Friday, November 25, 2016

Civil Rights History

The protest actions in Birmingham started in 1962. Activists modeled this plan on the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The events started when students from local colleges arranged for a year of staggering boycott. This caused downtown business to decline by as much as 40 percent. It attracted attention from the Chamber of Commerce president Sidney Smyer. He said that the "racial incidents have given us a black eye that we'll be a long time trying to forget.”  In response to the boycott, the City Commission of Birmingham punished the black community by withdrawing $45,000 ($350,000 in 2016) from a surplus-food program used primarily by low-income blacks. The result, however, was a black community more motivated to resist. The SCLC believed that economic pressure on Birmingham businesses would be more effective than pressure on politicians. This was a lesson learned in Albany as few black people 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 stories 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 ($120 in 2016) 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." 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.

Later, Project C existed. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came into Birmingham. His presence wasn’t welcomed by everyone in the black community. A local black attorney complained in Time that the new city administration didn’t have enough time to confer with the various groups invested in changing the city’s segregation policies. At one time, black hotel owner A.G. Gaston agreed. A white Jesuit priest assisting in desegregation negotiations attested the demonstration were poorly timed and misdirected. Yet, the protesters continued to heroically stand up for justice. Protest organizers knew that violence would come to them from the Birmingham Police Department. They chose a confrontational approach to get the attention of the federal government. Wyatt Tee Walker was one of the SCLC founders and the executive director from 1960 to 1964. He planned the tactics of the direct action protests. He targeted 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." He headed the planning of what he called Project C, which stood for "confrontation". Organizers believed their phones were tapped, so to prevent their plans from being leaked and perhaps influencing the mayoral election, they used code words for demonstrations. The plan called for direct nonviolent action to attract media attention to "the biggest and baddest city of the South." In preparation for the protests, Walker timed the walking distance from the 16th Street Baptist Church, headquarters for the campaign, to the downtown area. He 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. The campaign used a variety of nonviolent methods of confrontation like sit-ins at libraries and lunch counters. People used kneel-ins by black visitors at white churches. There was a march to the county building to mark the beginning of a voter registration drive. Most businesses responded to these events by refusing to serve demonstrators. Some white spectators at a sit-in at a Woolworth's lunch counter spat upon the participants. A few hundred protesters, including jazz musician Al Hibbler, were arrested, although Hibbler was immediately released by Connor. The SCLC wanted to fill the jails up, that would force the city government to negotiate as demonstrations continued. Yet, not enough people were arrested to affect the functioning of the city. Many black people questioned this tactics. 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.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." Real change comes in the streets beyond the courts. Some white Birmingham residents were supportive as the boycott continued. 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.

On April 10, 1963, Bull Connor obtained an injunction. This banned the protests and subsequently raised bail bond for those arrested from $200 to $1,200  ($2,000 to $9,000 in 2016). 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. Dr. 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. 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". Incoming mayor Albert Boutwell called 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." Many in the movement found themselves out of the required bail money. Dr. King was one the major fundraisers. His associates wanted him to travel the country to raise bail money for those arrested. He had, previously promised to lead the marchers in jail in solidarity. He 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. After King prayed and reflected alone in his hotel room, he and the campaign leaders decided to defy the injunction and prepared for mass arrests of campaign supporters. To build morale and to recruit volunteers to go to jail, Ralph Abernathy spoke at a mass meeting of Birmingham's black citizens at the 16th Street Baptist Church: "The eyes of the world are on Birmingham tonight. 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?"With Abernathy, King was among 50 Birmingham residents ranging in age from 15 to 81 years who were arrested on Good Friday, April 12, 1963. It was King's 13th arrest.

During this time, Connor had used police dogs to arrest demonstrations. The media didn’t report on it as much. The organizers wanted to re-energize the campaign. SCLC organizer James Bevel did promoted a controversial alternative plan called D Day. This was called the “Children’s Crusade” by Newsweek magazine. D Day wanted students from Birmingham elementary and high schools as well as nearby Miles College to take part in the demonstrations. Bevel worked in the nonviolent Nashville Student Movement. He worked with SNCC. He was SCLC’s Director of Direct Action and Nonviolent Education. Bevel talked about the education of students in nonviolent tactics and philosophy. Dr. King approved the use of children with hesitations. Bevel believed that children placed in jail would not hurt families economically as much as the loss of a working parent. He said that adults in the black community were divided about how much support to give the protests. Bevel knew that high school students were a more cohesive group. They knew each other as classmates since kindergarten. He recruited girls who were school leaders and boys who were athletes. When the girls joined, the boys were close behind to join them. Bevel and the SCLC created workshops to help the students overcome their fear of dogs and jails. They showed films of the Nashville sit-ins organized in 1960 to end segregation at public lunch counters. Birmingham's black radio station, WENN, supported the new plan by telling students to arrive at the demonstration meeting place with a toothbrush to be used in jail. 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." On May 2, 1963, more than 1,000 students skipped school. They gathered at the 16th 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.

Demonstrators were given instructions to march to the downtown area to meet with the Mayor. They wanted to integrate the chosen buildings. They were to leave in smaller groups and continue on their courses until they were arrested. They marched in disciplined ranks, some of them using walkie-talkies, they were sent at timed intervals from various churches to the downtown business area. More than 600 students were arrested. The youngest of these children was reported to be 8 year old. Children left the churches while singing hymns and “freedom songs” like “We Shall Overcome.” They clapped and laughed while being arrested and awaiting transport to jail. The mood was compared that to a school picnic. 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.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. The use of children was very controversial. Incoming mayor Albert Boutwell and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy condemned the decision to use children in the protests. 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." Malcolm X criticized the decision, saying, "Real men don't put their children on the firing line." King, who had been silent and then out of town while Bevel was organizing the children, was impressed by the success of using them in the protests. That evening he declared at a mass meeting, "I have been inspired and moved by today. I have never seen anything like it." Although Wyatt Tee Walker was initially against the use of children in the 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.

By Timothy

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