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The Birmingham Campaign (1963)
During the Freedom Rides, Birmingham's police chief Eugene `Bull' Connor refused to
protect the riders and had even granted the local police the day off, thereby giving a green
light to local racists. Violence broke out and the Federal Government had to intervene to
restore order. King and the SCLC hoped that a new campaign in Birmingham would provoke
`Bull' Connor. King and violence would ensue which would bring about the desegregation of
King targeted Birmingham because it was one of the worst examples of segregation in the
South. Birmingham had no black police officers, bus drivers, fire-fighters or bank
workers. Only 10% of its black population was registered to vote. The city authorities had
even banned the NAACP.
MLK's goals were to achieve the desegregation of the city's major shopping areas,
administrative buildings, schools, public parks and put an end to discrimination in
Why did the SCLC change tactics during the Birmingham campaign?
The first month of the campaign was relatively calm with Bull O Connor weakening the
protestors by obtaining a court injunction against demonstrations in certain precincts and
releasing high profile campaigners to avoid bad publicity.
MLK was arrested & jailed for taking part in an illegal march. While in prison he wrote his
`Letter From Birmingham Jail' which clearly set out his reasons for the use of non-violence.
However, events in Birmingham were not winning the CRM the publicity it
needed. Consequently, the SCLC changed tactics by recruiting students and young people to
take part in the campaign. When the young people taunted the police, the police attacked
them with high pressure hoses and arrested & imprisoned 1300 black children. This marked a
turning point in the campaign.
Significance of the Birmingham Campaign
The violent treatment of the young protestors caused a media frenzy. Northern whites
became increasingly sympathetic towards the CRM. President Kennedy said he was
'sickened' by the images he saw.
The Soviet media devoted 1/5th of their radio time to the protest and presented the
violence as evidence of American corruption and Soviet superiority.
Following the violence negotiations began between the SCLC and the city
authorities. President Kennedy sent the assistant Attorney General to mediate.
Negotiations resulted in the following reforms being put in place:
Civil Rights Protestors were released without charge.
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Large department stores were desegregated.
Racial discrimination in employment was ended.
Birmingham had persuaded Kennedy of the need for federal intervention in civil rights in
order to prevent a complete breakdown in law and order. He also made a public
commitment to support a Civil Rights Bill.
However, schools and most public places in Birmingham remained segregated and there
continued to be much public opposition to desegregation in Birmingham.…read more