Research on Civil Rights Movement Between 1963-68

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Birmingham: Civil Rights March, 1963

Birmingham held a key role in the movement because of a number of reasons: whether it was through the activities of Bull Connor or the bombed church which killed four school girls, or the activity of the Ku Klux Klan which also had a stronghold in the Alabama capital which would have clashed with the strong in number black population. In 1963 Martin Luther King organised a civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama. Six years after the Montgomery decision, this city had still not been desegregated (desegregation of buses in Alabama). Its police force was notoriously racist. It had links to the Ku Klux Klan. The aim of the march was to turn media attention on Birmingham to expose its policies to national attention. King knew that, with civil rights now a national issue, the American and international media would cover the march in detail. The Police Chief, Bull Connor obliged. In the full glare of media publicity, police and fire officers turned dogs and fire hoses on the peaceful protesters. The police arrested over 1,000 protesters; including King himself and many were put in jail. Critics accused King of provoking the violence by staging the march. King stipulated to this in a statement as he comments on his tactics, as he mentions that they were “forcing our oppressor to commit his brutality openly- in the light of day- with the rest of the world looking on.” However he defends his actions in a diplomatic fashion with “To condemn peaceful protesters on the grounds that they provoke violence is link condemning a robbed man because his possession of money caused the robbery.”

In May 1963 President Kennedy intervened. He put pressure on Governor George Wallace to force the Birmingham police to release all the protesters and to give more jobs to black Americans and allow them to be promoted. As a result Birmingham officially outlawed segregation, but in practice it remained a bitterly divided place. In September 1963 a Ku Klux Klan bomb killed four black children in a Birmingham church.

Why Birmingham?

* It was a KKK stronghold; King described it as America’s worst city for racism.

* Birmingham, Alabama was, in 1960, one of the most racially segregated cities in the U.S. Out of a total population of almost 350,000, 60 percent was white and 40 percent black.

* Racial segregation of public and commercial facilities throughout Jefferson County was legally required, covered all aspects of life, and was rigidly enforced. Only 10 percent of the city's black population was registered to vote in 1960. 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. 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.

* In the years preceding 1963, 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. This just demonstrates the level of discrimination and segregation present.

* Any civil rights campaign in the city would almost certainly provoke trouble and gain the movement the national outcry needed. 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...
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