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

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt 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.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid