The Birmingham Campaign was a series of protests against racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama that took place in April of 1963.
In the early 1960s, Birmingham, Alabama was a very segregated city. This meant that black people and white people were kept separated. They had different schools, different restaurants, different water fountains, and different places they could live. There were even laws that allowed and enforced segregation called Jim Crow laws. In most cases, the facilities such as schools for black people were not as good as those for white people.
Planning a Protest
In order to bring the issue of segregation in Birmingham to the rest of the nation, several African-American leaders decided to organize a mass protest. These leaders included Martin Luther King, Jr., Wyatt Tee Walker, and Fred Shuttlesworth.
The protests were codenamed Project C. The "C" stood for "confrontation." The protests would be non-violent and included boycotting downtown stores, sit-ins, and marches. The organizers thought that if enough people protested, the local government would be forced to "confront" them and this would make national news gaining them support from the federal government and the rest of the country.
The protests began on April 3, 1963. Volunteers boycotted downtown stores, marched through the streets, held sit-ins at all-white lunch counters, and held kneel-ins in all-white churches.
Going to Jail
The main opponent to the protesters was a Birmingham politician named Bull Connor. Connor got laws passed that said the protests were illegal. He threatened to arrest the protesters. On April 12, 1963, knowing they would get arrested, a number of protesters led by Martin Luther King, Jr. set out on a march. They were all arrested and sent to jail.
Letter from Birmingham Jail
King remained in Jail until April 20, 1963. While in jail he wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail." In this letter he outlined why his strategy for non-violent protest against racism was so important. He said that the people had a moral responsibility to break unjust laws. The letter has become an important document in the history of the American civil rights movement.
Despite the efforts of the campaign, it wasn't getting the national attention the planners had hoped. They decided to include school children in the protests. On May 2, over one thousand African-American children skipped school and joined in the protests. Soon the Birmingham jails were overflowing with protesters.
The next day, with the jails full, Bull Connor decided to try and disperse the protesters in order to keep them from downtown Birmingham. He used police dogs and fire hoses on the children. Pictures of children getting knocked down by the spray from fire hoses and attacked by dogs made national news. The protests had grabbed the attention of the country.
The protests continued for several days, but on May 10th an agreement was reached between the protest organizers and the city of Birmingham. The segregation in the city would come to an end. There would no longer be separate restrooms, drinking fountains, and lunch counters. Black people would also be hired as salespeople and clerks in the stores.
Things Turn Violent
On May 11th, a bomb went off at the Gaston Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was staying. Fortunately he had left earlier. Another bomb blew up the home of King's younger brother A.D. King. In response to the bombings, the protesters became violent. They rioted throughout the city, burning buildings and cars and attacking police officers. Soldiers from the U.S. army were sent in to regain control.
Bomb Wreckage near Gaston Motel by Marion S. Trikosko
Although there were still many issues with racism, the Birmingham campaign did break down some barriers with segregation in the city. When the new school year started up in September of 1963, the schools were integrated as well. Perhaps the most important result of the campaign was in bringing the issues to a national level and getting leaders such as President John F. Kennedy involved.