Aim : Examine the effectiveness of the 1963 demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama.
Why Birmingham? In January 1963, Martin Luther King announced that the SCLC was going to Birmingham, Alabama to try and stop segregation there. King was now well aware of the power of television. If the Civil Rights Movement could win the sympathy and support of the American public then the US Government and President Kennedy would have to make sure that civil rights were enforced. Many believed that Birmingham, Alabama was one of the most racist and segregated places in the USA.
‘I think I should give the reasons 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 is the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal and unbelievable facts’.
George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama was a well-known racist. He famously said ‘Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever’. The KKK in this areas was one of the most violent. Birmingham was nicknamed ‘Bombingham’. The Klan had the support of Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor, The Chief of Police. Protestors would be risking their lives to try and end segregation.
The Demonstration Martin Luther King and the Rev Fred Shuttleworth were the two main leaders of the demonstration. Their objectives were to desegregate public facilities and department stores. Before the march even took place, both men were arrested and put in jail. On May 2 nd 1963 the march began. A plan was made to use school children to lead the march. The SCLC knew that TV footage of children being arrested would embarrass the city and gain sympathy for civil rights.
30,000 people took part in the demonstration. 900 children from the age of 6 to 18 were jailed. The next day, the police used dogs, water cannons and baseball bats to attack the peaceful protestors. The nation was horrified at the footage of school-age children being savagely beaten and bitten. By the fourth day of the demonstrations, King was concerned about the violence that protestors were facing. He wanted to call the march off but others wanted to continue. The Klan fire-bombed several Black churches, businesses and homes.
The President’s Response On 11 th June 1963 Kennedy spoke to the nation on television. He said: ‘If an American, because of his skin colour, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best school there is, if he cannot vote for the politicians who represent him, are we to say to the world that this is the land of the free, except for the Negroes?’ ‘Next week I shall ask Congress to make a commitment it has not fully made this century….that race has no place in American life or law’.
The Impact of the 1963 Birmingham Demonstration The protests achieved huge publicity for the Civil Rights Movement People were appalled by the violence against protestors President Kennedy ordered an end to segregation in Birmingham Many felt the human cost of the protest was too high – this damaged support for MLK
Tasks : Read page 81 of your workguide. Complete Activities 1-5 on page 82. Read pages 82-84 of your workguide. Complete Activities 1-2 on page 84.