Birmingham Campaign 1963

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  • The Birmingham Campaign 1963
    • Why Birmingham?
      • Large industrial city notorious for its violent racism: only 10% of the black population could vote and the NAACP had been banned
        • Local civil rights campaigners, the Rev Fred Shuttleworth persuaded MLK that if segregation could be beaten here, it could be defeated anywhere in the South
      • "Bull" Connor showed he was likkely to meet non-violence with violence, provoking media attention and therefore federal government intervention
    • Aims of the campaign
      • Desegregation of the city's shopping areas, administrative buildings, schools and parks
      • An end to racial discrimination in employment
    • Progress of the Campaign
      • Didn't get off to a good start: local white business leaders anxious to avoid bad publicity and were holding Connor back
      • Southern white moderates seemed more interested in order than justice
      • Primarily intended to convice white clergy of the need to oppose segregation: little impact in the South but touched consciences of many northern white clergy
      • Connor was advised by Pritchett and initially followed his methods effectively: so many demonstrators were arrested MLK was in danger of running out of them: but this was done without violence
    • Turning point
      • MLK's campaign saved by James Bevel who persuaded him to encourage local high school students to join the marches
        • Highly controversial:but it paid off as Connor ran out of jail space before MLK ran out of marchers
          • Students had no fear and because they had no jobs or family responsibilities, could not be subjected to economic pressure
      • The imprisonment of 1,300 local school students and the use of firehoses by Connor's police caused a media frenzy
        • not just all over the USA but all over the world (Soviet media devoted 20% of their total radio time to Birmingham and JFK said he was "sickened" by the violence)
    • Successes
      • Kennedy had to intervene so he sent the Assistant Attorney General, Burke Marshall, who made an agreement with all parties
        • Civil rights protestors were released from jail
          • Large department stores were desegregated
        • Large department stores were desegregated
        • Local businessmen promised to end discrimination in employment
          • Civil rights protestors were released from jail
        • The violence attracted mass media coverage and the sympathy of white liberals
        • Gave the Civil Rights movement more momentum than ever - MLK realised he needed media coverage to force the federal government to act
        • Huge boost to campaigns elsewhere in the South - convinced Kennedy that national action was now essential
          • In June 1963 he went on TV to tell the nation that "we face...a moral crisis as a country and a people" and to announce that he would introduce a Civil Rights Bill to end segregation
          • Kennedy was also convinced by:
            • Haviing to put the Alabama National Guard under federal control to ensure the admission of two black students to the Uniersity of Alabama
            • 1963: murder of the NAACP leader in Mississippi, Medgar Evans
          • The USSR was eagerly exploiting the images of the repression of African Americans
      • Failures and criticisms
        • The terms of the settlement were less good than they seemed: despite the promises discrimination still occurred, many facilities remained segregated and there was much public opposition to intergration
          • Peter Ling concluded: "Birmingham could not easily be counted as a victory in terms of its immediate, direct, local effects"
        • MLK was criticised for some local blacks for:
          • Allegedly ignoring local initiatives like a boycott of segregated stores
          • Using children as marchers
          • Some blamed his campaign for provoking the bombing of the local 16th Street Baptist Church by local KKK several months later in which 4 black girls were killed
          • Settling too early: too eager to claim victory and move elsewhere
        • The fact MLK felt the need to make the "I have a dream" speech shows the little success


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