News / USA

Alabama City Remembered for Climactic Battle of Civil Rights Movement

A statue of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands in a park across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama (file)
A statue of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands in a park across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama (file)

Weeks after a hurricane delayed the dedication of a new national memorial to the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama will lead the ceremonies on Sunday,  Oct. 16.

King was a southern Baptist minister who rose to become the leading voice of the nation’s modern day civil rights movement during the 1950’s and 1960’s. His struggle for equal rights and those of millions of African Americans did not come easily.

Martin Luther King Jr. came to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 on a mission - to a place he called "the most segregated city in the United States."

“To dramatize this blatant injustice. And to demand that the federal government not put a cent in this city unless it decides to face the realities of desegregation,” King said.

In the non-violent demonstrations that followed, King and hundreds of protesters were arrested.

They were pressing the city to eliminate laws that sought to keep blacks and whites separated in schools, restaurants and many other public places.

Historian Robert Corley says King and the local civil rights leaders needed this strategy to succeed.

“There had been no movement whatsoever in this city towards any form of desegregation of any of its institutions," he said. "So King was saying if we can win in Birmingham , if we can come to Birmingham and prevail then we can win anywhere.”

MLK Jr. rally
MLK Jr. rally
King and his followers were met with fierce resistance from the police.  Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor, backed by the majority of white residents, was determined to stop the demonstrations.

Without enough volunteers to continue the protests, King and other leaders enlisted hundreds of young schoolchildren to keep the marches going and fill up the jails.

The young African American student protesters would gather here on the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church and hear inspirational speeches from civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They would then file from the church and walk across the street to a park where they were determined to demonstrate peacefully for equal rights.

Janice Kelsey
Janice Kelsey
“I was arrested after we got about a block away from the church in this area,” jailed demonstrator Janice Kelsey recalled. She was 16 years old when she and her schoolmates were jailed. “My mind was made up. I was going to participate, I was going to go to jail because I wanted to get my freedom,” she said.

Then, on the second day of the student demonstrations, things turned violent.

Reverend Calvin Wood
Reverend Calvin Wood
Police turned high-pressure fire hoses on the young people, and set attack dogs on them.  Birmingham civil rights leader Reverend Calvin Woods was there.

“There had been some people bitten by dogs and some killings.  Many people were beaten and spit on and put in jail, lost jobs. But those were minor things compared to what we felt we had to do,” he explained.

The brutal crackdown was widely televised and images of the event were seen around the world. Robert Corley says this incident galvanized new support for the civil rights movement.

“It was that children’s crusade that really turned the tide because it did serve his the goal of filling up the jails and forcing the white community to come to the table with King and negotiate some sort of settlement,” he stated.

Eventually, King and Birmingham city leaders reached an agreement.  Within months, the local segregation laws were abolished. Reverend Woods says King’s determination to keep the movement going made all the difference.

“We would not have accomplished what we did if it had not been for the support and leadership that Dr. King brought,” Woods said.

The Birmingham campaign was a climactic battle of the civil rights movement.  For many, it stands as an iconic symbol of the sacrifices made by King and thousands of African Americans.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs