BIRMINGHAM POLICE USED FIRE HOSES AND DOGS ON CIVIL RIGHTS PROTESTERS 50 YEARS AGO TODAY
Birmingham, Alabama (JFK+50) Fifty years ago today, May 3, 1963, fire hoses and police dogs were turned on hundreds of civil rights protesters in what was then called "the most segregated city in America."
With Birmingham's jail cells full to capacity, Police Chief Eugene "Bull" Connor made the decision to respond to the civil rights protests with violence.
The circumstances surrounding this event can be traced back to May 1962 when the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference decided to target segregation in Birmingham.
By January 1963, their strategy had been given the title "PROJECT C" with the "C" standing for confrontation.
That same month, GEORGE C. WALLACE was inaugurated Governor of the state of ALABAMA. In his inaugural address in Montgomery, he said...
"I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."
The protests in Birmingham began in April 1963 with sit-ins. Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth*, the spiritual leader of the black community, was arrested along with his followers and by May 2nd, hundreds of youth were recruited to join the protests.
Thousands gathered at the 16th Street Baptist Church and began to march across Kelly Ingram Park where they were warned to STOP by the Birmingham Police.
*Frederick Lee Shuttlesworth (1922-2011), co-founder of SCLC, was born in Mt. Meigs, Albama and became pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1953.
In 1956, as Membership Chairman for the State NAACP, Rev. Shuttlesworth's home was bombed and destroyed.
He took part in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in 1960 and in the Freedom Rides of 1961. FLS was also involved in the Selma Voting Rights Movement and in 2001 received the Presidential Citizens Medal from Bill Clinton.
16th Street Baptist Church
Library of Congress Image (1993)
Then, as they continued to march, fire hoses and police dogs were turned on them. This scene was viewed across the nation and around the world on television.
That evening, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said...
"The eyes of the world are on Birmingham. We've gone too far to turn back now."
"We Shall Overcome," by Herb Boyd, Sourcebooks, Media Fusion, Naperville, Illinois, 2004.
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