The Story: Civil Rights Opposition

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Wallace blocks entry

The civil rights movement continued to grow, inspiring its supporters to participate in many significant events between the springs of 1961 and 1963 in several states throughout the South. However, by April 1963 the country’s attention was again focused on Alabama. Early that spring, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were invited to Birmingham by a local minister to help lead a series of nonviolent protests. The city was notorious for racial violence and was considered by many to be America’s most segregated. What became known as the Birmingham Campaign was a strategic effort to draw international attention to the social, economic, and legal barriers faced by African Americans under the Jim Crow system. Following an extended boycott of businesses that promoted or tolerated segregation, the protesters decided to embrace more direct confrontation. Project C called for daily sit-ins and marches in order to provoke arrest that would fill the city jails to capacity, thus forcing negotiations among local leaders.

However, as the number of protesters in Birmingham’s jails increased, the campaign organizers found it increasingly difficult to find new volunteers. By May the participation of children was required to continue the campaign. Their efforts are known as the Children’s Crusade. The campaign dragged on and Commissioner Bull Conner called for intensified actions from his police officers. Connor ordered the use of high-pressure fire hoses and attack dogs against the Birmingham protesters, many of them women and children. Media coverage of the violence that followed inspired international scrutiny of segregation in the South. The Kennedy administration was once again provoked into action, dispatching the Justice Department to oversee the immediate desegregation of Birmingham’s public facilities. Ironically, Commissioner Conner’s heavy-handed tactics were instrumental in accomplishing the very change that he so strongly opposed – the city of Birmingham was integrated.