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The Birmingham Riots 1963
Transcript of The Birmingham Riots 1963
In 1963, Birmingham, Alabama became a focus for the civil
The Birmingham campaign was a movement organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
to bring attention to the integration efforts of the Black Americans
in Birmingham, Alabama.
Led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and
Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth
the spring 1963 campaign of nonviolent direct actions culminated in widely publicized confrontations between black youth and white civic authorities, and
led the municipal government to change the city's discrimination
laws after federal pressure
Birmingham had been known to the civil rights movement for a number of years.
Many Americans would have known about the segregation and racist violence that happened in Birmingham before the riots
due to the activities of city official such as Bull Connor and events like the bombing of a black church which killed four school girls. Both Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (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?
Birmingham 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 a black man; 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.
M.L.K knew that the Civil Rights protesters would be risking their lives were they arrived in Birmingham.
The Klan in Birmingham was one of the most
violent in the entire country. One of the Civil Rights leaders called Birmingham, 'Bombingham' because of the violence
that was common in the area.
It was no secret that the
Klan had the support of the police department
led by Eugene 'Bull' Connor.
Theophilus Eugene "Bull" Connor
(July 11, 1897 – March 10, 1973)
Commissioner of Public Safety
for the city of
Birmingham, Alabama, during the American Civil Rights
His office gave him responsibility for administrative oversight of the Birmingham Fire Department and the Birmingham Police Department
, which had their own chiefs.
Through his covert actions to enforce racial segregation and deny civil rights
to Black citizens, especially during the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Birmingham Campaign of 1963,
Connor became an international symbol of racism.
Connor infamously directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against peaceful demonstrators, including children.
His aggressive tactics backfired when the spectacle of the brutality being broadcast on national television served as one of the catalysts
for major social and legal change in the southern United
States and helped in large measure to assure the passage
by the United States Congress of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964.
Leading up to the demonstration
The two main leaders of the demonstration in Birmingham were Martin Luther King and the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth.
They had made clear their objectives to desegregate public facilities and department stores. However, even those limited aims were too much for the Birmingham police. Even
before the march started, King and Shuttlesworth were arrested
for planning to break an order not to march.
Local church men thought that the Civil Rights campaigners were asking for too much and that they should be patient and wait for more gradual changes in American society.
While he was in prison Martin Luther King wrote his famous letter
to those who said that
Black Americans should wait for White America
to give slow changes.
The demonstration begins
On April 20th King and Shuttlesworth were released from prision
and the marchers were ready to begin. A plan was made which
would use school
children to lead the march
. The SCLC knew the importance of publicity.
TV footage of school children being arrested would embarrass the city and gain sympathy for the Civil Rights movement.
On May 2nd the march began
, as soon as the march began, Bull Connor ordered the arrests of all the students.
Over 900 children from the age of 6 - 18 were jailed.
The following day, Connor called out the water cannons and the dogs. As marchers came parading down the streets, the police attacked.
Bull Connor authorised the use of fire hoses, billy clubs (like baseball bats) and dogs to attack the peaceful protesters
. America watched in horror as school-age children were savagely beaten and bitten. The whole nation was outraged. The next day, things were different. As the marchers came down the street, Connor again ordered his men to attack. Instead, firemen refused to turn on their hoses and many of
the police would not attack the marches again. However, several hundred protesters were still arrested that day.
On the forth day of the demonstrations both sides in 'the battle of
Birmingham' were having second thoughts.
MLK wanted to call the
march off. He was concerned about the violence being
suffered by the demonstrators.
They were getting 'good'
publicity but at a terrible cost. However,
decided to continue the demonstrations
till May 13th.
"I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham. Birmingham is probably the most segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of the country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any city of this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts." - Martin Luther King.
"I guess it is easy for those who have never felt segregation to say wait. But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your fathers and mothers and drown your brothers and sisters ... when you have seen the majority of your 20 million brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty ... when your tongue becomes twisted as you try to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the amusement part advertised on TV and see the tears welling up in her little eyes when you tell her that Funtown is closed to colored children ... then you will know why it is difficult to wait." - Martin Luther King.
The Birmingham demonstrations inspired Andy Warhol to do three silk screen paintings called 'Race Riot'. Warhol took the image for his silk screens from a photo of the Birmingham demonstrations in a newspaper. Each one had a different primary color. The colors were red, white and blue. These colors are supposed to represent the American flag, freedom, and all that democracy stands for.
Warhol used these colors as part of a sarcastic statement about the then desegregation of the South, the south where blacks where still considered second-class citizens, both by law and among the old school southern bigots. Warhol was saying that American democracy and freedom only 'belonged' to those in power.