercial facilities throughout Jefferson County was legally required, covered all aspects of life, and was rigidly enforced. [cite web
last=Birmingham City Council
title="Birmingham Segregation Laws"
publisher=Civil Rights Movement Veterans
] Only 10 percent of the city's black population was registered to vote in 1960. [Eskew, p. 86.] The average income for blacks in the city was less than half that of whites. Significantly lower pay scales for black workers at the local steel mills were common. [ Garrow, (1989) p. 165.] Birmingham had no black police officers, firefighters, sales clerks in department stores, bus drivers, bank tellers or store cashiers. Black secretaries could not work for white professionals. Jobs available to blacks were limited to manual labor in Birmingham's steel mills or work in black neighborhoods. When layoffs were necessary, black employees were the first to go. The unemployment rate for blacks was two and a half times higher than for whites. [Garrow, (1989) p. 166.]

Birmingham's economy was stagnating as the city tried to shift from blue collar to white collar jobs. [Bass, p. 89.] "Time" magazine reported in 1958 that the only thing white workers had to gain from desegregation was more competition from black workers. The city was notorious for the racial violence. Fifty unsolved racially motivated bombings between 1945 and 1962 had earned the city the nickname "Bombingham". A neighborhood shared by white and black families experienced so many attacks that it was called "Dynamite Hill".cite web
accessdate=1997-12-20 TV Online
] Black churches in which civil rights were discussed became specific targets for attack. [Branch, p. 570–571.]

Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights

Birmingham's black population began to organize to effect change. After Alabama banned the NAACP, [cite web
last=U.S. Supreme Court
title="N. A. A. C. P. v. ALABAMA"
] Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth formed the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) in 1956 to challenge the City of Birmingham's segregation policies through lawsuits and protests. When the courts overturned the segregation of the city's parks, the city responded by closing them. Shuttlesworth's home was repeatedly bombed, as was Bethel Baptist Church, where he was pastor. [cite web
title=Interview with Fred Shuttlesworth
publisher=Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Online
] After Shuttlesworth was arrested and jailed for violating the city's segregation rules in 1962, he sent a petition to Mayor Art Hanes' office asking that public facilities be desegregated. Hanes responded with a letter informing Shuttlesworth that his petition had been thrown in the garbage. [Garrow, (1989) p. 168.] Looking for outside help, Shuttlesworth invited Martin Luther King and the SCLC to Birmingham, saying, "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." [Hampton, p. 125.]

Campaign goals

During the summer of 1962, Martin Luther King had led a movement in Albany, Georgia, to try to change that city's policies of segregation. The campaign was described by historian Henry Hampton as a "morass" instead of a success. [Hampton, p. 112.] King's reputation had been adversely affected by the campaign in Albany, and he was eager to improve it. [ Hampton, p. 125.] [Bass, p. 96.] The Albany Movement provided an important lesson for the SCLC as it undertook the Birmingham campaign in 1963. In Albany, King and the SCLC concentrated on the desegregation of the city as a whole.

In Birmingham, their campaign tactics focused on defined goals for the downtown shopping and government district. These goals included the desegregation of Birmingham's downtown stores, non-racial hiring practices in shops and city employment, reopening of public parks, and the creation of a bi-racial committee to oversee the desegregation of Birmingham's public schools.cite journal
title=Birmingham Confrontation and the Power of Social Protest: An Analysis of the Dynamics and Tactics of Mobilization
publisher=American Sociological Association
journal=American Sociological Review
pages=p. 621–636

Commissioner of Public Safety

Through its forceful resistance to the campaign, the city government was a significant factor in the campaign's success. The city had a particular structure that gave outsized influence to its contentious Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor. He was described as an "arch-segregationist" by "Time" magazine, and was quoted saying, "We ain't gonna segregate ["sic"] no niggers and whites together in this town." [cite journal
title=Integration: Bull at Bay
] In 1958, police arrested ministers organizing a bus boycott. When the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) initiated a probe amid allegations of police misconduct for the arrests, Connor said, "I haven't got any damn apology to the FBI or anybody else", and predicted, "If the North keeps trying to cram this thing (desegregation) down our throats, there's going to be bloodshed."cite journal
title=Birmingham: Integration's Hottest Crucible
] In 1961, Connor delayed sending police to intervene when Freedom Riders were beaten by local mobs. [Garrow, (1989) p. 169.] The police harassed religious leaders and protest organizers by ticketing cars parked at mass meetings and entering the meetings in plainclothes to take notes. The Birmingham Fire Department interrupted such meetings to search for "phantom fire hazards". [Manis, p. 162–163.] Connor's antagonism towards the Civil Rights Movement galvanized support for black Americans. President 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."

Turmoil in the mayor's office weakened the Birmingham city government in its opposition to the campaign. Connor, who had run for several elected offices, had lost all but the race for Public Safety Commissioner. Because they believed Connor's extreme conservatism slowed progress for the city as a whole, a group of white political moderates worked to defeat him. [McWhorter, p. 286.] The Citizens for Progress was backed by the Chamber of Commerce and other white professionals in the city, and their tactics were successful. In November 1962, Connor lost the race for mayor to Albert Boutwell, a less combative segregationist. Connor and his colleagues on the City Commission refused to accept the new mayor's authority.cite book
title=Dictionary of American Biography
first=Kenneth T.
chapter=Theophilus Eugene Connor
edition=Supplement 9: 1971–1975
publisher=Charles Scribner's Sons
] They claimed on a technicality that their terms would not expire until 1965 instead of in the spring of 1963. For a brief time, Birmingham had two city governments attempting to conduct business. [Cotman, p. 11–12.]

Focus on Birmingham

elective Buying Campaign

Modeled on the Montgomery Bus Boycott, protest actions in Birmingham began in 1962, when students from local colleges arranged for a year of staggered boycotts. They caused downtown business to decline by as much as 40 percent, which demanded attention from the Chamber of Commerce. "These racial incidents have given us a black eye that we'll be a long time trying to forget," said Chamber of Commerce president Sidney Smyer. [Fairclough, p. 113] In response to the boycott, the City Commission of Birmingham punished the black community by withdrawing $45,000 from a surplus-food program used primarily by low-income blacks. The result, however, was a black community more motivated to resist. [Garrow, (1989) p. 169.]

The SCLC decided that economic pressure on Birmingham businesses would be more effective than pressure on politicians, a lesson learned in Albany as few blacks were registered to vote in 1962. In the spring of 1963 before Easter, the Birmingham boycott intensified during the second-busiest shopping season of the year. Pastors urged their congregations to avoid shopping in Birmingham stores in the downtown district. For six weeks supporters of the boycott patrolled the downtown area to make sure blacks were not patronizing 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 whose $15 hat was destroyed by boycott enforcers. Campaign 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." [cite web
title=Interview with Joe Dickson
publisher=Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Online
] After several business owners in Birmingham took down "white only" and "colored only" signs, Commissioner Connor told business owners that if they did not obey the segregation ordinances, they would lose their business licenses. [Nunnelley, p. 132.]

Project C

Martin Luther King's presence in Birmingham was not welcomed by all in the black community. A black attorney was quoted in "Time" magazine as saying, "The new administration should have been given a chance to confer with the various groups interested in change." Black 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."cite journal
title=Poorly Timed Protest"

Protest organizers knew they would meet with violence from the Birmingham Police Department but chose a confrontational approach to get the attention of the federal government. Wyatt Tee Walker, one of the SCLC founders, used Connor's tendency to act with violence to support the movement. "My theory was that if we mounted a strong nonviolent movement, the opposition would surely do something to attract the media, and in turn induce national sympathy and attention to the everyday segregated circumstance of a person living in the Deep South," Walker said. [Bass, p. 96.] He headed the planning of what he called Project C, which stood for "confrontation". Organizers believed their phones were tapped. To prevent their plans from being leaked and perhaps influencing the mayoral election, they used code words for demonstrations. [Garrow, (1989) p. 175.]

The plan called for direct nonviolent action to attract media attention to "the biggest and baddest city of the South." [Hampton, p. 126.] In preparation for the protests, Walker timed the walking distance from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, headquarters for the campaign, to the downtown area; surveyed the segregated lunch counters of department stores; and listed federal buildings as secondary targets should police block the protesters' entrance into primary targets such as stores, libraries, and all-white churches. [Garrow, (1989) p. 176–177.]


The campaign used a variety of nonviolent methods of confrontation, including sit-ins at libraries and lunch counters, kneel-ins by black visitors at white churches, and a march to the county building to mark the beginning of a voter-registration drive. Most businesses responded by refusing to serve demonstrators. Some white spectators at a sit-in at a Woolworth's lunch counter spat upon the participants. [ Eskew, p. 218.] A few hundred protesters, including jazz musician Al Hibbler, were arrested, although Hibbler was immediately released by Connor.cite journal
title=Integration: Connor and King
pages=p. 28, 33
] SCLC goals were to fill the jails with protesters to force the city government to negotiate as demonstrations continued, however not enough people were arrested to affect the functioning of the city. The editor of "The Birmingham World", the city's black newspaper, called the direct actions by the demonstrators "wasteful and worthless", and urged black citizens to use the courts to change the city's racist policies. [ Bass, p. 105.] Most white residents of Birmingham expressed shock at the demonstrations. White religious leaders denounced King and the other organizers, saying that "a cause should be pressed in the courts and the negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets." [Wilson, p. 94.] Some white Birmingham residents, however, were supportive as the boycott continued. When one black woman entered Loveman's department store to buy her children Easter shoes, a white saleswoman said to her, "Negro, ain't you ashamed of yourself, your people out there on the street getting put in jail and you in here spending money and I'm not going to sell you any, you'll have to go some other place." [Eskew, p. 237.] King promised a protest every day until "peaceful equality had been assured" and expressed doubt that the new mayor would ever voluntarily desegregate the city. [Bass, p. 16.]

City reaction

On 10 April 1963, Bull Connor obtained an injunction barring the protests and subsequently raised bail bond for those arrested from $300 to $1,200. Fred Shuttlesworth called the injunction a "flagrant denial of our constitutional rights" and organizers prepared to defy the order. The decision to ignore the injunction had already been made, however. [Bass, p. 108.] King and the SCLC had obeyed court injunctions in their Albany protests and reasoned that obeying them contributed to the Albany campaign's lack of success. [Eskew, p. 238.] In a press release they explained, "We are now confronted with recalcitrant forces in the Deep South that will use the courts to perpetuate the unjust and illegal systems of racial separation." [Bass, p. 108.] Incoming mayor Albert Boutwell called the King and the SCLC organizers "strangers" whose only purpose in Birmingham was "to stir inter-racial discord". Connor promised, "You can rest assured that I will fill the jail full of any persons violating the law as long as I'm at City Hall." [Eskew, p. 222.]

The movement organizers found themselves out of money after the amount of bail required was raised. Since King was the major fund raiser, his associates urged him to travel the country to raise bail money for those arrested. He had promised to lead the marchers to jail in solidarity, but hesitated as the planned date arrived. Some SCLC members grew frustrated with his indecisiveness. "I have never seen Martin so troubled", one of King's friends later said. [Bass p. 109.] After King reflected alone in his hotel room, he and the campaign leaders decided to defy the injunction and prepared for mass arrests of campaign supporters. "The eyes of the world are on Birmingham tonight", said Ralph Abernathy at a mass meeting of Birmingham's black citizens at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Mass meetings were held to build morale and to recruit volunteers to go to jail. "Bobby Kennedy is looking here at Birmingham, the United States Congress is looking at Birmingham. The Department of Justice is looking at Birmingham. Are you ready, are you ready to make the challenge? I am ready to go to jail, are you?" [Eskew, p. 221.] Along with Abernathy, King was among 50 Birmingham residents ranging in age from 15 to 81 years who were arrested on Good Friday, 12 April 1963. It was King's 13th arrest.

Martin Luther King jailed

King was held in the Birmingham Jail and was denied a consultation with an attorney from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) without guards present. When historian Jonathan Bass wrote of the incident in 2001, he noted that news of King's incarceration was spread quickly by Wyatt Tee Walker, as planned. King's supporters sent telegrams about his arrest to the White House. King could have been released on bail at any time. Although the jail administrators wanted King released as soon as bail could be raised and paid, campaign organizers offered no bail in order "to focus the attention of the media and national public opinion on the Birmingham situation." [Bass, p. 115.]

Twenty-four hours after his arrest, King was allowed to see local attorneys from the SCLC. When Coretta Scott King did not hear from her husband, she called Walker. He suggested that she call President Kennedy directly. [McWhorter, p. 353.] Mrs. King, who was recuperating at home after the birth of their fourth child, received a call from President Kennedy the Monday after the arrest. The president told her she could expect a call from her husband soon. When Martin Luther King called his wife, their conversation was brief and guarded. He correctly assumed that his phones were tapped. [Fairclough, p. 123.] Several days later, Jacqueline Kennedy called Coretta Scott King to express her concern for King while he was incarcerated.

While in jail on April 16, King released his "Letter from Birmingham Jail", written on the margins of a newspaper, scraps of paper given to him by a janitor, and later a legal pad given by his SCLC attorneys. The letter responded to eight politically moderate white clergymen who accused King of agitating local residents, and not giving the incoming mayor a chance to make any changes. Bass suggested that "Letter from Birmingham Jail" was pre-planned, as was every move King and his associates made in Birmingham. The essay was a culmination of many of King's ideas, which he had touched on in earlier writings. [Bass, p. 116–117.] King's arrest attracted national attention, including that of corporate officers of retail chains with stores in downtown Birmingham. After King's arrest, the chains' profits began to erode. National business owners pressed the Kennedy administration to intervene. King was released on 20 April 1963.

Conflict escalation

Recruiting students

Despite the publicity surrounding King's arrest, the campaign was faltering because it was running out of demonstrators willing to risk arrest. [McWhorter, p. 357.] In addition, although Connor had used police dogs to assist in the arrest of demonstrators, this did not attract the media attention that organizers had hoped for. [Eskew, p. 227–228.] To re-energize the campaign, SCLC organizers devised a controversial alternative plan they named D Day that was later called the "Children's Crusade" by "Newsweek" magazine.cite journal
title=Birmingham USA: Look at Them Run
pages=p. 27
The term "Children's Crusade" has a notable history, originating from the 1212 Children's Crusade.] D Day called for students from Birmingham elementary schools and high schools as well as nearby Miles College to take part in the demonstrations. James Bevel, a religious leader and veteran of earlier nonviolent protests, organized the students, but King hesitated to approve the use of children. [McWhorter, p. 364.] Bevel believed that children would be appropriate for the demonstrations because jail time for them would not hurt families economically as much as the loss of a working parent. He also saw that adults in the black community were divided about how much support to give the protests. Bevel and the organizers knew that students were a more cohesive group; they had been together as classmates since kindergarten. He was successful in recruiting girls who were school leaders or prom queens and boys who were athletes. Bevel found girls more receptive to his ideas than boys because girls had less experience as victims of white violence. However, when the girls joined, the boys were close behind. [Hampton, p. 131–132.] WENN, Birmingham's black radio station, supported the new plan by encouraging students to arrive at the demonstration meeting place with a toothbrush to be used in jail. [McWhorter, p. 360, 366.] Flyers were distributed in black schools and neighborhoods that said, "Fight for freedom first then go to school" and "It's up to you to free our teachers, our parents, yourself, and our country".cite news
title=Birmingham Jails 1,000 More Negroes; Waves of Chanting Students Seized
work=The New York Times
] The SCLC held workshops to help students overcome their fear of dogs and jails and showed them films of the Nashville sit-ins that Bevel and others had organized in 1960 to end segregation at public lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee.

Children's Crusade

:main|Children's Crusade (civil rights)On May 2, more than a thousand students skipped school and gathered at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The principal of Parker High School attempted to lock the gates to keep students in, but they scrambled over the walls to get to the church. [Eskew, p. 264.] Demonstrators were given instructions to march to the downtown area and integrate the chosen buildings. They were to leave in smaller groups and continue on their courses until arrested. Marching in disciplined ranks, some of them using walkie-talkies,cite news
title=Waves of Young Negroes March in Birmingham Segregation Protest
work=The Washington Post
] they were sent at timed intervals from various churches to the downtown business area. More than 600 students were arrested; the youngest of these was reported to be eight years old. Children left the churches while singing hymns and "freedom songs" such as "We Shall Overcome". They clapped and laughed while being arrested and awaiting transport to jail. The mood was compared to that of a school picnic.cite news
title=500 Are Arrested in Negro Protest at Birmingham
work=The New York Times
] Although Bevel informed Connor that the march was to take place, Connor and the police were dumbfounded by the numbers and behavior of the children. [Eskew, p. 264–265.] [Nunnelley, p. 147.] They assembled paddy wagons and school buses to take the children to jail. When no squad cars were left to block the city streets, Connor, whose authority extended to the fire department, used fire trucks. The day's arrests brought the total number of jailed protesters to 1,200 in the 900-capacity Birmingham jail.

Incoming mayor Albert Boutwell and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy condemned the decision to use children in the protests. [Branch, p. 761–762.] Kennedy was reported in "The New York Times" as saying, "an injured, maimed, or dead child is a price that none of us can afford to pay," although adding, "I believe that everyone understands their just grievances must be resolved." [cite news
title=Robert Kennedy Warns of 'Increasing Turmoil': Deplores Denials of Negroes' Rights but Questions Timing of Protests in Birmingham
work=The New York Times
] Malcolm X criticized the decision, saying, "Real men don't put their children on the firing line." [Manis, p. 370.] King, who had been silent and then out of town while Bevel was organizing children, understood the success of the day. He declared at a mass meeting that evening, "I have been inspired and moved by today. I have never seen anything like it." [McWhorter, p. 368.] Although Wyatt Tee Walker was initially against the use of children in demonstrations, he responded to criticism by saying, "Negro children will get a better education in five days in jail than in five months in a segregated school." The D Day campaign received front page coverage by "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times".

Fire hoses and police dogs

When Connor realized that the Birmingham jail was full, on May 3 he changed police tactics to keep protesters out of the downtown business area. Another thousand students gathered at the church and left to walk across Kelly Ingram Park while chanting, "We're going to walk, walk, walk. Freedom ... freedom ... freedom."cite news
title=Fire Hoses and Police Dogs Quell Birmingham Segregation Protest
work=The Washington Post
] As the demonstrators left the church, police warned them to stop and turn back, "or you'll get wet". When they continued, Connor ordered the city's fire hoses, set at a level that would peel bark off a tree or separate bricks from mortar, to be turned on the children. Boys' shirts were ripped off, and young women were pushed over the tops of cars by the force of the water. When the students crouched or fell, the blasts of water rolled them down the asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks. [McWhorter, p. 370–371.] Connor allowed white spectators to push forward, shouting, "Let those people come forward, sergeant. I want 'em to see the dogs work." [

"Time" magazine originally reported that Connor said, "Look at those niggers run!" However, when the "Time" reporter was questioned, he admitted he did not hear the statement, which was published in any case by "Newsweek" magazine and several newspapers and became one of Connor's "most memorable lines". (McWhorter, p. 393.)]

A.G. Gaston, who was appalled at the idea of using children, was on the phone with white attorney David Vann trying to negotiate a resolution to the crisis. When Gaston looked out the window and saw the children being hit with high-pressure water, he said, "Lawyer Vann, I can't talk to you now or ever. My people are out there fighting for their lives and my freedom. I have to go help them," and hung up the phone. [McWhorter, p. 371.] Black parents and adults who were observing cheered the marching students but when the hoses were turned on, bystanders began to throw rocks and bottles at the police. To disperse them, Connor ordered police to use German shepherd dogs to keep them in line. James Bevel wove in and out of the crowds warning them, "If any cops get hurt, we're going to lose this fight." At 3 p.m., the protest was over. During a kind of truce, protesters went home. Police removed the barricades and re-opened the streets to traffic.cite news
title=Dogs and Hoses Repulse Negroes at Birmingham
work=The New York Times
] That evening King told worried parents in a crowd of a thousand, "Don't worry about your children who are in jail. The eyes of the world are on Birmingham. We're going on in spite of dogs and fire hoses. We've gone too far to turn back."cite journal
title=Dogs, Kids and Clubs

Images of the day

any notion of a 'good southerner.' " Hudson remarked later that his only priorities that day were "making pictures and staying alive" and "not getting bit by a dog".

Right in front of Hudson stepped Parker High School senior Walter Gadsden when a police officer grabbed the young man's sweater and a police dog charged him. Gadsden had been attending the demonstration as an observer. He was related to the editor of Birmingham's black newspaper, "The Birmingham World", who strongly disapproved of King's leadership in the campaign. Gadsden was arrested for "parading without a permit", and after witnessing his arrest, Commissioner Connor remarked to the officer, "Why didn't you bring a meaner dog; this one is not the vicious one." Hudson's photo of Gadsden and the dog ran across three columns above the fold on the front page of "The New York Times" on 4 May 1963.

Television cameras broadcast to the nation the scenes of fire hoses knocking down schoolchildren and police dogs attacking demonstrators with no means of protection. Photos were given credit for shifting international support to the protesters and making Bull Connor "the villain of the era". [McWhorter, "photo spread", p. 9.] President Kennedy told a group of people at the White House that "The New York Times" photo made him "sick". [Branch, p. 764.] Kennedy called the scenes "shameful" and said that they were "so much more eloquently reported by the news camera than by any number of explanatory words." [Fairclough, p. 138.]

The images also had a profound effect in Birmingham. Despite decades of disagreements, when the photos were released, "the black community was instantaneously consolidated behind King", [Hampton, p. 133.] according to David Vann, who would later serve as mayor of Birmingham. Horrified at what the Birmingham police were doing to protect segregation, New York Senator Jacob K. Javits declared, "the country won't tolerate it", and pressed Congress to pass a civil rights bill. [cite news
title=Javits Denounces Birmingham Police
work=The New York Times
] Similar reactions were reported by Kentucky Senator Sherman Cooper, and Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, who compared Birmingham to South Africa under apartheid. [cite news
title=Birmingham's use of dogs assailed
work=The New York Times
] A "New York Times" editorial called the behavior of the Birmingham police "a national disgrace". [cite news
title=Outrage in Alabama
work=The New York Times
] The "Washington Post" editorialized, "The spectacle in Birmingham ... must excite the sympathy of the rest of the country for the decent, just, and reasonable citizens of the community, who have so recently demonstrated at the polls their lack of support for the very policies that have produced the Birmingham riots. The authorities who tried, by these brutal means, to stop the freedom marchers do not speak or act in the name of the enlightened people of the city." [cite news
title=Violence in Birmingham
work=The Washington Post
] President Kennedy sent Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall to Birmingham to help negotiate a truce. Marshall faced a stalemate when merchants and protest organizers refused to budge. [Eskew, p. 270.]


Black onlookers in the area of Kelly Ingram Park abandoned nonviolence on May 5. Spectators taunted police, and SCLC leaders begged them to be peaceful or go home. James Bevel borrowed a bullhorn from the police and shouted, "Everybody get off this corner. If you're not going to demonstrate in a nonviolent way, then leave!" [cite news
title=U.S. Seeking a Truce in Birmingham; Hoses Again Drive Off Demonstrators; Two Aides Meeting With Leaders--Negroes Halt Protests Temporarily
work=The New York Times
] Commissioner Connor was overheard saying, "If you'd ask half of them what freedom means, they couldn't tell you." [Nunnelley, p. 152.] To prevent further marches, Connor ordered the doors to the churches blocked to prevent students from leaving.

By May 6, the jails were so full that Connor transformed the stockade at the state fairgrounds into a makeshift jail to hold protesters. Black protesters arrived at white churches to integrate services. They were accepted in Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches but turned away at others, where they knelt and prayed until they were arrested.cite news
title=Birmingham Talks Pushed; Negroes March Peacefully
work=The New York Times
] Well-known national figures arrived to show support. Singer Joan Baez arrived to perform for free at Miles College and stayed at the black-owned and integrated Gaston Motel. Comedian Dick Gregory and Barbara Deming, a writer for "The Nation", were both arrested. The young Dan Rather reported for CBS News. [Nunnelley, p. 153.] The car of Fannie Flagg, a local television personality and recent Miss Alabama finalist, was surrounded by teenagers who recognized her. Flagg worked at Channel 6 on the morning show, and after asking her producers why the show was not covering the demonstrations, she received orders never to mention them on air. She rolled down the window and shouted to the children, "I'm with you all the way!" [McWhorter, p. 402.]

Birmingham's fire department refused orders from Connor to turn the hoses on demonstrators again, [McWhorter, p. 387.] and waded through the basement of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to clean up water from earlier fire-hose flooding. [McWhorter, p. 406.] White business leaders met with protest organizers to try arrange an economic solution but said they had no control over politics. Protest organizers disagreed, saying that business leaders were positioned to pressure political leaders. [McWhorter, p. 388–390.]

City collapse

The situation reached a crisis on 7 May 1963. Breakfast in the jail took four hours to distribute to all the prisoners. [cite news|title=Birmingham Jail Is So Crowded Breakfast Takes Four Hours
work=The New York Times
] Seventy members of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce pleaded with the protest organizers to stop the actions. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) asked for sympathizers to picket in unity in 100 American cities. Nineteen rabbis from New York flew to Birmingham, equating silence about segregation to the atrocities of the Holocaust. Local rabbis disagreed and asked them to go home. [Eskew, p. 283.] The editor of "The Birmingham News" wired President Kennedy and pleaded with him to end the protests.

Fire hoses were used once again, injuring police and Fred Shuttlesworth, as well as other demonstrators. Commissioner Connor expressed regret at missing seeing Shuttlesworth get hit and said he "wished they'd carried him away in a hearse." [cite news
title=Rioting Negroes routed by police at Birmingham; 3,000 Demonstrators Crash Lines
work=The New York Times
] Another 1,000 people were arrested, bringing the total to 2,500.

News of the mass arrests of children had reached Western Europe and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union devoted up to 25 percent of its news broadcast to the demonstrations, sending much of it to Africa, where Soviet and U.S. interests clashed. Soviet news commentary accused the Kennedy administration of neglect and "inactivity". [Cotman,p. 101–102.] Alabama Governor George Wallace sent state troopers to assist Connor. Attorney General Robert Kennedy prepared to activate the Alabama National Guard and notified the Second Infantry Division from Fort Benning, Georgia that it might be deployed to Birmingham. [Eskew, p. 282.]

No business of any kind was being conducted downtown. The civil infrastructure had completely collapsed. Organizers planned to flood the downtown area businesses with black people. Smaller groups of decoys were set out to distract police attention from activities at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Protesters set off false fire alarms to occupy the fire department and its hoses. [Eskew, p. 277.] One group of children approached a police officer and announced, "We want to go to jail!" When the officer pointed the way, the students ran across Kelly Ingram Park shouting, "We're going to jail!" [Eskew, p. 278.] Six hundred picketers reached downtown Birmingham. Large groups of protesters sat in stores and sang freedom songs. Streets, sidewalks, stores, and buildings were overwhelmed with more than 3,000 protesters. [Cotman, p. 45.] The sheriff and chief of police admitted they didn't think they could handle the situation for more than a few hours. [Fairclough, p. 128.]


(AFL-CIO) raised $237,000 in bail money to free the demonstrators. [Garrow, (1989) p. 182.] Commissioner Connor and the outgoing mayor condemned the resolution. [Nunnelley, p. 157.]

On May 11, a bomb destroyed the Gaston Motel where King had been staying earlier, and another damaged the house of Reverend A.D. King, Martin Luther King's brother. When police went to inspect the motel, they were met with rocks and bottles from neighborhood blacks. By May 13, three thousand federal troops were deployed to Birmingham to restore order, even though Alabama Governor George Wallace told President Kennedy that state and local forces were sufficient. [Cotman, p. 89–90.] Martin Luther King returned to Birmingham to stress nonviolence. Outgoing mayor Art Hanes left office after the Alabama State Supreme Court ruled that Albert Boutwell could take office on 21 May 1963. Upon picking up his last paycheck, Bull Connor remarked tearfully, "This is the worst day of my life." [Nunnelley, p. 162.] In June 1963, the Jim Crow signs regulating segregated public places in Birmingham were taken down.

After the campaign

Desegregation in Birmingham took place slowly after the demonstrations. King and the SCLC were criticized by some for ending the campaign with promises that were too vague and "settling for a lot less than even moderate demands". [Fairclough, p. 129.] In fact, Sydney Smyer, president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, re-interpreted the terms of the agreement. Shuttlesworth and King had announced that desegregation would take place 90 days from May 15. Smyer then said that a single black clerk hired 90 days from when the new city government took office would be sufficient. [Fairclough, p. 132.] By July, most of the city's segregation ordinances had been overturned. Some of the lunch counters in department stores complied with the new rules. City parks and golf courses were opened again to black and white citizens. Mayor Boutwell appointed a biracial committee to discuss further changes. However, no hiring of black clerks, police officers, and firefighters had yet been completed and the Birmingham Bar Association rejected membership by black attorneys.Fairclough, p. 132–133.]

The reputation of Martin Luther King soared after the protests in Birmingham, and he was lauded in many cities as a hero. [Branch, p. 803–806.] The SCLC was much in demand to effect change in many Southern cities. [Fairclough, p. 143.] In the summer of 1963, King led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where he delivered his most famous speech, "I Have a Dream".King became "Time"'s Man of the Year for 1963 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. [cite journal
title=Never Again Where He Was
] [cite web
title=Martin Luther King Biography
publisher=The Nobel Foundation

The Birmingham campaign, as well as George Wallace's refusal to admit black students to the University of Alabama, convinced President Kennedy to address the severe inequalities between black and white citizens in the South: "The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them." [Garrow, (1989) p. 239.] Despite the apparent lack of immediate local success after the Birmingham campaign, Fred Shuttlesworth and Wyatt Tee Walker pointed to its influence on national affairs as its true impact. [Fairclough, p. 133.] President Kennedy's administration drew up the Civil Rights Act bill. After being filibustered for 75 days by "diehard southerners in ... Congress", [Franklin, p. 52.] it was passed into law in 1964 and signed by President Lyndon Johnson. The Civil Rights Act applied to the whole nation, prohibiting racial discrimination in employment and in access to public places. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, however, disagreed that the Birmingham campaign was the primary force behind the Civil Rights Act. Wilkins gave credit to other movements, such as the Freedom Rides, the integration of the University of Mississippi, and campaigns to end public school segregation. [Fairclough, p. 134–135.]

Birmingham's public schools were integrated in September 1963. Governor Wallace sent National Guard troops to keep black students out but President Kennedy reversed Wallace by ordering the troops to stand down. [Branch, p. 888–889.] Violence continued to plague the city, however. Someone threw a tear gas canister into Loveman's department store when it complied with the desegregation agreement. Twenty people in the store required hospital treatment. [Branch, p. 868.] Four months after the Birmingham campaign settlement, someone bombed the house of NAACP attorney Arthur Shores, injuring his wife in the attack. On 15 September 1963, Birmingham again earned international attention when Ku Klux Klan members bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and killed four young girls.

The Birmingham campaign inspired the Civil Rights Movement in other parts of the South. Two days after King and Shuttlesworth announced the settlement in Birmingham, Medgar Evers of the NAACP in Jackson, Mississippi demanded a biracial committee to address concerns there. [Branch, p. 813.] On 12 June 1963, Evers was fatally shot outside his home. He had been organizing demonstrations similar to those in Birmingham to pressure Jackson's city government. In 1965 Shuttlesworth assisted King and the SCLC to lead marches in Selma, Alabama, related to a voter registration drive.

Campaign impact

Historian Glenn Eskew wrote that the campaign "led to an awakening to the evils of segregation and a need for reforms in the region." The black middle class generally assumed leadership in Birmingham and the SCLC, and the black underclass still struggled. Eskew wrote that the riots that occurred after the bombing of the Gaston Motel foreshadowed rioting in larger cities later in the 1960s.Garrow, (1989) p. 94.] ACMHR vice president Abraham Woods claimed that the rioting in Birmingham set a precedent for "Burn, baby, burn", a cry used in later race riots in Watts, Detroit, and other American cities in the 1960s. McWhorter, p. 437.] A study of the Watts riots concluded, "The 'rules of the game' in race relations were permanently changed in Birmingham."

Wyatt Tee Walker wrote that the Birmingham campaign is "legend" and has become the Civil Rights Movement's most important chapter. It was "the chief watershed of the nonviolent movement in the United States. It marked the maturation of the SCLC as a national force in the civil rights arena of the land that had been dominated by the older and stodgier NAACP". [White and Manis, p. 68.] Walker called the Birmingham campaign and the Selma marches "Siamese twins" joining to "kill segregation ... and bury the body." [White and Manis, p. 74] Jonathan Bass declared that "King had won a tremendous public relations victory in Birmingham" but also stated pointedly that "it was the citizens of the Magic City, both black and white, and not Martin Luther King and the SCLC, that brought about the real transformation of the city." [Bass, p. 226.]


* Bass, S. Jonathan (2001). "Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders, and the 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'." Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 0807126551
* Branch, Taylor (1988). "Parting The Waters; America In The King Years 1954-63". Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671460978
* Cotman, John (1989). "Birmingham, JFK, and the Civil Rights Act of 1963: implications for elite theory". Peter Lang Publishing. ISBN 0820408069
* Eskew, Glenn (1997). "But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle". University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807861324
* Fairclough, Adam (1987). "To redeem the soul of America: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King, Jr." University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0820308986
* Franklin, Jimmie (1989). "Back to Birmingham: Richard Arrington, Jr. and his times." University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0817304355
* Garrow, David (1986). "Bearing the cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference". W. Morrow. ISBN 0688047947
* Garrow, David, ed. (1989). "Birmingham, Alabama, 1956-1963: The Black Struggle for Civil Rights". Carlson Publishing. ISBN 092601904X
* Hampton, Henry, Fayer, S. (1990). "Voices of Freedom: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s through the 1980s". Bantam Books. ISBN 0553057340
* Manis, Andrew (1999). "A fire you can't put out: the civil rights life of Birmingham's Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth". University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0585354405
* McWhorter, Diane (2001). "". Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0743217721
* Nunnelley, William (1991). "Bull Connor". University of Alabama Press. ISBN 058532316X
* White, Marjorie, Manis, Andrew, eds. (2000) "Birmingham Revolutionaries: The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights". Mercer University Press. ISBN 0865547092
* Wilson, Bobby (2000). "Race and Place in Birmingham: The Civil Rights and Neighborhood Movements". Rowan & Littlefield. ISBN 0847694828

External links

[ The Birmingham Campaign] ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans

[ Birmingham Campaign] ~ M. L. King Research Institute at Stanford University


Further reading


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