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Clash In Birmingham
Transcript of Clash In Birmingham
In 1960, Birmingham's population of almost 350,000 was roughly 60percent white and 40percent black,3and the city was one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States.
black citizens faced legal and economic disparities as well as violent retribution when they attempted to bring attention to their problems
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. Economic Problems
Jobs available to blacks were limited tomanual laborin
Birmingham's steel mills or work in black neighborhoods.
Whenlayoffswere necessary, black employees were the first to go. Theunemployment ratefor blacks was two and a half times higher than for whites.
Birmingham's economy was stagnating as the city tried to shift fromblue collartowhite collarjobs.
Timemagazine reported in 1958 that the only thing white workers had to gain fromdesegregationwas more competition from black workers. Bombingham:
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".
Black churches in which civil rights were discussed became specific targets for attack Protest:
-Protests in Birmingham began with aboycottto pressure business leaders to provide employment opportunities to people of all races, and end segregation in public facilities, restaurants, and stores.
-When business leaders resisted the boycott, SCLC organizerWyatt Tee Walkerand Birmingham nativeFred Shuttlesworthbegan what they termed Project C,
-a series ofsit-insand marches intended to provoke mass arrests.
-After the campaign ran low on adult volunteers, high school, college, and elementary students were trained by SCLC coordinatorJames Bevelto participate, resulting in hundreds of arrests and an instant intensification of national media attention on the campaign.
-To dissuade demonstrators and control the protests the Birmingham Police Department, led byEugene "Bull" Connor, used high-pressure water jets and police dogs on children and bystanders.
-Media coverage of these events brought intense scrutiny onracial segregationin the South.
Enough is Enough:
Birmingham's black population began to organize to effect change. After Alabamabanned the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) in 1956,
-ReverendFred Shuttlesworthformed theAlabama Christian Movement for Human Rights(ACMHR) the same year to challenge the City of Birmingham's segregation policies throughlawsuitsand 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.
-Shuttlesworth was arrested and jailed for violating the city's segregation rules in 1962, he sent apetitionto 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.
-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."
Violence Over Non-Violence:
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, leading to federal intervention by theKennedyadministration. King and the SCLC were criticized for putting children in harm's way. By the end of the campaign, King's reputation surged, Connor lost his job, the "Jim Crow" signs in Birmingham came down, and public places became more open to blacks.
-TheBirmingham campaignwas a strategic movement organized by theSouthern Christian Leadership Conference(SCLC) to bring attention to the unequal treatment ofblack Americansendured inBirmingham, Alabama.
-Organizers, led byMartin Luther King, Jr.usednonviolentdirect actiontactics to defy 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“
GO Home MLK!:
-Martin Luther King's presence in Birmingham was not welcomed by all in the black community.
-A black attorney was quoted inTimemagazine as saying, "The new administration should have been given a chance to confer with the various groups interested in change."
-Black hotel ownerA. G. Gastonstated, "I regret the absence of continued communication between white and Negro leadership in our city."
-A whiteJesuitpriestassisting in desegregation negotiations attested, "These demonstrations are poorly timed and misdirected."
-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 and the executive director from 19601964, planned the tactics of the direct action protests, specifically targeting Bull Connor's tendency to react to demonstrations with violence.
-"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.
-He headed the planning of what he called Project C, which stood for "confrontation"
-according to historians, "the demands on the city authorities were straightforward: desegregate the economic life of Birmingham it’s restaurants, hotels, public toilets, and the unwritten policy of hiring blacks for menial jobs only". City Reaction!
-On April 10, 1963, Bull Connor obtained aninjunctionbarring the protests and subsequently raisedbail bondfor 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 been made during the planning stage of the campaign.42
-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.43
-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".42
-Incoming mayorAlbert Boutwellcalled 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."44
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."
-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.
-Connor allowed white spectators to push forward, shouting, "Let those people come forward, sergeant. I want 'em to see the dogs work." Impact of Birmingham Campaign
-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.
-ACMHR vice president Abraham Woods claimed that the rioting in Birmingham set a precedent for "Burn, baby, burn", a cry used in later civic unrest inWatts,Detroit, and other American cities in the 1960s.
-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 was "legend" and had 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."
-Walker called the Birmingham campaign and the Selma marches "Siamese twins" joining to "kill segregation ... and bury the body."
-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.
Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.