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

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee 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.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid