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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid