1962

1963 (July-Dec)

1963 January-June

In 1963, the freedom-fires sparked by student activists in the sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and voter-registration campaigns merge into a run-away blaze igniting the entire South. In community after community, mass movements of students and adults rise up to challenge and defy generations of oppression and exploitation. As reported by the Southern Regional Council, direct action protests erupt in some 115 southern cities and towns, and more than 20,000 demonstrators are arrested for demanding freedom and justice. In retaliation, white racists murder ten people and commit at least 35 bombings. But the effort to intimidate Black citizens with jail, violence, and murder fails.

January-June Events
Alabama Governor Wallace Takes Office (Jan)
Northwood Theatre — Baltimore (Feb)
Marching For Freedom in Greenwood (Feb-Mar)
Cambridge MD, Movement — 1963
Birmingham — the Children's Crusade (April-May)
The Mailman's March (Murder of William Moore) (April)
Voter Registration Movement Expands in Mississippi (Spring)
Mass Action in Durham (May)
Mass Action in Greensboro (May-June)
Jackson Sit-in & Protests (May-June)
Danville VA, Movement (May-Aug)
Atrocity in Winona (June)
Standing In the Schoolhouse Door (June)
Kennedy's Civil Rights Speech (June)
Medgar Evers Assassination (June)
Medical Committee for Civil Rights Pickets the AMA (June)
Medgar's Funeral & End of Jackson Movement (June)
Selma — Breaking the Grip of Fear (Jan-June)

July-December Events
St. Augustine FL, Movement — 1963
Savannah GA, Movement (June-Dec)
Struggle for the Vote Continues in Mississippi (July-Aug)
Savage Repression in Gadsden AL (Aug)
Americus GA Movement & "Seditious Conspiracy" (Aug)
Federal "Jury Tampering" Frameup in Albany GA (Aug)
Kennedys Appease the Segregationists (Aug)
Man-Hunt in Plaquemine LA (Aug-Sept)
Orangeburg SC, Freedom Movement (Aug-Sept)
March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom (Aug)
Birmingham Church Bombing (Sept)
Freedom March in New Orleans (Sept)
Mary Hamilton and the "Miss Mary" Case (Sept)
FBI's COINTELPRO Targets the Movement (Oct)
Freedom Day in Selma (Oct)
Free Southern Threatre (Oct)
Freedom Ballot in MS (Oct-Nov)
Assasination of President Kennedy (Nov)
SNCC Meets Kenyan Freedom Fighter in Atlanta (Dec)

 

Alabama Governor Wallace Takes Office (Jan)

Newly-elected Alabama Governor George Wallace takes power on January 14, 1963. In his campaign for office, Wallace is supported by the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens Council. With few Blacks registered to vote in Alabama, he wins a land-slide victory on a rabid anti-Black, pro-segregation, "states-rights," platform. He takes his oath of office standing on the gold star commenorating the spot where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as President of the Confederacy in 1861 and declares: "I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Wallace immediately fires Directory of Public Safety Floyd Mann — a professional lawman who had saved the lives Freedom Riders when they were attacked by the Klan and who had wanted the state Highway Patrol to enforce the law against mob violence. Wallace replaces Mann with "Colonel" Al Lingo, a vicious racist with little law enforcement experience. Under Lingo's command, the Highway Patrol is renamed the State Troopers. It is expanded and transformed into Alabama's armed force for defending segregation and suppressing the Black freedom movement with arrests and brutal violence.

For more information on the Alabama Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Alabama Movement
Web: Alabama Movement

 

Northwood Theatre — Baltimore (Feb)

See Baltimore Sit-ins & Protests for preceding events.

February 1963 marks the begining of the 4th year of direct action assaults on segregation since the first Greensboro Sit-in in 1960. Across the South, local campaigns carry on the struggle in communities large and small. These efforts are rarely, if ever, covered by the national media, but taken together they are changing the face of society at the ground level. One typical example is the fight to integrate the Northwood movie theater in Baltimore.

Segregated movie theaters are part of the "southern way of life." In many places there are "white only" and "colored" cinemas, in other places seating on the main floor is limited to whites, while Blacks are restricted to the "Jim Crow" balcony, often with a separate ticket booth and entrance. While school integration sparks the most intense resistance by segregationists, in many communities their determination to maintain segregation at recreation venues such as theaters, swimming pools, and skating rinks is almost as fierce. White racists are obsessed with inter-racial sex — "miscegenation" — "race-mixing." The idea that Black males might sit next to their white wives, sisters, and daughters in a darkened movie house stirs their deepest phobias in ways that lunch-counter integration does not.

The Northwood theater is adjacent to Morgan State, a Black college in Baltimore. The area around the campus and theater is almost all white, except for the Black campus. For three years the student-led Civic Interest Group (CIG) has demonstrated against the cinema's white-only policy. In mid-February of 1963, they sharply escalate their protests. While half a hundred students picket outside, 25 enter the lobby to purchase tickets. When they are denied admission, they refuse to leave and are arrested for Trespass. Among them is Miss Morgan State and other student leaders. Protests and arrests continue. Within a week, close to 350 students (and a few professors) have been jailed. Bail is set at $600 (equal to $4,500 in 2012), which few can pay.

Morgan student Julia Davidson-Randall recalls:

I was arrested along with about 300 people. ... When we were arrested, everyone was crying and scared because they had us in jail with the real criminals. After we had been there a day or two — we were there a total of four days — by the second day everybody had calmed down and we were interviewing the inmates and asking them what they were in for? My father came to visit. He didn't have the money to get me out because we were poor. — Julia Davidson-Randall [1]

Students at Howard University in Washington mobilize to support the Morgan State students.

I was in jail when the Howard group sent word that they were on their way, en masse. Suddenly, the mayor woke up and thought, 'Oh, we're not having this. Clear all the jails out. Just get them out. Forget procedure, just get them out of there.' And we got out. That was real big, there's real, real power in numbers. — Jean Wiley [2]

After a week of intense direct action the theater capitulates and ends its white-only policy.

For more information on the Baltimore Civil Rights Movement:
Web: Baltimore & Maryland

 

Marching For Freedom in Greenwood (Feb-Mar)
(Photos)

See Greenwood Food Blockade for previous events.

In late February, an anonymous caller warns that the new office SNCC was finally able to rent is going to be destroyed. Four adjacent Black businesses are burnt in a bungled arson attempt, but they miss the SNCC office. When Sam describes the fire as "arson" at a mass meeting he is arrested for "statements calculated to breach the peace." It is his seventh Movement arrest in Greenwood.

More than one hundred Black protesters show up at City Hall on the day of Sam's trial — the first mass protest by Greenwood Blacks in living memory. Sam is sentenced to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine. The Judge offers to suspend the sentence if Sam agrees to leave town and halt efforts to register Black voters. Replies Sam: "Judge, I ain't gonna do that." He is released on bond pending appeal, and that night addresses a mass meeting of 250 people — the largest mass meeting to date.

On Tuesday, February 26, more than 200 Blacks line up at the Courthouse to register to vote. They know they will not be allowed to register, but attempting to do so has become for them a symbol of both pride and defiance. And the white power-structure recognizes it as such. The police order them to disperse. They hold their ground, remaining in line. The Registrar delays and evades, admitting only a few to fill out the application and take the so-called "literacy test." Those few who manage to take the test are rejected. But in Leflore County fear is beginning to lose its grip.

That night, KKK nightriders ambush a SNCC car on the road, firing 13 rounds from a .45 caliber machine gun at Jimmy Travis, Bob Moses, and VEP Field Director Randolph Blackwell. Jimmy is hit twice, in the neck and shoulder, and has to be rushed to the nearest hospital willing to treat Black freedom fighters. From around the nation demands for protection and enforcement of Federal voting rights laws are sent to Washington. The Kennedy administration takes no noticeable action.

COFO calls on all voter-registration workers in Mississippi to concentrate on Greenwood to show that Klan terror cannot halt a growing freedom movement. By early March, dozens of SNCC organizers, plus some CORE field secretaries and SCLC staff members are working out of the Greenwood SNCC/COFO office in defiance of Klan terror, police repression, and Citizen Council economic retaliation. Whites shoot at a car containing Sam, Wazir, and local students working with the movement. Though he knows full well who is responsible, Greenwood mayor Charles Sampson denies that white racists are the perpetrators. He falsely accuses SNCC of faking the attack to garner support. On March 24th the Klan finally succeeds in fire-bombing the office. It is destroyed. The Movement continues.

The Greene family is particularly active — father Dewey Greene takes a leading role in encouraging voter-registration, son George and daughter Freddie are leaders among the local students. On the night of March 26, the Klan shoots into the Greene home, narrowly missing three of the children. The Greenes are a well- respected family in Greenwood's Black community and instead of intimidating people the shooting does just the opposite.

Now the morning of the march we were at the church there and began singing. Forman came by; he was actually on his way out of town, he was driving. So he suggested that maybe we ought to go down to City Hall and protest the shooting. We did not anticipate that the police would react as they did. We were simply going to the police station and request a conference with the police chief asking for police protection in light of the shooting. And they met us there with the dogs and with guns and so forth and I guess, as Jim says, they simply went berserk for a little while. ... — Bob Moses [3]

The marchers — men, women, and children — are singing and praying as they approach City Hall. Suddenly, they are attacked by police dogs and beaten by club-wielding cops. SNCC leaders Bob Moses, Jim Forman, Wazir Peacock, Frank Smith, and six Greenwood activists are arrested. Yale law student Marian Wright — Atlanta student sit-in leader and today Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund — describes the scene:

I had been with Bob Moses one evening and dogs kept following us down the street. Bob was saying how he wasn't used to dogs, that he wasn't brought up around dogs, and he was really afraid of them. Then came the march, and the dogs growling and the police pushing us back. And there was Bob, refusing to move back, walking, walking towards the dogs. — Marian Wright Edelman [3]

The Greenwood Movement is not intimidated by dogs or cops or arrests. Where a year earlier local Blacks feared to be seen in the company of Sam Block or Wazir Peacock, now a thousand or more are involved in the Movement in one way or another — protesting, canvasing, trying to register, attending meetings, housing and feeding organizers, providing bail money, and so on. By 10am the next morning there are 50 Blacks lined up at the courthouse to register, by noon more than 100. A small army of helmeted police confront them. Again they attack with dogs and clubs. SNCC field secretary Charlie Cobb reports:

With the events of the morning of the 28th, the issues in Greenwood broadened beyond voter registration and became more basic. The issue now was, Did people have a right to walk the streets which they had paid for, with whomever they please, as long as they are orderly and obey all traffic laws? The city's answer was, Not if you're a nigger! There was a very direct link between this issue and voter registration, because for years attempting to register to vote for Negroes meant preparing alone to suffer physical assault while making the attempt, economic reprisals after the attempt, and sometimes death. To go with friends and neighbors made the attempt less frightening and reduced the chances of physical assault at the courthouse, since cowards don't like to openly attack numbers. It also reduced the chance of economic reprisal, since the firing of one hundred Negro maids would put the good white housewives of Greenwood in a bind ('tis a grim life for Miss Ann without Mary, Sally, or Sam). — Charlie Cobb. [5]

Photos of police dogs savaging nonviolent protesters and news describing denial of basic voting rights flash across the world, embarrassing the Kennedy administration on the world stage and undercutting his "Free World" diplomacy at the United Nations. Moses and the others arrested on the 27th are convicted of "disorderly conduct" and given the maximum sentence, four months in prison and a $200 fine. Hoping to force the Department of Justice to file suit against the county's interference with the right to vote, they refuse to pay the fine or pay bail while the case is appealed.

But the Department of Justice under Attorney General Robert Kennedy cuts a deal instead. Eager to halt the embarrasing news stories coming out of Greenwood, the Feds agree not to file a voting rights suit against local officials. In return, the Greenwood power-structure agrees to release Moses and the others without bond while their case is appealed, and to stop using police brutality against Blacks trying to register. The county also agrees to resume food distribution so long as it is paid for by the Federal government (in other words, the Feds supply not only the food, but also pick up the distribution costs which everywhere else in the nation are carried by the county). This allows Leflore politicians to assure their segregationist supporters that local taxes are not being used to "reward uppity Blacks" with free food.

With the cops no longer attacking Blacks trying to register to vote, embarrassing photos stop coming out of Greenwood, which relieves the Kennedys. But the deal only halts police repression. The KKK continues to threaten Black voters with terrorist violence and the Citizens Council continues to coerce Blacks with economic terror, firing and evicting those who try to register. And without Federal voting rights enforcement, the Registrar is free to continue rigging the application and "literacy test" to prevent most Blacks from actually registering. In the following months, 1500 Blacks risk life and economic survival by journeying to the courthouse, but only a handful are added to the voting rolls. By the end of 1963 there are only 268 Black voters in Leflore County compared to 10,000 white voters, even though 65% of the population is Black.

See Voter Registration Movement Expands in Mississippi for continuation.

For more information on the Greenwood and Mississippi Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Mississippi Movement
Web:
     Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
     Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
     Mississippi Movement

 

Cambridge MD, Movement — 1963

See Cambridge MD — 1962 for preceding events.

In late March of 1963, Cambridge demonstrations resume when the movie theater, which had refused to desegregate during the 1962 protests, increases segregation by limiting Blacks to the back rows of the balcony rather than the entire balcony as had been the previous practice. Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee (CNAC) leaders Gloria Richardson, Enez Grubb, and Sally Garrison, along with Civic Interest Group (CIG) leader Clarence Logan, meet with the Mayor and town council. They demand real school desegregation, equal job opportunities, better housing, and desegregation of recreation venues such as the cinema and skating rink. The white power-structure rebuffs them.

On March 29, some 50 protesters — including supporters from Swarthmore, Maryland State, Morgan State, and other colleges, assemble at Mount Sinai Baptist Church and then march downtown to the theater and skating rink. They are opposed by a jeering mob of whites. Gloria and 16 others are arrested for "Tresspass" and "Disturbing the Peace." CNAC organizes a boycott of the downtown white merchants. Protests, arrests, and harrassment by hostile whites continue through April. By the end of April when demonstrations subside due to lack of bail money, some 80 people have been arrested. Among them are Swarthmore students Judy Richardson and Penny Patch, both of whom go on to become SNCC field secretaries.

It was the first time I had ever been denied entrance to some place. I mean, I was just absolutely enraged. I tell people now — folks talk about, you know, "you were just full of love" — I was [Phfffft] I mean, people really got mad about stuff. I remember getting very mad that I was not being allowed into this place. My clearest memory, the first one I remember, is trying to integrate the Chop Tank Inn, which was a bar and grill, and it was nasty smelling and stuff, but we were trying to get in there. — Judy Richardson. [6]

When many of those arrested are convicted of "Disorderly Conduct," local judge Laird Henry attempts to calm tensions by sentencing them to pay a fine of just one penny. But the Black protesters are determined to end segregation in Cambridge, and the tiny sentence infuriates pro-segregation whites. In mid-May demonstrations resume when 250 local Blacks stage a night march downtown. Again and again over the following days CNAC tries to desegregate the theater, skating rink, retaurants, and other venues. Again and again white mobs oppose them.

Cambridge students Dwight Cromwell and Dinez White, both 15, lead many of the protests. They are arrested and charged with "Disorderly Conduct" for peacably praying on the sidewalk outside a segregated facility. They are held without bail, and then condemned to indefinite incarceration in the state juvenile prison — a sentence that could keep them in jail for 6 years until they reach 21. Dinez writes a "Letter From a Jail Cell," in which she tells her fellow protesters: "They think they have you scared because they are sending us away. Please fight for freedom and let us know that we are not going away in vain." (She writes this letter before Dr. King's famous Letter From a Birmingham Jail.)

The outrageous jailing of Cromwell and White for the "crime" of praying for an end to segregation further enrages the Black community. The attacks by whites increase, and many Blacks begin turning away from the strict nonviolence of Dr. King. One CNAC leader states: "We are not going to initiate violence. But if we are attacked, we are not going to turn the other cheek." On the night of June 11 — after news reports of the Medgar Evers Assassination — CNAC marches downtown to protest the sentences meted out to Cromwell and White. The are confronted by a mob of whites who follow them back to the 2nd Ward where they throw rocks and provoke fights.

On the 12th there is another march downtown to protest the sentences. Gloria Richardson urges the marchers to remain nonviolent while protesting. Large numbers of Maryland State Troopers are on hand, but they side with the whites. The next day more than 500 again march downtown. Some of them carry weapons to defend themselves from the white mob which is waiting for them. Black men arm themselves and guard the perimeter of the 2nd Ward to protect the community from attack by whites. CNAC remains committed to nonviolence on demonstrations, but does not oppose community self-defense against white violence. On the night of June 14, several white-owned stores in the 2nd Ward are set on fire by persons unknown. Shots are exchanged between whites and Blacks, there are gunshot casualties, and rocks are thrown at the police when they enter the area in force.

When CNAC refuses to accept a one-year moratorium on protests, Governor Tawes sends in the Maryland National Guard and declares Martial Law. Hundreds of guardsmen are deployed on Race Street, with more in reserve. (Race Street is the dividing line between the Black 2nd Ward and the white areas.) CNAC welcomes the National Guard because the local and state police consistently side with the white mob and offer little protection to the Black community from white assaults and fire bombings. Whites resent the Guard presence, calling them an "army of occupation."

The Guard is withdrawn in early July. After more fruitless negotiations, CNAC resumes sit-ins and marches. Again white mobs form to attack the demonstrators. On the 12th, whites attack half a dozen protesters sitting-in at a restaurant, Blacks come to their defense and there is a wild street brawl. Later that evening marchers are assaulted by a white mob, and night riders drive through the 2nd Ward exchanging gunfire with Black defenders. White-owned stores are set on fire. The Baltimore Afro-American writes: "For what seemed like an eternity the Second Ward was a replica of the Old West as men and boys of all ages roamed the streets, stood in the shadows, and leaned out of windows with their weapons in full view." Twelve white people are wounded by gunfire, but fortunately none are killed.

The National Guard is recalled to Cambridge where they remain for almost a year, the longest martial law deployment in an American community since the end of Reconstruction.

On July 23rd, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy personally convenes a marathon meeting with Gloria Richardson, John Lewis of SNCC, and Cambridge and Maryland officials. After 9 hours of intense negotiation they announce the "Treaty of Cambridge," an agreement that meets most of the original 1962 demands that CNAC presented to the city. In return for a moratorium on protests, the power-structure agrees to establish a biracial committee including CNAC representatives, end segregation in public accomodations, desegregate the schools, construct public housing, and implement an innovative jobs program funded by the Federal government. Behind the scenes, intervention by Attorney General Robert Kennedy (RFK) eventually frees Dwight Cromwell and Dinez White after three months in Juvenile prison.

Gloria and other CNAC leaders are wary of RFK's motives and doubt the willingness of Cambridge officials to make good on their promises. But they agree to the "Treaty of Cambridge" because for the first time committments are made — in writing — regarding jobs and housing, the issues of greatest concern to Cambridge Blacks. (In CNAC's door-to-door canvas of the 2nd Ward, 42% of the people name unemployment as the most pressing issue, 26% say housing, and only 6% place desegregation of public accomodations as the top priority.)

The white community in Cambridge is split between the hard-line segregationists — who are mostly poor and working-class backed by the white aristocracy — and the racial "moderates" — who tend to be from the middle-class.

Furious at the "Treaty of Cambridge," segregationists flock to the all-white Dorchester Business & Citizens Association (DBCA) which files a referendum to overturn the desegregation agreement. The DBCA claims it is not a racist organization, but its actions prove to be little different from those of the White Citizen Council. DBCA leaders deny that they are anti-Black, they say they oppose laws against discrimination because they violate property rights — that businessmen have the right to hire whomever they wish, and a right of "free association" to accept or refuse customers without government interference. They refuse to acknowledge that Blacks have a right of equal access to public facilities, housing, and jobs.

Though the DBCA aggressively registers pro-segregation voters, they are outnumbered by the combined vote of the Black community and the white "moderates," so everyone expects the segregation referendum to be defeated. Then Gloria Richardson and CNAC call on the Black community to boycott the referendum because human rights must never be subject to majority vote. A "right" is only a right if it cannot be taken from you even if the majority wish to do so. If the majority can vote to deny basic human rights to a minority, then nobody has any permanent rights at all. By participating in the referendum vote, the Movement would be accepting the principle that the majority can revoke the rights of a minority, which CNAC refuses to do.

Gloria tells a press conference:

A first-class citizen does not beg for freedom. A first-class citizen does not plead to the white power-structure to give him something that the whites have no power to give or take away. Human rights are human rights, not white rights. — Gloria Richardson. [7]

The CNAC position divides the Black community and provokes controversy among civil rights organizations, activists, and media nationwide. Black moderates and white liberals, Cambridge Black ministers, and the NAACP, attack Richardson and CNAC. They argue that the ballot box is the American way of democracy, and urge Cambridge Blacks to vote against the referendum. But many activists in SNCC, CORE, and elsewhere, even as far distant as California, support the CNAC position as a matter of principle and also common sense — voting in such a referendum legitimizes the principle that human rights are subject to majority vote and if that becomes accepted, the rights of all minorities — racial, religious, political, cultural — become subject to the voting power of the majority.

When the vote is cast in early October, the pro-segregation referendum passes 53% to 47%. Turnout is extremely high in the white districts, but only 50% in the Black 2nd Ward. Without CNAC's boycott, the referendum would probably have been defeated, but at the cost of accepting the principle that human rights are subject to majority vote. In the end, though, the referendum protects segregation in Cambridge for just 9 months because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 overturns segregation in public accomodations nationwide.

See Cambridge MD & the "White Backlash" for continuation.

For more information on the Cambridge Civil Rights Movement:
Book: Civil War on Race Street: The Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge Maryland
Web: Cambridge MD Movement & Gloria Richardson

 

Birmingham — the Children's Crusade (April-May)
Photos

[This section describes the Birmingham Freedom Movement in the Spring of 1963. It does not try to cover the economic, political, electoral, and legal conflicts within the white power-structure between the rabid segregationists led by Eugene "Bull" Connor and the so-called "moderates" led by Birmingham Mayor Albert Boutwell and Chamber of Commerce President Sidney Smyer. Nor does it try to detail the complex and convoluted course of desegregation negotiations and agreements during the period 1962-1964.]

See Shuttlesworth, ACMHR, and the Birmingham Resistance for preceding events.
See also Birmingham Movement for books.

Contents:
     Two Years On
     Birmingham — The Most Segregated City in America
     Project C
     The Campaign Begins
     Letter From a Birmingham Jail
     The Children's Crusade
     The Settlement
     Birmingham Campaign — Important Points

Two Years On

By the end of 1962, after two years of student-led sit-ins and Freedom Rides, some success has been achieved in desegregating public facilities in some of the college-towns of the mid and upper-south. But across the South as a whole segregation is still the rule rather than the exception, and in the Deep South rigid segregation remains almost universal. And even if a business owner or public official is willing to integrate, states, counties, and cities have laws requiring segregation (see Birmingham Segregation Laws for examples).

While attacking segregation one lunch counter and bus depot at a time has begun to build a powerful movement — and is beginning to raise the issue among the public at large — it is impossible to stage separate direct action campaigns at every single segregated facility in every city, town, and hamlet. Nor is it possible to repeal state and local segregation ordinances one by one, or file separate court cases to overturn them in all the myriad jurisdictions. Only national legislation on the federal level can permanently eradicate overt, legally-required, segregation by repealing all segregation laws at a stroke and making equal access to public facilities a matter of national law enforceable in Federal court.

 

Birmingham — The Most Segregated City in America

In 1960, Birmingham's population of 350,000 is split 60-40, white over Black. The adjacent city of Bessemer is majority Black and overwhelmingly poor. Racial segregation of public and commercial facilities throughout Jefferson County is absolute, legally required, and ruthlessly enforced. The dominant political boss is Eugene "Bull" Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety in charge of the police and fire departments. He is a virulent racist with connections to the Ku Klux Klan, and his police — some of whom are Klansmen themselves — brutally enforce the racial status-quo.

Violence, and the threat of violence, are pervasive. In the six years between 1957 and 1963, Black churches and the homes of Black leaders are bombed 17 times. Jewish synagogues are also bombed. The police make no effort to apprehend the perpetrators, and the city acquires a new nickname — Bombingham. In 1956, singer Nat King Cole is attacked and beaten on the stage of Municipal Auditorium by members of the White Citizens Council. A year later, Klansmen randomly snatch a Black man from the street, castrate, and kill him. Beatings, rapes, vandalism, and other forms of abuse and terrorism enforce white-supremacy.

But there are some who are not intimidated. When the NAACP is banned in Alabama, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth forms the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) which, along with the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), becomes a cornerstone of the newly-formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957.

ACMHR sinks deep roots in the Black community of Birmingham-Bessemer, holding a regular mass-meeting every Monday night, month after month, year after year. With undaunted courage, Shuttlesworth and the other ACMHR activists carry forward their fight for freedom from racist oppression. Following the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott, they force integration of Birmingham buses. Shuttlesworth is jailed many times, and his home and church — Bethel Baptist — are bombed. When he tries to enroll his children in a white school, he is brutally beaten with chains.

When ACMHR successfully sues in Federal court to desegregate the city parks — Blacks have to pay taxes to support the parks but they are not allowed to use them — Bull Connor orders all parks closed to everyone rather than allow both Blacks and whites to share them together. In May of 1961, with the connivance of Bull Connor's police force, a KKK mob savagely attacks the Freedom Riders when their bus arrives at the Birmingham depot. Shuttlesworth and ACMHR stalwarts courageously rescue and shelter the battered riders. The police arrest Shuttlesworth — twice — but when the Nashville students and SNCC activists arrive to continue the Freedom Ride, Shuttlesworth and ACMHR stand united with them.

 

Project C

After pulling out of Albany GA in August of 1962, Dr. King and other Movement leaders ponder the strengths and weaknesses of the Albany Movement and the lessons learned from that seminal effort in large-scale nonviolent direct action against segregation. Dr. King consults closely with Shuttlesworth who argues that SCLC should join ACMHR in a major campaign against segregation in Birmingham. SCLC Vice-President Reverend Joseph Lowry of Mobile also supports a show-down in "Bombingham." Dr. King then assigns SCLC Executive Director Wyatt T. Walker to prepare a battle plan for Birmingham.

Walker's plan, named "Project C" (for Confrontation), has three strategic goals:

  1. To break the back of segregation in its toughest bastion — Birmingham — and by so doing, weaken segregation everywhere in the South.

  2. To generate such strong national awareness that the Kennedy administration will be forced to actively defend the civil rights of Americans regardless of their race.

  3. To mobilize enough popular support in the North to break a Southern filibuster, and pass a national civil rights act to overturn all segregation laws everywhere, and outlaw all forms of overt racial discrimination nation-wide.

As SNCC Chairman, and SCLC board-member, John Lewis put it:

Our goal in Birmingham was larger than ending segregation in one Southern city. It was our hope that our efforts in Birmingham would dramatize the fight and determination of African-American citizens in the Southern states and that we would force the Kennedy administration to draft and push through Congress a comprehensive Civil Rights Act, outlawing segregation and racial discrimination in public accommodations, employment and education. — John Lewis. [8]

King, Shuttlesworth, and the SCLC high-command adopts Walker's Project C in December of 1962. The basic strategy is to fill the jails with protesters and boycott Birmingham's white merchants during April's Easter shopping-season (which is second in economic importance only to the Christmas shopping season). Filling the jails will put direct economic pressure on the city which has to feed and guard the prisoners and at the same time strengthen the Black boycott of the downtown businesses and the politically powerful store-owners. The plan calls for commencing direct action in March of 1963 — first with lunch counter sit-ins and then mass marches. The demonstrators are expected to be adults and college students who will commit to staying at least 5 or 6 days in jail before being bailed out.

The SCLC leaders are under no illusions about the dangers ahead. They know that Bull Connor is no Laurie Prichart — it won't be the velvet glove of Albany, but the iron fist of a police-state in Birmingham. And they know that the Klan in "Bombingham" won't hesitate to kill. As Shuttlesworth sums it up: "You have to be prepared to die before you can begin to live. "

 

The Campaign Begins

In February, Reverend James Lawson and others begin training demonstrators in the tactics and strategies of Nonviolent Resistance. But the Mayoral battle between Boutwell and Connor is extended to an April 2nd run-off vote, forcing a month's delay in the start of Project C.

On the last day of March, Dr. King meets in New York with singer Harry Belafonte and other Northern supporters to raise financial resources for bail money, and organize political support to pressure Kennedy and Congress. During the campaign that follows, Belafonte plays a key role, devoting his full energies to coordinating and mobilizing efforts across the country for the Birmingham Movement and a new civil rights bill.

On April 2nd, SCLC sets up its command post in Room 30 of the Black-owned Gaston Motel across the street from Kelly Ingram Park. Close by is the large 16th Street Baptist Church — capable of seating more than 1500 — which is to be the direct action assembly point. Nightly mass meetings begin to mobilize the community around the campaign, the boycott of downtown merchants is declared, and volunteers trained in the tactics and strategies of Nonviolent Resistance step forward to begin lunch counter sit-ins the following day.

On Wednesday, April 3rd, over the signature of Fred Shuttlesworth and N.H. Smith, ACHMR publicly issues the Birmingham Manifesto setting forth the Black community's demand for an end to the oppression of segregation and their determination to immediately begin a freedom campaign of nonviolent direct action. Some 65 protesters — many of them students from Miles College — target 5 downtown lunch counters. But instead of arresting them, four of the lunch counters simply close — only at the fifth establishment are Connor's police called in to jail the sit-ins. This reflects a deep split within Birmingham's white power-structure. The racial "moderates" want to emulate the Albany strategy of defusing the Movement and preventing harsh national publicity by avoiding arrests and dramatic confrontations. The hard-liners led by Bull Connor with the backing of Alabama Governor George Wallace want to utterly suppress Black aspirations through intimidation, violence, and jailing anyone who dares question the established order.

The split within the power-structure is mirrored within the Black community. Many Black business leaders and conservative ministers fear and oppose direct action. They argue that Boutwell — the newly elected Mayor — should be given time to put his "moderate" policies into effect without being pressured by polarizing demonstrations. Shuttlesworth derides Boutwell as merely a "dignified Connor," and Dr. King argues that only nonviolent direct action has the power to effect significant change against the resistance of both the "moderates" and the extremists.

With the lunch counters closed, the Movement organizes small marches to City Hall and other government buildings. Connor arrests the protesters. At the end of the campaign's first week, the boycott is strong with only a handful of Blacks shopping downtown. Around 150 protesters are in jail, but this is far fewer than Walker's Project C plan had hoped for, and there is little coverage in the national press.

With the support of the Boutwell faction, Connor obtains an injunction from an Alabama state court prohibiting all future demonstrations.

The next day, Thursday, April 11, King, Shuttlesworth, and other Movement leaders denounce the injunction. States Dr. King: "We cannot in good conscience obey such an injunction which is an unjust, undemocratic and unconstitutional misuse of the legal process." They announce that they intend to defy the injunction by marching the next day — Good Friday.

The city issues an order preventing bail bondsmen from bailing out jailed protesters. Knowing that SCLC's bail fund is empty, Governor Wallace enacts a new law — which applies only to Birmingham's Jefferson County — that raises the maximum bail that can be charged for a misdemeanor arrest from $300 to $2,500 (equal to almost $20,000 in 2013). The result is that protesters too poor to pay their own bond may have to stay in jail for 6 months rather than just 6 days before being bailed out. Despite the lack of funds, Dr. King decides to march on Good Friday: "I don't know what will happen. I don't know where the money will come from. I have to make faith act."

On Good Friday, King and Abernathy lead 50 volunteers on a march that defies the injunction. They know they will be arrested and they know there is no money to pay their bail. King and Abernathy are thrown in solitary confinement — no phone calls, no mattress or blankets, just a cold concrete cell and a steel bedframe.

 

Letter From a Birmingham Jail

Harry Belafonte is able to raise $50,000 in bail money to temporarily meet SCLC's previous obligations — which means that those who have already endured the 6 days in jail they committed to can be bonded out. Belafonte and Walker activate a letter, telegram, and phone call campaign to the Kennedys. But the national press continues to disregard and discount the Birmingham campaign, the New York Times heaps praise on the "moderate" Mayor Boutwell while dismissing the demonstrations as "poorly timed protests," and the Washington Post speculates that King is "prompted more by leadership rivalry than by the real need of the situation."

On April 13, the Birmingham News publishes an attack on Dr. King and the Movement by some of the city's liberal white clergymen who are supporters of Boutwell's "moderate" faction. They criticize the protests as "unwise and untimely," and urge Blacks not to participate. They invoke their religious authority against civil disobedience and accuse the nonviolent protesters of inciting hatred and violence.

From his prison cell, Dr. King pens a response in the newspaper margins and on other scraps of paper. Smuggled out of jail in bits and pieces, his rebuttal becomes "Letter from Birmingham Jail." He rebukes the liberals, telling them,

For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.'

And then he lays it on the line,

... the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' — Martin Luther King. [9]

Immediately understanding the importance of Dr. King's statement, Walker labors to get it published — or at least noticed — by the press who are so eager to trumpet every attack of the "moderates." To no avail. The northern mass media utterly ignores King's response. Only after the campaign's ultimate victory does Letter From a Birmingham Jail becomes widely known to the public.

After 8 days in jail, Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy are bailed out on Saturday, April 20th to prepare for their trial on Monday the 22nd. After a week-long trial, a Birmingham court convicts them of violating the injunction. They remain out on bail pending appeal. But the Birmingham Movement is faltering, the boycott is weakening, bail funds are again exhausted, and it is harder and harder to find adults willing to risk losing their jobs by going to jail. Most Blacks in Birmingham and Bessemer are working-poor, barely living from paycheck to paycheck. Parents who have to feed and cloth their children cannot risk being fired and blacklisted.

In response to a request from King, James Bevel and Diane Nash come to Birmingham from Greenwood Mississippi. No one has more experience than they in organizing and leading nonviolent direct action. Along with Dorothy Cotton and Bernard Lee, they focus their organizing on high school students rather than adults. The response is enthusiastic. The nonviolent training sessions for young people soon grow larger than the adult-oriented nightly mass meetings. But Dr. King and the other leaders are reluctant to allow children on the marches — Birmingham jail is no place for kids, and police records will cast shadows over their futures. Bevel and the younger SCLC staff argue that the students are eager to participate, and when they are arrested it will not threaten the economic survival of their families.

 

The Children's Crusade

With the injunction trial over, King and Shuttlesworth try to re-ignite the faltering movement with a call for a mass march on Thursday, May 2nd — a march patterned on the successful march in Nashville three years earlier. But Birmingham is no Nashville, there was no injunction in Nashville, and no Bull Connor either. And in Nashville, most of the marchers had been students from four large Black colleges, but in Birmingham there is only tiny Miles College.

The debate over allowing children to confront Connor's cops and endure jail roils the movement. But the young freedom fighters are done arguing — they are ready to march and no one is going to stop them. Finally, Dr. King agrees, children who are old enough to join a church are old enough to make witness for justice. (In the tradition of the Black Baptist church, a child in elementary school can join the church by accepting the Christian faith.)

A passion for freedom sweeps through Parker High and the other Black schools of Birmingham and Bessemer, an emotional firestorm ignited by SCLC's young field workers. It's led by class presidents and prom queens, cheerleaders and football heroes like big James Orange. It's a fire stoked and spread by "Tall Paul" White and other DJs at the Black radio stations. Thursday, May 2nd, is "D-Day" as students "ditch" class to march for justice. In disciplined groups of 50, children singing freedom songs march out of 16th Street Baptist church two-by- two. When each group is arrested, another takes its place. There are not enough cops to contain them, and police reinforcements are hurriedly summoned. By the end of the day almost 1,000 kids have been jailed.

That evening, almost 2,000 adults over-flow the nightly mass meeting at Bethel Baptist. As mandated by a court ruling, a pair of white police detectives are able to attend all mass meetings so that they can radio reports back to Connor. They usually sit in the front row and Movement speakers often address them directly as representatives of the repressive power-structure. By confronting them, condemning their actions, and ridiculing them with humor, the speakers use their presence to erode the deeply ingrained traditions of fear and subservience that have held sway for so long.

In family after family, worried parents wrestle with their justifiable fears and the determination of their sons and daughters. Says one boy to his father:

Daddy, I don't want to disobey you, but I have made my pledge. If you try to keep me home, I will sneak off. If you think I deserve to be punished for that, I'll just have to take the punishment. I'm not doing this only because I want to be free. I'm also doing it because I want freedom for you and Mama, and I want it to come before you die. [10]

The next day, Friday May 3rd, a thousand more students cut class to assemble at 16th Street church. With the jails already filled to capacity, and the number of marchers growing, Connor decides to suppress the movement with violence. Instead of arresting the first group of marchers he orders his fire department to disperse them with firehoses. But the students hold their ground, singing "Freedom" to the ancient hymn "Amen." Connor orders the water pressure increased to knock them off their feet and wash them away. Still singing, the young protesters sit down on the pavement and hunch their backs against the torrent.

Connor brings up "monitor guns," high-pressure nozzles mounted on tripods and fed by two hoses that are used to fight the worst fires. They're capable of knocking bricks out of a wall at 100 feet. The students are washed tumbling down the street like leaves in a flood. Outraged, the hundreds of Black on-lookers in Kelly Ingram park — including many parents — throw rocks and bottles at the cops and firemen. Meanwhile, more groups of marchers are taking different routes out of 16th Street church, dodging around the firehoses and heading for downtown. The cops scramble to block them, arresting those who reach City Hall or the downtown stores. There is no room in the jails and the overflow prisoners are incarcerated at the county fairgrounds.

To contain and intimidate the demonstrators and the angry crowd, Connor brings up his K9 Corps of eight vicious attack dogs. As John Lewis recalled it later, "We didn't fully comprehend at first what was happening. We were witnessing police violence and brutality Birmingham-style: unfortunately for Bull Connor, so was the rest of the world." Television that night, and newspapers world-wide the next morning, show images of young children marching up to snarling police dogs, cops clubbing women to the ground, and high-pressure hoses sweeping young bodies into the street.

Saturday, May 4th, the student marches continue. Again Connor uses his monitor water-cannons to knock down and contain the young protesters, and again they use guerrilla tactics to evade the police cordon to reach City Hall and the downtown shopping district. Connor knows he cannot use fire hoses or attack dogs against Blacks intermingled with white shoppers, so he has to arrest those who reach the commercial area, straining the capacity of his improvised prisons at the fair grounds. Again angry adults in Kelly Ingram park retaliate by hurling rocks and bottles at the cops and firemen until Bevel and other SCLC workers convince them that their spontaneous violence is undercutting the Movement's effectiveness.

With the downtown stores closed for Sunday, the 5th is to be a day of pause, prayer, and nonviolent training for the next wave. Reinforcements arrive — SNCC Executive Director James Forman just bailed out from being arrested on the William Moore march, SNCC leader Ella Baker, comedian Dick Gregory, and singers Guy & Candy Carawan and Joan Baez. But when the cops bust the Carawans, dragging them off the steps of New Pilgrim church (site of that day's mass meeting), Bevel calls on the congregation — mostly adults in their Sunday best — to march on the jail in protest.

Led by ACMHR stalwart Rev. Charles Billups, and inspired by the courage of the children over the previous days, they catch Connor by surprise and make it five blocks through the Black community before the police and firemen manage to block them just short of the jail. By now the march line has grown to almost 2,000 people, who kneel two-by- two in prayer while Billups stands tall, shouting to Connor: "Turn on your water! Turn loose your dogs! We'll stand here 'til we die!" Connor orders that the firehoses be turned on the line of marchers who are kneeling in prayer, but the firemen hesitate. Wyatt Walker averts a clash by convincing Connor to let the marchers hold a prayer service in a nearby park. To the marchers, it is a surprising taste of victory.

Stung by growing public pressure, and moved by the images coming out of Birmingham, Kennedy sends Justice Department official Burke Marshall to calm the waters. Marshall tries without success to convince King that the demonstrations should be halted. And he finds few whites of influence willing to sit down and negotiate with Blacks.

On Monday, the 6th, under pressure from a white power-structure desperate to avoid new images of savage brutality, Connor agrees to simply arrest anyone who tries to march rather than trying to beat them into submission with clubs, dogs, and firehoses. Led by Dick Gregory, the first group is arrested as they leave 16th Street church, and hour after hour, group after group are taken off to jail — almost 1,000 by day's end (more than 2,600 since D-Day). The jails are full, the improvised fairground prison is full, and many prisoners are now held in an open-air stockade without shelter from the rain. But the downtown shopping district is deserted, the stores empty as Blacks continue to boycott and white shoppers avoid the turmoil of demonstrators and massive police operations. And at the huge mass meeting that night, spread across four different churches, more children — and an increasing number of adults — step forward to march the next day.

On Tuesday the 7th, the Movement escalates its boycott tactics. While Walker and Bevel hold Connor's attention by making themselves visible at 16th Street church apparently organizing more marches, 600 students led by Dorothy Cotton, Isaac Reynolds, Jim Forman, and others sneak downtown in small guerrilla groups. At H-Hour they grab signs hidden in parked cars and set up surprise picket lines all over the main shopping district. As the cops race towards downtown from Kelly Ingram park with sirens wailing, hundreds of young protesters dash out of the church, evade the few remaining cops, and stream downtown to join the others.

Lines of students, now joined by hundreds of adults, weave in and out of stores, dancing to the rhythmic beat of freedom songs. Within the hour, thousands of protesters are picketing, sitting-in, blocking streets, and taunting the cops. The entire central district is gripped by nonviolent pandemonium. The News reports the next day: Sirens Wail, Horns Blow, Negroes Sing. The cops are stumped, the jails and holding pens are full and the budget exhausted, they cannot make more mass arrests, but they cannot shoot up Birmingham's business heart with tear gas, or risk damaging stores and offices with high-pressure fire hoses aimed at quickly dodging demonstrators.

Back at Kelly Ingram park, the fire hoses are turned on new waves of nonviolent marchers coming out of the church. A high-pressure blast from a monitor gun is aimed at Shuttlesworth, smashing him against the brick wall of the church until he collapses. As he is rushed to hospital by ambulance, Bull Connor tells a reporter: "I wish he'd been carried away in a hearse."

 

The Settlement

By now the major media — which had ignored Birmingham until the children started to march — has almost 200 reporters covering the story. Nationally, and around the globe, newspapers and TV carry descriptions and images of clubs, dogs, fire hoses, children marching for freedom, mass civil-disobediance and the mass jailing of American citizens. Between April 3rd and May 7th, roughly 3,000 protesters are arrested and booked (an unknown number of the very youngest marchers are simply sent home without charges being filed).

Working through Burke Marshall, President Kennedy — the leader of the "free world" — prods Birmingham's power-structure to do something — anything — to end what has become a national disgrace. Finally, reluctantly, on the evening of May 7th, they agree to negotiate with Birmingham's Black community. Deep into the night the talks continue.

To give negotiations a chance, King declares a temporary truce on Wednesday May 8th, suspending the demonstrations — but not the boycott. From his hospital bed and then at the Movement's Gaston Motel headquarters, Shuttlesworth objects to any cessation of direct action pressure, but understanding the importance of unity, he reluctantly agrees to publicly support the truce.

JFK holds a press conference lauding peace and good-will in Birmingham. But Governor Wallace quickly condemns any attempt to end segregation or negotiate with Blacks. He sends in a small army of blue-helmeted Alabama State Troopers who begin military drills in Kelly Ingram park while Bull Connor orders his cops to padlock the doors of 16th Street church so it cannot be used as an assembly point. A local judge allied with Connor resets bail for Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy to the new $2,500 maximum which SCLC does not have. Shuttlesworth, Walker, and Bevel begin mobilizing for renewed protests. Desperate to prevent a resumption of protest and repression in Birmingham, Attorney General Robert Kennedy begs Harry Belafonte to raise the $5,000 needed to get the two leaders out on bond. King and Abernathy refuse to accept bond unless the 2,000 protesters still in jail are also released, but conservatives in the Black community bail the two leaders out to forestall new demonstrations.

Negotiations resume on Thursday the 9th, reaching tentative agreement to end segregation, but King refuses any settlement that leaves Birmingham children in jail. Meanwhile, a new Federal civil rights bill outlawing segregation, is introduced by House Republicans. It eventually evolves into the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

With behind-the-scenes support from the Kennedys, Harry Belafonte works with the United Auto Workers union (UAW), United Steelworkers Union (USWA), and the New York City Transport Workers Union (TWU), to raise enough money to bail out all the jailed demonstrators. Movement attorney Clarence Jones flies that night from New York to Birmingham with a briefcase full of cash. The next day, Friday the 10th, as the prison doors open and the children stream out, Shuttlesworth announces to the world press: "The city of Birmingham has reached an accord with its conscience." Though it is to be phased in slowly over 60 days, the agreement amounts to a sweeping Movement victory, its main points include promises to desegregate public facilities in Birmingham, nondiscriminatory hiring practices, and ongoing public meetings between Black and white leaders.

The Klan reacts with violence. The next night the Gaston Motel and the home of Rev. A. D. King — Dr. King's brother — are bombed. The bombings occur on Saturday night just as the bars in the Black district are closing. An angry crowd gathers in Kelly Ingram Park, and rocks and bottles fly at the hated cops who respond with brutal fury. When the State Troopers attack with rifles and shotguns, the furious mob sets some stores on fire. But the Movement understands that the hard-line racists are trying to sabotage the agreement with violence, and they hold firm against provocation. A.D. King, Wyatt Walker, Bernard Lee, and others work the crowd, calming tempers and reducing violence.

In the following weeks and months the agreement is slowly implemented, with recriminations, disagreements, bickering, and conflicting interpretations. Shuttlesworth has to threaten resumption of protests to prod the process forward. But gradually, grudgingly, the "moderates" who are now in control of city government begin desegregation. In July, they finally repeal the segregation ordinances, the "White" and "Colored" signs come down, and the lunch counters are integrated. But employers resist hiring and promotion of Blacks into "white" jobs for years to come, and job discrimination remains a reality to this day.

The Ku Klux Klan, however, remains adamantly opposed to integration of any kind, and their pathological hatred of Blacks is as virulent as ever. On September 16th, they strike with ruthless viciousness, bombing 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four young girls and wounding more than 20 others.

Victory in Birmingham and the courage of the childrens' crusade inspire movements across the South. Direct action protests erupt in community after comunity. In the 10 weeks after Birmingham, statisticians count 758 protests in 186 cities, resulting in 14,733 arrests.

For subsequent events, see:
      Birmingham Church Bombing
      Supreme Court Sends Dr. King to Jail

 

Birmingham Campaign — Important Points

For more information on the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Birmingham Movement
Web: Birmingham Movement (Web links)
CRMVet Articles & Documents:
     Birmingham Segregation Laws
     Birmingham Manifesto, ACHMR, April 1963
     The Meaning of Birmingham, Bayard Rustin. Liberation, 1963.
     Test for Nonviolence — Birmingham, Stephen Rose. Christian Century, 1963.
     Freedom Now!, Pacifica Radio Archive transcript, 1963.
     Birmingham Shall be Free Some Day, Fred Shuttlesworth. Freedom Ways, 1964.

 

The Mailman's March (Murder of William Moore) (April)

As Dr King and Rev. Abernathy are being bailed out of Birmingham jail following their arrest on the Good Friday march, William Moore, a white southerner, a member of Baltimore CORE, a U.S. postman, and a former Marine, starts his own freedom journey. On Saturday, April 20th, Moore stops in Washington DC to deliver a letter to President Kennedy informing the White House that he is taking his 10 days of vacation to walk from Chattanooga TN to Jackson MS where he will deliver a pro-integration letter to Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. The White House guards refuse to admit him or accept his note.

Moore starts south from Chatanooga — walking alone down the road — pushing his supplies in his two-wheel postal cart while wearing signs proclaiming End Segregation in America, Equal Rights for All Men, and Eat at Joes — Black and White. Tuesday evening, a passing motorist discovers his body — two bullets in his head — lying by the side of U.S. Highway 11 near Gadsden Alabama, 60 miles short of Birmingham where he intended to visit his family. A member of the Gadsden KKK is arrested for the murder, but is never indicted or tried.

Vowing that they cannot allow violence to triumph over nonviolent direct action, two groups of activists take up Moore's march. They ask the Department of Justice for protection under their Constitutionally-guaranteed right of free speech. The Justice Department refuses. One march, led by Diane Nash who has been training student protesters in Birmingham, includes Freedom Rider Paul Brooks and six others. They start from the spot where Moore was killed and head back towards Birmingham. Alabama State Troopers arrest them. The other group of 10 CORE and SNCC activists starts out from Chatanooga to retrace Moore's entire route. This group includes SNCC members Jim Forman, Bill Hansen, Jesse Harris, Bob Zelner, and Sam Shirah a white student from all-white Birmingham Southern college who had attended a mass meeting to support the Birmingham Movement. When they cross into Alabama, they too are arrested.

For more information Civil Rights Movement murders:
Book: Freedom Walk: Mississippi or Bust
Web: Martyrs of the Movement

 

Voter Registration Movement Expands in Mississippi
Photos

See Marching For Freedom in Greenwood for previous events.

After the Greenwood cops agree to stop assaulting Blacks trying to register and LeFlore county resumes food distribution, voter registration organizers once again expand outward into surrounding counties. Greenwood becomes the hub of activity for the Delta counties of LeFlore, Holmes, Carroll, Tallahatchie, Sunflower, and Humphreys. And organizers return to the areas around Laurel, Meridian, Hattiesburg, Holly Springs, and Vicksburg.

White resistance remains vicious. In Holmes county, Hartman Turnbow, a farmer, is one of the first Blacks to try to register since the end of Resonstruction. He leads 12 others to the county courthouse. Klan nightriders surround his home, firebomb it, and then shoot at him, his wife, and daughter when they try to escape the burning building. Turnbow grabs his rifle and returns fire, driving them off. The county Sheriff arrests Turnbow, accusing him of firebombing his own house and shooting it full of holes to win sympathy from Northern movement supporters. Bob Moses and three other SNCC organizers are also arrested. A local court convicts them — without a shred of evidence — but the charges are eventually dismissed when appealed to Federal Court.

The Movement carries on, and people of courage respond. In Sunflower County, Fannie Lou Hamer, 46 years old, mother of two children, a sharecropper and plantation worker all her life, steps up to register after talking to SNCC organizers and attending a voter registration mass meeting. She and almost 20 others go down to the courthouse in Indianola. The cops stop the old bus they are using, and arrest the driver because the bus is "the wrong color." When Mrs. Hamer returns home she is fired from her job and evicted from her home of 18 years. Klan marauders shoot up the house of a friend who gives her shelter. Fannie Lou Hamer is not intimidated, she commits her life and soul to the Freedom Movement, first as an SCLC Citizenship School teacher, then as a SNCC field secretary and MFDP candidate for Congress.

See Struggle for the Vote Continues in Mississippi for continuation.

For more information on the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Mississippi Movement
Web:
     Council of Federated Organizations
     Got To Thinking.... the Movement in Holmes County
     Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion
     Mississippi Movement

 

Mass Action in Durham (May)
Photos

See Freedom Highways in Durham and Greensboro for preceding events.

Inspired by the victory in Birmingham, mass protests led by Durham CORE and the NAACP Youth Council resume on May 18, 1963 as a desegregation campaign sweeps across central North Carolina. Hundreds of students march downtown from North Carolina College (today North Carolina Central University). They stage sit-ins at segregated businesses and institutions, including lunch counters, the courthouse, and City Hall itself. More than 100 are arrested. In support of those who have been busted, hundreds of protesters gather around the jail and courthouse. Newly-elected mayor Wense Grabarek (who has not yet been sworn into office) convinces the cops to allow food deliveries for the prisoners and the crowd returns to campus.

The following day, May 19, protesters rally at Saint Joseph's church to hear James Farmer of CORE and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. They then target the Howard Johnson's, and hundreds of students sit down in the parking lot to block its use by customers. They are arrested. More demonstrators are arrested on May 20, raising the total to over 1,000 and filling the jails and courthouse holding cells.

Hundreds of white citizens (mostly employed by Duke University) take out a full-page newspaper ad urging desegregation, but other whites adamantly support the old order of white-supremacy and Black subservience. Racists mobilized by the Klan and White Citizens Council attack protesters in the downtown area, throwing rocks, firecrackers, and apples containing shards of broken glass at the Black students and their white supporters. The protests and the racist violence deter shoppers, and retail business in Durham's downtown economic core plummets. Black student leaders confront the city council, demanding immediate desegregation, school integration, and an end to job discrimination. CORE and the NAACP threaten a summer of mass demonstrations if the demands are not met.

Wense Grabarek, the new Durham mayor, assumes office. Elected in part with Black support, he immediately meets with Black leaders, including the student activists and direct action groups like CORE. On May 21st, he addresses a freedom rally at St. Joseph's church. He promises to oppose segregation and calls for a bi-racial committee to resolve the issue. He asks Durham Blacks to suspend protests in the interim. The Freedom Movement agrees on condition that any settlement has to be accepted by a Black negotiating committee headed by Floyd McKissick of CORE and NCC student leader Joyce Ware.

Within a few months segregation is ended at almost all of the city's public buildings, movies, lunch counters, hotels, swimming pools, the Chamber of Commerce, and even the bitterly-contested Royal Ice Cream parlor and Carolina theater. A few months later, Durham repeals the law requiring racial-segregation in eating establishments and a statement is adopted opposing discrimination based on race, color, creed, or national origin as contrary to constitutional principles and policies of the city and the nation.

For the first time, Blacks are admitted to Industrial Education Center job training programs for what used to be "white-only" retail occupations such as cashier and clerk. Companies under federal contract agree to abide by fair-hiring regulations as required by federal law, half a dozen Durham banks, some insurance firms, and Duke University all agree to end race-based job discrimination. Covert, "de-facto," race-discrimination in employment, education, housing, and other areas of economic and social life continues in less naked fashion, but segregation is no longer overt public-policy enforceable by law.

For more information:
Books: North Carolina Movement
Web: North Carolina Movement

 

Mass Action in Greensboro (May-June)

See Freedom Highways in Durham and Greensboro for preceding events.

In the after-glow of Birmingham, in May of 1963 mass action against segregation is renewed in Greensboro, NC. Though both the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants Association issue statements in favor of integration, local eating establishments and other businesses adamantly refuse to end segregation. On May 17 and 18, more than 700 are arrested for sitting in and other acts of civil disobedience. Most are Black students from NCA&T and Bennett College for Women along with a few white supporters from schools such as Guildford College.

As the number of arrests continues to climb, the jail is filled to capacity. An abandoned polio hospital and the National Guard armory have to be converted into temporary prisons. Each day, Bennett College president Willa Player, a staunch supporter of the freedom struggle, visits her imprisoned students to bring them food, mail, and homework assignments so they don't fall behind in preparation for final exams which are fast approaching.

With so many students incarcerated, parents and community elders step up to continue the struggle. A Coordinating Council composed of student, CORE, and NAACP leaders, the Greensboro Citizens Association, and local ministers is formed to mobilize the community for action. On May 19, CORE national chairman James Farmer addresses a huge mass meeting, asking how many are willing to go to jail? More than a thousand wave their toothbrushes in the air to indicate they are ready (protesters carried toothbrushes and cigarettes for the inevitable sojourn in the slammer). Marches are shifted to the evening so that working adults can participate and on the 22nd, some 2,000 Blacks and a few whites, including many adults, participate in a silent march to Jefferson Square, the intersection that marks the center of Greensboro's downtown business district.

Overwhelmed by the number of prisoners they have to house and care for, city officials declare that bail is waived, all of the demonstrators can go home. Now. Please. Most of the jailed students refuse to leave, saying: "You arrested us and put us here for demanding our civil rights, now you can keep us here and feed us." When the police come to remove them, they go limp, forcing the cops to drag them out of the cells, out the jail doors, and into commandeered school buses that return them back to campus.

Greensboro Mayor David Schenck appoints Dr. George Evans, a Black school board member, to form a new committee to negotiate with the owners of segregated businesses towards achieving desegregation. The Black Coordinating Council demands an ordinance prohibiting segregation in public accommodations (instead of requiring it), complete school desegregation, promotion of "Negro Police" to full law-enforcement status, hiring of Blacks for city jobs, and dismissal of charges against protesters. On the 24th, they agree to temporarily suspend demonstrations pending the outcome of the Evans Committee effort.

More than 1,500 whites sign a pro-integration ad in the Greensboro Daily News. But the segregated businesses refuse to budge. With school ending for the year, demonstrations are resumed in early June.

Under CORE rules of direct action, every demonstration is led by a captain who might, or might not, be an officer of the CORE chapter. The protests in Greensboro are led by NCA&T student Jesse Jackson, who is also class president and football quarterback. He declares, "We have given ample time for the committee to negotiate. We are concerned with actions, not words," On Sunday, June 2nd, he leads a silent march of 200 into downtown. More marches — each one larger, and no longer silent but filled with freedom singing — follow on Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday evening, Jackson leads 700 to protest at City Hall where, instead of praying silently on the sidewalk, they move into the street where they both pray and block traffic. Greensboro Police Captain William Jackson (no relation to Jesse) orders them to clear the street or face arrest. Singing freedom songs, the marchers return to their church without incident. One adult marcher tells the mass meeting:

We are tired of being maids, tired of taking care of their babies, cleaning their houses, doing their washing and ironing; then they spit in our faces. We aren't going to do it anymore, I tell you. We're going to have our freedom. But the white people aren't going to give it to us. We have to take it. I'm not afraid. I have a brother in jail in Danville. He isn't afraid. You can't believe in white people's promises. You know that. I have two children here. I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid to die because this isn't living. I don't care if the blood runs in the streets. [17]

Under the pastorship of Father Richard Hicks, the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer is Movement headquarters. On the morning of Thursday, June 6, word spreads that an "Inciting to Riot" warrant has been issued for Jesse Jackson because he led the demonstrators into the street the night before at City Hall. Jesse addresses the crowd:

In a few minutes I will be in jail. You are in jail as much as I. Many of our fathers fought in the Second World War, some spent long months in prisoner of war camps. My father fought in the Second World War and came home 'to the land of the free and the home of the brave.' Only he wasn't free. This movement won't stop with me in jail. Or you in jail. We have plenty of leaders. Patrick Henry said, 'Give me liberty or give me death.' I am an American. I have a infinite love of America and my feeling for America transcends my feeling for Greensboro. — Jesse Jackson. [17]

Captain Jackson arrives — alone — at the church to take Jesse Jackson into custody while Movement supporters sing "We shall not, we shall not be moved." There is no antagonism directed at Captain Jackson, he is well respected for scrupulous fairness and preventing white violence against young demonstrators. Everyone knows he is just doing his duty as ordered by those in power above him. But there is deep anger at Jesse's arrest on an absurd charge (there had been no riot) and at the white businessmen who insist on maintaining the humiliations of segregation.

Jesse's arrest galvanizes the Black community. In the twilight of a summer evening, a long column of singing marchers, two-by-two on the sidewalk, come flowing into downtown. When they reach the still-segregated S&W Cafeteria, hundreds surge into the Jefferson Square intersection. Singing "We Shall Not Be Moved," they sit down, blocking traffic in all directions. The cops are ready. Every available Greensboro officer, the sheriffs and all their reserves, and 50 state Highway Patrolmen have been mobilized. Almost 300 are arrested, hauled to the Memorial Coliseum in a Duke Power Company bus for booking. Hundreds of remaining demonstrators return to their neighborhoods to mobilize an even bigger protest for the next day.

The following afternoon, Mayor Schenck makes a public address from a local TV station. He calls for an immediate end to segregation in eating establishments, theaters, hotels, and motels. "Now is the time to throw aside the shackles of past customs. Selection of customers purely by race is outdated, morally unjust, and not in keeping with either democratic or Christian philosophy." He asks for another suspension of protests and announces formation of a new, more powerful, bi-racial committee. A divided Coordinating Council agrees to again suspend direct action.

Within a week, a quarter of Greensboro's segregated restaurants and businesses agree to desegregate. But unlike Durham, progress in Greensboro is slow and grudging, with recalcitrant white resistance that Schenck and the power-structure are either unable or unwilling to overcome. Some Black student leaders call for a renewal of mass protests, but the momentum has faded and though they undertake some small actions there is nothing on the scale of May and June. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ends legally-enforced segregation nationwide a year later, more than half of Greensboro's eating establishments are still segregated.

For more information:
Books: North Carolina Movement
Web: North Carolina Movement

 

Jackson Sit-in & Protests (May-June)
Photos

See Jackson MS, Boycotts for background and previous events.

By Easter, 70% of Black shoppers are supporting the boycott of Jackson's white-owned stores. 10,000 leaflets a month are being clandestinely distributed in Jackson and the surrounding area — a total of 110,000 by the end of May. Most of Jackson's Black churches allow boycott leaders to speak at Sunday services. Boycott committees are active in many of Jackson's Black neighborhoods and there are student committees at the three Black high schools, Lanier, Brinkly, and Jim Hill. Supporters in the North are mounting sympathy pickets against Woolworths and other chain stores in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere.

The boycott is energized and sustained by the young activists of the NAACP Youth Councils. But against the entrenched resistance of the White Citizens Council backed by state and local government, they know that the boycott alone is not strong enough to break segregation in Jackson Mississippi. Inspired by the Birmingham Movement, they are convinced that similar mass protests are necessary in Jackson. NAACP state Field Director Medgar Evers shares their views, but the NAACP's national leaders prefer lawsuits and voter education to mass direct action, and they control the purse-strings. Though they reluctantly accept the necessity of a few pickets being arrested to publicize the boycott, they adamantly oppose sit-ins, mass marches, or other tactics that they associate with Dr. King, whom they view as an upstart rival.

As an employee of the national organization, Medgar is prohibited from endorsing or participating in mass direct action. But the other NAACP activists in Jackson are unpaid volunteers and thus have more freedom to chart their own course. On May 12, Jackson boycott leaders send a letter to the white power-structure demanding fair employment, an end to segregation, and biracial negotiations with officials and community leaders. Large-scale, Birmingham-style, direct action is threatened if the city refuses to meet with Black leaders. The letter is signed by Medgar, Mrs. Doris Allison who is President of the Jackson NAACP, and Hunter Bear (John Salter) the NAACP Youth Council's adult advisor.

Led by Mayor Allen Thompson, the power-structure adamantly refuses to make any concessions or to meet with Black leaders.

A mass meeting is called on May 21 at the Pearl Street AME church. The cops surround the church, but over 600 people — a cross-section of the community, young and old, poor and affluent — defy police intimidation to ratify the demands in the May 12 letter and democratically elect a 14-member negotiating committee.

Mayor Thompson refuses to meet with the elected committee. Instead he appoints his own "Negro Committee" composed of conservative, pro-segregation Blacks, such as Jackson State College President Jacob Reddix who had previously suppressed civil rights activity on his campus.

One week later, on Tuesday, May 28, after training in the tactics of Nonviolent Resistance by Dave Dennis of CORE, young activists Lois Chafee, Perlena Lewis, Anne Moody, Memphis Norman, Joan Trumpauer, and Walter Williams, sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter on Capitol Street in downtown Jackson. They are joined by youth advisor Hunter Bear. Mercedes Wright (NAACP Georgia youth advisor) and Tougaloo Chaplin Reverend Ed King act as observers.

The boycott pickets outside are immediately arrested as usual. But, surprisingly, the cops do not bust those who are sitting in. Instead, a mob of white teenagers and young men are allowed (encouraged) to enter Woolworths to attack the sit-ins, cursing, punching, covering them with mustard, ketchup, & sugar. Water mixed with pepper is thrown into their eyes. Jackson Police Captain Ray and dozens of cops do nothing as Memphis Norman is pulled from his stool, beaten and kicked. After he loses consciousness, the cops arrest him. Joan too is beaten, kicked, and dragged to the door, but with steadfast, nonviolent courage she manages to resume her seat. FBI agents observe, and as usual do nothing.

Hunter Bear (John Salter) later described what happened:

Someone struck me several hard blows on the side of my face. I almost passed out and had to grip the counter for support. My face was bleeding. Then I was struck on the back of the head and almost pased out again. I was dizzy and could hardly hear myself talking, but I asked Annie Moody what she thought of the final examination questions that I had asked in Introduction to Social Studies. She smiled and said that she felt they were much too tough. Joan Trumpauer began to talk about her final exams. More ketchup and mustard were poured over us. Then sugar was dumped in our hair. We talked on. — Hunter Bear. [4]

George Raymond of New Orleans CORE arrives and joins the sit-ins. Dr. A. D. Beittel, President of Tougaloo College, sits down to join the students' protest. Unable to intimidate the sit-ins, the mob begins to smash up the store. At that point, the police immediately order them out. In Mississippi it's okay to savagely attack "race mixers," but destroying commercial property won't be tolerated.

The Mayor meets with the Black "leaders" selected by him and tells them he will desegregate public facilities such as parks and libraries, hire some Negro cops, and promote a few Black sanitation workers.

That night, more than 1,000 people attend a mass meeting at Pearl St. Church to support the boycott and the sit-ins. The young activists call for mass protest marches like those in Birmingham. But at the urging of the more conservative Black ministers, the young activists agree to temporarily halt demonstrations while the Mayor's promise is tested.

The next day, Wednesday May 29, the Mayor denies that he made any concessions at all. He announces that protests will not be tolerated and hastily deputizes 1,000 "special officers" drawn from the ranks of the most virulent racists. A mob of whites and over 200 cops prowl Capitol Street ready to pounce on any pickets or sit-ins. Woolworths and other stores close their lunch counters and remove the seats. Pickets led by local NAACP chair Doris Allison are immediately arrested, but students successfully desegregate the Jackson library (scene of the Tougaloo Nine arrest in 1961).

That night a firebomb is thrown at Medgar's home. The police refuse to investigate, calling it a "prank." The following day, Thursday May 30, more pickets and sit-ins are arrested.

With the public school term ending the next day (Friday, the 31st), high school students begin mobilizing for mass marches to begin as soon as school lets out. At Lanier and Brinkley High, Youth Council activists lead several hundred students singing freedom songs on the lawn during lunch break. Cops force the Lanier students back into the building with clubs and dogs. The school is surrounded, and parents are beaten and arrested when try to reach school.

To protest police brutality, Tougaloo students and community adults stage a nonviolent protest at the Jackson Federal building (site of Federal Court, FBI, and US Marshal's offices). Even though they are on Federal property and their action is protected by the First Amendment, they are immediately arrested by the Jackson police. FBI agents and Justice Department officials observe this violation of Constitutionally-protected free speech, but do nothing about it.

As soon as school lets out for the summer on Friday May 31st, close to 600 Lanier, Brinkley, and Jim Hill high school students join students on summer break from Tougaloo and Jackson State at Farish Street Baptist Church for the first mass march. Their plan is continuous marches like Birmingham with jail-no-bail for those arrested (there is no money for bail bonds, and the cost of incarcerating hundreds of protesters will put pressure on the authorities).

Hundreds of cops, troopers, "special deputies," and sheriffs surround the church. Whites in cars prowl the city waving Confederate flags. Led by NAACP youth organizer Willie Ludden, the students march out of the church two-by-two on the sidewalk. Carrying American flags, they start towards the downtown shopping district on Capital Street. The cops block the street. They grab the flags from the marchers and drop them in the dirt. Beating some of the marchers with clubs, they force them into garbage trucks and take them to the animal stockade at the nearby state fairgrounds. "Just like Nazi Germany," observes World War II veteran Medgar Evers who is not allowed to participate in the march by his NAACP superiors. U.S. Department of Justice officials observe, and do nothing.

That night 1500 people attend a huge mass meeting. Though the students planned to go jail-no-bail, NAACP lawyers who oppose mass marches convince many of them to bond out. And the minors are forced to sign a no-demonstration pledge before being released. But a hard core of protesters over the age of 18 hold out, refusing to sign the pledge.

On Saturday, June 1st NAACP national head Roy Wilkins, Medgar Evers, and Mrs. Helen Wilcher of Jackson are arrested for picketing downtown stores. It is Wilkins first-ever civil rights arrest, and the three are quickly bonded out. A number of national NAACP leaders are now in Jackson vigorously opposing mass marches and mass arrests. They argue for voter registration and continuing the boycott in the same manner as the past six months. Despite their opposition, late in the day 100 students and adults march. The cops are caught by surprise, and the marchers manage to get several blocks through the Black community before being surrounded and hauled to the fair grounds stockade in garbage trucks.

On Sunday June 2nd, the Jackson NAACP offices are locked up tight and there is no place for marchers to gather. Using their control of funds, the national NAACP leaders oust the student and Youth Council activists from the democratically elected strategy committee and replace them with conservative ministers and affluent community "leaders" who oppose Birmingham-style mass action. The new, reconstituted, committee agrees to refocus on the boycott, voter registration, and court cases.

Over the following days the national NAACP leaders prevent any new mass marches. Without the sustaining energy of mass action, morale sags and attendance at mass meetings drops, though a hard core of students are still holding out in the stockade, refusing to be bonded out.

On Thursday, June 6th, a Hinds County court issues a sweeping injunction against all forms of movement activity. Though the injunction blatantly violates Constitutionally protected rights of free-speech and assembly, the national NAACP leaders who have taken over the Jackson movement choose not defy it with direct action. Discouraged and disheartened, the last students accept bond and leave the stockade. Noted comedian Dick Gregory, who had come to Jackson to participate in demonstrations returns to Chicago saying: "The NAACP decided to go into the courts — and I'm no attorney. I came down here to be with that little man in the streets; and I was willing to go to jail for ten years, if necessary to get this problem straight."

Though the boycott continues to be effective, store-owners dare not go against the White Citizens Council by hiring Blacks or integrating facilities no matter how much business they lose. Without the pressure of sit-ins and mass marches, neither local officials nor the Federal government have any reason to challenge the status quo. And without the defiance of young protesters inspiring the courage of their elders, the NAACP's voter registration drive has little success.

See Medgar Evers Assassination for continuation.

For more information on the Jackson Civil Rights Movement:
Book: Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism
Web: Jackson Movement for web links.
Personal stories from the Jackson Movement: Hunter Bear and A Magnolia Tale

 

Danville VA, Movement (May-Aug)
Photos

Danville, Virginia. A gritty mill & tobacco town on the North Carolina border. Population almost 50,000, one-third Black, two-thirds white. The largest employer is textile giant Dan River Mills employing thousands — but Blacks make up only small fraction of the workforce and they are restricted to the dirtiest, lowest-paid, most-menial jobs. In 1960 the median income for whites was over $5,000 (equal to about $37,500 in 2012), for Blacks barely half that. Strict segregation is the rule in Danville, few Blacks are registered to vote, whites hold all political offices, and the police are all white.

The Danville Christian Progressive Association (DCPA), an SCLC affiliate, is led by the Reverends Lendall Chase, Lawrence Campbell, and Alexander Dunlap, along with Julius Adams and Arthur Pinchback. They file suit in 1962 demanding the integration of Danville's hospitals, schools, cemeteries, public buildings, public housing projects, teaching assignments, and city employment opportunities. In early 1963 they are arrested for trying to integrate a Howard Johnson restaurant.

Inspired by Birmingham, a broad cross-section of the Black community meets on May 31st under the auspices of the DCPA. They call for desegregation of public and government facilities, fair employment, representation in government, and a biracial committee to monitor and address racial issues. A boycott of white merchants is declared, and a march to City Hall follows. Most of the marchers are high school students led by Ezell Barksdale and Thurman Echols. There is a similar march each day for the next five days.

On June 5, DCPA leaders Campbell & Dunlap along with some of the student leaders try to meet with Danville Mayor Julian Stinson. He refuses to meet with them. They refuse to leave and sit down on floor to wait. They are all are arrested for "inciting to riot." Bail is set high at $5,500 (equal to about $41,000 in 2012 dollars). The daily march escalates to civil disobedience by sitting down on Main Street to block traffic.

The next day Archibald Aiken, the local judge, issues an injunction forbidding protesters from interfering with traffic or business, obstructing entrances to buildings, participating in or inciting mob violence, or using loud language that might disrupt the peace. In response, DCPA leader Campbell calls Jim Forman in Atlanta to request assistance from SNCC.

Judge Aiken convense a special grand jury and indicts 13 DCPA, SCLC, and SNCC activists for violating the "John Brown" law. This law, passed in 1830 after a slave uprising, makes it serious felony to "..incite the colored population to acts of violence or war against the white population." It becomes known as the "John Brown" law in 1860 because it is used to convict and hang abolitionist John Brown after his raid on Harpers Ferry Federal in 1859 — an event that helps precipitate the Civil War. Black attorney and Movement activist Len Holt, who has been defending arrested protesters, is later added to the indictment.

Answering the call, Movement activists arrive in Danville. Among them are SNCC field secretaries Avon Rollins, Ivanhoe Donaldson, Dorothy (Dottie) Miller, Bob Zellner, SNCC summer volunteer Daniel Foss, and CORE members Bruce Baines and Claudia Edwards. Over the course of the summer, more than 15 SNCC organizers serve in Danville.

The DCPA adds fair employment at Dan River Mills to its demands and daily picket lines are mounted outside the factory gates. The DCPA and SNCC call for a national boycott of the mill's linen and bedding products. The boycott is supported by unions such as the ILGWU and Friends of SNCC chapters around the country.

On Monday, June 10, nonviolent protesters kneel in prayer on the City Hall steps. They are viciously attacked by police and hastily deputized city employees using clubs and high pressure firehoses. Of 65 protesters, 50 are arrested and 48 are injured seriously enough to require medical attention which is not forthcoming at the inadequate, segregated, Black infirmary (the city hospital is "white only"). SNCC workers Avon Rollins and Daniel Foss are among those busted for violating Aiken's injunction. Arrested high school students are encouraged by the authorities to call their parents. When their mothers and fathers arrive at the jail, they are arrested for "Contributing to the delinquency of a minor." Black property-owners in Pittsylvania County put up property-bonds to bail everyone out of jail.

Daily marches continue. On June 13, more than 250 led by Rev. Chase march to City Hall to once again try to see the Mayor. As usual, he refuses to meet with Blacks. The protesters then wait for 9 hours on the City Hall steps. The sing freedom songs, Jim Forman of SNCC gives a lecture on Black history, and local church women bring them sandwiches and soft drinks. Finally, as the police mass for another attack, the demonstrators fall back to their church for a mass meeting. Cops armed with submachine guns and a tank set up roadblocks to intimidate those who try to attend the meeting.

Day after day, protests continue — as do arrests and police violence. By August 28th, date of the March on Washington, over 600 have been arrested in Danville on charges of inciting to violence, contempt, trespassing, disorderly conduct, assault, parading without a permit, and resisting arrest. Danville sends a large contingent to join the huge march, but back home the arrests, violence, and intimidation have sapped the movement's strength. Demonstrations dwindle and become less frequent. Their demands are not met — or even addressed — by government officials or the the mill owners. It is only after the passage of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that conditions for Danville's Black community start to slowly change.

The hundreds of legal cases arising out of the suppression of the Danville Movement drag on for 10 years. Volunteer lawyers from the National Lawyer's Guild and the NAACP, including William Kunstler and Len Holt among others, fight the legal battles all the way to the Supreme Court. Eventually, the injunction is upheld and the convictions are allowed to stand, but the jail sentences are suspended.

For more information on the Danville Civil Rights Movement:
Book: An Act of Conscience
Web:Danville VA Movement
Documents: Danville Virginia (SNCC pamphlet) [PDF] [Large file]

 

Atrocity in Winona (June)

Early in June, SCLC organizer Annelle Ponder takes a group of Movement activists from Greenwood and the Delta to Frogmore SC for a week-long training as Citizenship School teachers. While adult-literacy is the ostensible purpose of the Citizenship Schools, they teach far more — voter registration, community organizing, political action, and resistance to segregation. Many of the local leaders who form the backbone of the Southern Freedom Movement across the South come up through the Citizenship Schools, first as students, then as teachers of others.

On the return trip, they have to change busses in Columbus MS. The driver shoves them out of line and forces them to sit segregated in the back of the bus. He calls ahead to the next rest stop at Winona MS, alerting the police and State Troopers who are ready when the bus pulls in on Sunday, June 9th. Five of the Movement activists — Fannie Lou Hamer, 15 year old June Johnson of Greenwood, young SNCC activist Euvester Simpson from Ita Bena, James West, and Rosemary Freeman — are arrested on trumped up charges when some of them try to eat at the white lunch counter. (The actions of the driver and the police are in flagrant violation of the Federal "no-segregation" regulations won by the Freedom Rides and numerous court rulings.)

They are taken to an isolated county jail where no one can hear them scream. One by one they are taken to the interrogation room. June is stripped naked and beaten with a blackjack until the blood pours down her face. Annelle is next. They call her "nigger bitch," and demand that she address them as "Sir." She refuses. They beat her down to the floor, again, and again. Bloody and battered, they drag her back to the cells.

Then they come for Fannie Lou Hamer. The police know she tried to register to vote, and tell her, "You, bitch, you, we're going to make you wish you were dead." They force her down on a cot and bring in two Black prisoners. A Mississippi State Trooper tells them, "If you don't beat her, you know what we'll do to you." While one of the prisoners holds her down, the other beats Mrs. Hamer with a thich leather cosh. When the first one tires, they switch places.

Euvester Simpson, still a teenager, shares a cell that night with Mrs. Hamer,

I sat up all night with her applying cold towels and things to her face and hands trying to get her fever down and to help some of the pain go away. And the only thing that got us through that was that ... we sang. We sang all night. I mean songs got us through so many things, and without that music I think many of us would have just lost our minds or lost our way completely. — Euvester Simpson. [11]

As word of the arrests spread, SCLC leader Andrew Young tries to prod the FBI and Justice Department into action — to no avail. When SNCC field secretary Lawrence Guyot calls the Winona jail from Greenwood, he is told he has to come in person to find out the charges, bail, and condition of the prisoners. Winona is only 25 miles from Greenwood and he arrives quickly. The police are waiting for him. They beat him with gun butts, strip him naked and threaten to burn off his genitals. Eventually a doctor warns the cops that they are close to killing him. The Sherrif then arrests Guyot for "attempted murder."

SNCC alerts supporters around the nation to immediately call the Montgomery County Sheriff and Winona police about the prisoners so that the cops know they are under public scrutiny. More SNCC activists reach Winona the following day (June 10), one manages to get into the jail where Annelle Ponder is held. She reports back to the Greenwood office, "Annelle's face was swollen...she could barely talk. She looked at me and was able to whisper one word: FREEDOM."

After three days Andy Young manages to bail Lawrence Guyot and the five Citizenship teachers out of jail and get them desperately needed medical attention. Mrs. Hamer never fully recovers from her injuries, suffering from damage to her kidneys and partial loss of sight in one eye for the rest of her life.

In September, public pressure finally prods the Justice Department to file charges against the Sheriff, a State Trooper and three other police for conspiring to deprive the six of their civil rights. An all-white jury acquits them of all charges in December.

In later years Mrs. Hamer often speaks of Winona and the affect it had on her:

I'm never sure any more when I leave home whether I'll get back or not. Sometimes it seem like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I'll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I'm not backing off. — Fannie Lou Hamer. [12]

For more information on the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement:
Books:
     Fannie Lou Hamer
     Mississippi Movement
Web:
     Fannie Lou Hamer
     Misssissippi Movement
     Winona (Social Justice Movements ~ Columbia Univ)
     Winona jail excerpt (God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights)
     Mississippi Movement & MFDP A Discussion

 

Standing In the Schoolhouse Door (June)

See Autherine Lucy at the Univ. Alabama for previous events.

In the years following Autherine Lucy's unsuccessful effort to integrate the University of Alabama in 1956, hundreds of Blacks apply for admission. They are all denied. The university works with state and local police to dig up any slander or accusation that can be used to disqualify Black applicants. And in cases where that fails, economic and physical intimidation and beauracratic evasion suffices.

But in 1963, three Blacks with perfect qualifications apply — Vivian Malone of Mobile, James Hood of Gadsden, and Dave McGlathery of Huntsville. They refuse to be intimidated, and the frantic efforts of state detectives fail to find any grounds for disqualifying them. In early June a Federal judge issues an injunction ordering their admission and forbidding Governor Wallace from interfering.

Back in 1962, when Wallace announced his candidacy for Governor, he promise defend segregation at all costs and to resist integration to the end even if it meant defying court orders, saying: "I shall refuse to abide by any such illegal Federal court order even to the point of standing in the schoolhouse door, if necessary. "

In Washington, the Kennedys are still smarting from the debacle at Oxford MS when James Meredith desegregated 'Ole Miss leaving two dead and more than a 100 U.S. Marshalls injured. Finally, at long last, with national support for civil rights growing, they are beginning to lose patience with the more extreme southern segregationists.

June 11 is registration day for the university's summer session. With his eye on future political prospects, Wallace orders the Klan to stay away from Tuscaloosa, he wants no violence to upstage his political theater. Deputy U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach (later Attorney General in the Johnson administration) confronts Wallace who is standing at a podium in front of the building. In the full view of TV news cameras, Wallace cuts off Katzenbach's words and launches into a tirade condemning the Federal government for usurping "states rights." Flanked by some of Al Lingo's Alabama State Troopers he then literally stands in the doorway to block Katzenbach.

This time the Kennedys are ready. They immediately federalize the Alabama National Guard. Backed by rifles and bayonets, the commander of the guard does his duty, ordering Wallace to obey the court order. His political points scored and his segregationist credentials burnished, Wallace steps aside and Vivian Malone and James Hood are registered. Dave McGlathery is registered without incident at the Huntsville campus the following day. That night, Kennedy addresses the nation on civil rights.

For more information on school desegregation:
Books: Schools and School Desegregation
Web:
     School Desegregation
     Alabama Movement

 

Kennedy's Civil Rights Speech

On June 11, Alabama Governor Wallace stands in the schoolhouse door to prevent two Black students — Vivian Malone and James Hood — from enrolling in the University of Alabama. President Kennedy orders him aside and enforces Federal court integration orders. That night, in response to Wallace's bombastic rhetoric and to explain his actions, JFK addresses the nation on civil rights. For the first time he unequivocally condemns segregation and racial discrimination, and he announces his intention to submit to Congress a new, effective, civil rights bill.

This nation] was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. ... It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case. ... We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. ... One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. ... And this nation, for all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free. — President Kennedy. [13]

Movement supporters are bouyed up by Kennedy's speech, particularly his promise to seek new civil rights bill — a promise that marks a significant change in administration policy. During the 1960 campaign, JFK had assured southern (white) voters that he saw no need for any new civil rights legislation, and at the same time he told northern liberals and Blacks that he would address civil rights issues by issuing executive orders. Once in office, however, he proved slow and reluctant to use his executive powers on behalf of southern Blacks and denied any need for new laws.

A few hours after Kennedy's address, Medgar Evers is assasinated in Jackson MS.

See Civil Rights Act — House Passage for continuation.

For more information on the Civil Rights Acts:
Web:
     JFK's Civil Rights Address (Transcript ~ American Presidency Project, UCSB)
     Civil Rights Address (Audio ~ American Rhetoric)

 

Medgar Evers Assassination (June)

See Jackson Sit-in & Protests for background and previous events.

After a late meeting, and bouyed by President Kennedy's eloquent address to the nation on civil rights, NAACP state Field Director Medgar Evers returns to his Jackson home a bit after midnight in the early morning hours of June 12.

Hiding behind a bush with a high-power rifle is KKK and White Citizens Council member Byron De La Beckwith of Greenwood MS. He shoots Medgar in the back and flees into the night. Medgar's wife Myrlie and their children rush to his side as he lays dying in the driveway. He is just 37 years old when they gun him down. (Dr. King is just 39 when he is assassinated in Memphis five years later.)

At the time of his assasination, Medgar Evers is the most prominent leader of the Mississippi freedom movement. The son of sharecroppers, he grows up in Decatur, Mississippi. He and his wife Myrlie move to Mound Bayou in the Mississippi delta where they begin organizing NAACP chapters in 1952. (Mound Bayou is a Black town founded by freed slaves in the late 1800s.) In 1954 Medgar becomes the state's first NAACP field secretary, courageously traveling the state to organize and sustain the movement. He plays a key role in the desegregation of the University of Mississippi and the Jackson Movement.

Medgar's assassination is part of a KKK plot to simultaneously murder freedom workers in three states: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Later that day, Klansman brutally beat SNCC worker Bernard Lafayette in Selma Alabama. Elton Cox, a CORE worker in Louisiana is also targeted, but the Klan is unable to locate him.

Evers — a former Sargent in the U.S. Army and World War II veteran — is buried with full honors in the Arlington National Cemetery on June 19.

On June 23, De La Beckwith is arrested for the murder. His fingerprints are on the rifle, witnesses place him at the scene, and he boasts of his crime to White Citizen Council and Klan buddies. An all-white jury refuses to convict him. During the trial, De La Beckwith is visited by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett and Major General Edwin A. Walker who had helped incite the white mob when James Meredith integrated Ole Miss in 1962. De La Beckwith is tried a second time, and again an all-white jury fails to convict him. As Medgar's friend Sam Baily put it: "A white man got more time for killing a rabbit out of season than for killing a Negro in Mississippi."

Medgar's brother Charles takes over as NAACP Field Secretary and continues working in the freedom struggle. Myrlie and the children move to California where she enrolls in Pomona College, graduating in 1968. She is active in public affairs and continues the struggle to have her husband's murderer arrested, tried, and punished. In 1995 she is elected the national Chairwoman of the NAACP and serves in that position until 1998.

Finally, in 1994 — after a thirty year campaign for justice — the state of Mississippi finds the political will to bring a known killer to justice. Byron De La Beckwith is tried a third time and convicted by a jury of eight Blacks and four whites. He is given a life sentence, and dies in prison in 2001.

See Medgar's Funeral and the End of the Jackson Movement for continuation.

For more information on Medgar Evers and Civil Rights Movement murders:
Books: Medgar Evers
Web: Medgar Evers

 

Medical Committee for Civil Rights Pickets the AMA (June)
Photo

Like everything else in the South of the 1960s, health care is segregated and unequal. The vast majority of doctors are white. Some will treat Black patients, but many refuse to treat Blacks under any circumstances, and others are like the Mississippi doctor who told historian James Cobb: "If there is a nigger in my waiting room who doesn't have three dollars in cash, he can sit there and die. I don't treat niggers without money."

For a Black sharecropper who might earn no more than $50 cash in an entire year, $3 is a huge sum. And for those Blacks who can pay, the examination and treatment reflect the world-view of white-supremecy. Said one Black patient in the Mississippi Delta, "Most often I sits on one side of the office and he sits on the other asking questions. There ain't no listening, or thumping, or looking in the mouth like white folks get."[16]

Many county hospitals — which are funded by taxes paid by Blacks as well as whites — refuse to admit or treat Blacks at all. Other hospitals require that a Black patient pay in cash before treatment (white patients, of course, are treated immediately regardless of their economic circumstances).

There are few Black doctors or nurses, and most public and private medical and nursing schools in the South refuse to admit non-whites. Most hospitals and county health departments won't hire Blacks for anything other than menial jobs. In many counties, Black doctors are not allowed to treat their patients in those hospitals that do admit Blacks because hospital "privileges" are restricted to members of the county medical associations which are "whites-only."

Back in 1946, Congress passed the Hill-Burton Act which each year provided Federal funds for hospital construction. According to the law, these Federally-funded facilities are required to provide care to all races without discrimination, but Senator Lister Hill of Alabama added a "separate-but-equal" loophole which permitted segregated wards and buildings. As a result, the segregated facilities built in the South with Federal money perpetuate the practice of unequal care — many Hill-Burton hospitals refuse to treat Blacks at all, others create cramped, ill-equipped, "annexes" for Black patients. In Leflore County Mississippi, for example, where Blacks are two-thirds of the total population in 1960, 131 of the county's 168 hospital beds (78%) were reserved for "whites-only," leaving just 37 (22%) for Blacks.

The inevitable results of segregated and unequal health care are starkly revealed by government birth and natal statistics. In Mississippi, 99% of all white births in 1963 are attended by a physcian, but only 57% of Black mothers have the benefit of a doctor's care. In Alabama, infant mortality among Blacks is twice that of whites, and a Black mother is four times as likely to die in child-birth as a white woman.

In June of 1963, the national convention of the American Medical Society (AMA) is held in Atlantic City, NJ. Inspired by the Sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and the struggle in Birmingham, a few progressive doctors decide to picket the convention to protest the AMA's continued tolerance of affiliated county and state medical societies that refuse to admit Black doctors, thereby denying them medical privileges in tax-funded hospitals.

Led by doctors Walter Lear, Montague Cobb, John Holloman, and Bob Smith, the newly formed Medical Committee for Civil Rights (MCCR) draws support from the Physicians Forum — an organization of doctors in New York who support the idea of national health insurance and "embraced the radical notion that medical care is a right for all." Support also comes from the National Medical Association (NMA), the Black counterpart to the segregated AMA.

They face a problem though, "doctors do not carry picket signs." The point of the picket is to influence the other doctors who are attending the convention, many of whom would be deeply offended by the sight of physcians carrying signs like unionized laborers. To avoid such a grave faux pau, the MCCR attaches their signs to sandwich boards which can be placed on the boardwalk — but that violates a municiple ordinance. Lear and Holloman met with the Atlantic City police chief who quickly grasps the class distinctions, "Yes, I understand," he tells them. "Doctors don't carry signs."

On June 12th, twenty or so MCCR doctors and other health professionals are allowed to picket by circling around their stationary signs placed on the boardwalk (see photo).

While some AMA delegates express support for desegregating AMA affiliates in the South, AMA official refuse to budge. The outgoing president charges that the picketers are "typical...of those who are trying to force their ideas on the masses of the American people." And the incoming president tells reporters that while he personally favors admitting "qualified Negroes" to local AMA societies, the AMA will "not interfere in those constituent groups that bar Negroes."

But the pickets are not discouraged. They have at least forced the AMA to publicly acknowledge the issue, and there is significant press coverage of their protest. Returning home to Jackson Mississippi where he is one of just a handful of Black doctors, Bob Smith, "realized for the first time that from then on things would never be the same. I saw that I was serving a purpose, that there was a higher calling, and that this thing needed the kind of leadership and pushing that we were bringing, and that we would never give up until we had achieved some of these goals."[16]

Within two months the Medical Committee for Civil Rights grows to over 200 members, and together with the National Medical Association and the American Nurses Association they participate as unit in the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom. But there is no money or fund-raising mechanism to sustain the organization. By the Fall of 1963, burdened with debts it cannot pay, MCCR disolves. Yet the ideas of a medical arm of the Freedom Movement, and equal access to health care as a civil right, do not die. Soon a new organization, the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR), rises from MCCR's ashes.

See Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) Founded for continuation.

For more information on MCHR:
Books: The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care
Web: Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR)

 

Medgar's Funeral and the End of the Jackson Movement (June)

See Medgar Evers Assassination above for background and previous events.

On the morning of Medgar Evers Assassination (June 12), former Tougaloo student Colia Lidell (now married to Bernard Lafayette and working for SNCC in Selma, Alabama), Hunter Bear (John Salter), Perleana Lewis, Willie Ludden of the NAACP, and Dave Dennis of CORE, lead a protest march of 200 people, half of them adults, from the Masonic Temple (NAACP HQ) on Lynch Street. They are blocked by a swarm of hundreds of cops who arrest 150 and violently force the others to disperse with clubs and guns.

The young activists mobilize for a mass meeting at Pearl Street church that evening from which they intend to stage a large night march. Even though the police surround the church and intimidate those trying to attend, there is a huge turnout. But the national NAACP leaders in Jackson cancel the night march as too dangerous.

The next day, (Thursday, June 13) after training in nonviolent tactics by Dave Dennis of CORE, the young activists stage a mass march from Pearl Street church. The cops block it, tearing American flags from the hands of marchers as they arrest them. A crowd of Black bystanders watching the police brutality chant, "Freedom! Freedom Now!" The cops charge into the crowd to arrest and beat Hunter Bear who is observing the march from the porch of a nearby home. White Movement activists Steve Rutledge and Lois Chafee are also arrested with him. The cops and local press blame "outside agitators" for the growing anger and unrest among Jackson Blacks. Taken to the fair grounds stockade, the marchers are brutalized and some are forced into broiling hot "sweat boxes" under the blazing sun on a day when the temperature soars to over 100 degrees.

That night there is another huge mass meeting in the sweltering Blair Street AME church. In memory of Medgar, SCLC offers to set up a "Medgar Evers Memorial Bail Bond Fund," but NAACP national officers in New York reject the offer out of organizational rivalry. Dave Dennis of CORE and NAACP youth advisor Hunter Bear argue for continuing the mass actions, but the national NAACP leaders in Jackson block them.

On Friday, June 14, young activists again gather for a march, but national NAACP leaders tell them that if they are arrested that day they won't be out of jail in time to attend Medgar's funeral scheduled for Saturday. Everyone is expecting a massive demonstration in conjunction with the funeral. Most of the young demonstrators don't want to risk missing the funeral march, so only 37 are willing to protest. It is Flag Day, so they go downtown carrying American flags, but no signs of any kind. They are beaten and arrested, their flags seized.

The city agrees to allow a mass funeral procession from the Masonic Temple to Collins funeral home on Farish street, but only if none of the marchers carry any signs advocating integration or an end to segregation, and the march is silent with no singing, chanting, or speech-making allowed — in other words, that it cannot in any way be considered a demonstration. The national NAACP leaders agree to those terms and forbid the young activists from engaging in protest activity during or after the funeral procession. Though bitterly disappointed, the militants who had worked soed so closely with Medgar understand that unity and discipline are essential.

On Saturday, June 15, more than 5,000 people march in solemn funeral procession to honor Medgar Evers. Among them are Nobel laureate Ralph Bunche, Dr. King, SNCC workers from the Delta, and thousands of Blacks from all over the state.

An army of Jackson police, Mississippi State Troopers, and sheriff's deputies from many counties surround Collins funeral home. They are armed with rifles, shotguns, pistols, and snarling attack dogs. Their faces are filled with hate. When the procession ends, the crowd spontaneously starts singing freedom songs in violation of the "silence" agreement. Suddenly they surge down Farish street towards Capitol Street in a spontaneous, unplanned, unorganized march. Police invade a nearby building to arrest (yet again) Hunter Bear and Reverend Ed King who are trying to find a telephone.

The police phalanx manages to block the marchers just short of Capitol Street. With clubs beating heads bloody, dogs lunging on their leashes, they slowly force the huge throng back to the Black portion of Farish street. Firing pistols and rifles over the protesters' heads they drive them up Farish Street, shattering the 2nd-story windows of Black-owned businesses. Enraged by the vicious police violence, some angry Blacks retaliate by throwing rocks and bottles at the cops. As the troopers and deputies prepare to fire directly into the crowd, Department of Justice attorney John Doar places himself between the two opposing forces to avert a blood bath.

With Medgar dead, the national NAACP leaders and conservative ministers bypass the elected steering committee and take complete control of the Jackson movement. Over-ruling the Youth Council activists and a large segment of Jackson's Black community, they quash any resumption of mass direct action.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, President Kennedy and his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy pressure Mayor Thompson to make some concessions to the NAACP/minister committee because otherwise they won't be able to forestal new protests. In return for a no-demonstrations pledge, the Mayor agrees to hire six "Negro Police" and eight Black crossing guards, promote eight Black sanitation workers, and he promises that the City Council will hear Negro grievances in the future. But he refuses to accept a biracial committee. Nor is there any agreement on the part of store-owners to desegregate lunch counters, rest rooms, or other public facilities, hire Blacks, or use courtesy titles such as "Mister" or "Miss" to Black customers.

[Today, the term "Negro Police" might be assumed to refer to law officers who are African-Americans, but in the South of the 1960s that term had a special and particular meaning. It most cases, it denoted a Black man hired to keep other Blacks in line on behalf of the white power-structure. While the specifics varied from one town to another, for the most part "Negro Police" were paid less than white cops, often had different badges (or no badges at all), could only work in Black neighborhoods, and were usually not permitted to arrest a white person even if they observed that person commit a serious crime. As a general rule, they were armed with clubs, but not guns. "Negro Police" could not work with, or ride with, white officers. Nor could they assume any role that might imply social or occupational equality with a white man (female police officers of any race were unheard of). In some jurisdictions, "Negro Police" were not considered peace officers by the local judicial system. As a general rule, most Freedom Movement activists of CORE, SCLC, and SNCC did not consider the hiring of "Negro Police" to be any kind of victory, but rather a continuation of segregation.]

On Tuesday, June 18, the son of a White Citizens Council leader forces another car into a head-on collision with an auto driven by Hunter Bear in an assassination attempt disguised as a road accident. Rev. Ed King is riding with him. Just before the crash, Jackson police who are tailing the two freedom fighters are observed talking at length on their police radio — presumably reporting their position to set up the "accident." Both Hunter and King are hospitalized with serious injuries, but both survive.

Disheartened and disillusioned by the national NAACP's actions, those Youth Council students who continue their Freedom Movement activity turn to SNCC and CORE organizing projects outside of Jackson. Ed King remains active with COFO. Hunter Bear goes on to work for the Southern Converence Education Fund (SCEF) in North Carolina and elsewhere. Without the power of mass action, the boycott fails to desegregate white-only facilities or obtain jobs for Blacks in white-owned businesses. Segregation remains the law in Jackson until it is overturned by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and defacto segregation continues for long after. The NAACP's 1963 voter registration campaign fails, few voters are registered in Jackson until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is finally passed after two more years of heroic struggle, deep-root organizing, and mass action.

As Movement veterans, we note the following about the Jackson Movement of 1962-63 and the assasination of Medgar Evers:

For more information on the Jackson Civil Rights Movement:
Book: Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism
Web: Jackson Movement for web links.

 

Selma — Breaking the Grip of Fear (Jan-June)

Selma, Alabama, is the seat of Dallas County. Selma is also the unofficial economic, political, and cultural capitol of the western portion of Alabama's Black Belt (similar in a sense to Greenwood, the political center of the Mississippi Delta). The County is 57% Black in 1961, but of the 15,000 Afro-Americans old enough to vote only 130 — less than 1% — are registered — and some of those few actually live and work elsewhere. More than 80% of Dallas County Blacks live below the poverty line. Most of them work as sharcroppers, farm hands, maids, janitors, and day-laborers. Only 5% of Dallas County Blacks have a High School diploma, and more than 60% never had the chance to go to High School at all because neither Alabama nor the local school board see any need to educate the "hewers of wood and drawers of water." By contrast, 81% of Dallas County whites live above the poverty line and 90% have at least a High School education.

In the rural counties surrounding Selma, the Black majorities are even larger  — over 80% in some cases — and in many of them not a single Afro-American is registered. Adjacent Wilcox County is 78% Black and has not had an Afro-American voter since the end of Reconstruction, neither has next door Lowndes County which is over 81% Black.

Judge James Hare dominates Dallas County politics, and the county is sometimes referred to as a "political plantation," with Judge Hare as master and Sheriff Jim Clark as whip-cracking overseer. Hare is a self-proclaimed "expert" on racial eugenics. He asserts that the Blacks living in Selma are descended from Ibo and Angolan slaves who (in his publicly-stated opinion) are genetically incapable of achieving an IQ of higher than 65. Clark is a brutal, hard-core racist, whose strategy for maintaining rigid segregation is to violently beat down and arrest anyone who dares question the established order. And through bribery, intimidation, and blackmail, Clark has built a network of Black snitches who inform on their neighbors.

In addition to his paid deputies, Clark relies on his Sheriff's posse of more than two hundred armed volunteers — some of them members or supporters of racist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. Possemen wear cheap badges issued by Clark, construction helmets, and khaki work clothes. They are armed with shotguns, pistols, and a variety of hardwood clubs including ax-handles. Originally formed after World War II to oppose labor unions, the posse's current mission is to defend white-supremecy and supress all forms of Black protest. The posse isn't limited to just Dallas County, Clark sends them on missions far and wide. In 1961 some were part of the mob that beat the Freedom Riders in Montgomery, others rushed to join the massive violence in Oxford Mississippi when James Meredith integrated 'Ole Miss in 1962, and Bull Connor called them in to help crack the heads of student protesters during the The Birmingham Campaign of 1963.

Supporting Hare and Clark is Selma's powerful White Citizens Council composed of bankers, businessmen, politicians, landlords, clergy, and other pillers of the community. The Council stands ever vigilant against any attempt to undermine the "Southern way of life" which they defend with economic terrorism — firings, evictions, foreclosures, blacklists, and business boycotts. Together, Judge Hare, Sheriff Clark, the posse, the Citizens Council, and the snitches create an interlocking reign of economic, judicial, and violent terror that imprison Dallas County Blacks in an iron grip of fear.

But violence, jail, and economic terrorism cannot entirely supress the spirit of resistance in Selma. The Boynton family — Sam, Amelia, and their son Bruce — are not intimidated. While a student at Howard Law School, Bruce Boynton is arrested for using a white-only lunch counter at the Trailways bus station in Richmond VA. He files Boynton v. Virginia, the landmark Supreme Court case that overturns segregation in interstate travel and forms the legal basis for the Freedom Rides in 1961.

After the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v Board of Education school desegregation ruling and the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Alabama Attorney General retaliates against the NAACP by mounting a legal attack that cripples the organization and drives it underground for years. The Boyntons, Rev. L.L. Anderson of Tabernacle Baptist Church, J.L. Chestnut (Selma's first Black attorney), dental technician and SCLC Citizenship School teacher Marie Foster, educator James Gildersleeve, school teacher Margaret Moore, and others respond by reviving the old Dallas County Voter's League (DCVL) of which Sam is chosen president. Against the entrenched power of Hare, Clark, and the Citizens Council they make little progress as the fifties end and the sixties begin, but they refuse to surrender to despair or apathy.

At the turning of the year, Bernard and Colia Lafayette, a pair of newly-wed SNCC organizers arrive in Selma. Bernard is a veteran leader of the Nashville Student Movement, a Freedom Rider, and a Mississippi voter registration worker. Colia Lidell Lafayette is a student activist from Tougaloo college in Mississippi, founder and President of the NAACP's North Jackson Youth Council, and assistant to Medgar Evers. Their mission is to build the Freedom Movement in the Black Belt of Alabama. They know how dangerous the work will be. So too, do Department of Justice officials who warn them to give up any idea of registering voters in Selma Alabama and get out of town for their own safety.

I'd actually heard about Selma before [deciding to work there]. It was during the Freedom Rides when the bus I was riding ... was stopped by state police who said it needed to take another route ... because there was a white mob waiting in Selma and they couldn't protect us. I'm saying to myself, 'Oh Lord — even the State Troopers are scared of that city.' But even remembering that, I decide I'm going to work in Selma ... and get married. Colia who I married was not afraid of anything. And we married. Our honeymoon was going to be Selma. — Bernard Lafayette. [14]

By February of 1963, the Lafayettes are digging in deep, organizing on two fronts. With the help of the Boyntons and other DCVL stalwarts they hold small house meetings of the few adults who have the courage to risk associating with civil rights workers — never more than half a dozen at a time so that the number of parked cars does not attract the notice of Clark's deputies. To avoid snitches, they are careful who they invite, slowly building their network, like hidden tree roots expanding beneath the surface.

They also begin working with local youth, students at the segregated R.B. Hudson High School and Selma University, a small Black Baptist college. As elsewhere in the South, young people without jobs or children to care for are more willing to run risks, and as young freedom fighters themselves, the Lafayettes have enormous prestige. High school student Charles (Chuck) Bonner describes meeting Bernard:

One day in February of 1963, when I was 16 years old, my good friend Cleophas Hobbs and I were walking, pushing my mother's green '54 Ford. I had custody of it, it had broken down and we were pushing it ... It was a Sunday. And this young man walked up dressed in a yellow button down shirt, and a tie and a jacket, and he just started to push the car along with us. And simultaneously while we're pushing the car, he said he was Reverend Bernard LaFayette, he was from a seminary up in Tennessee. He had just moved to Selma, and he was from an organization called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, (SNCC) pronounced "Snick." Bernard, was not that much older than we were at the time, he was 22, we were 16.

We then started meeting at the Tabernacle Baptist Church. Bernard suggested that we go back to our high school and tell kids that he was in town. And organize the students. So my dear friend Bettie Mae Fikes was one of the first people we told, and another friend of ours, Evelyn, and another friend Terry Shaw. And they immediately got on board with what Cleo and I were talking about, and went to the Tabernacle Baptist Church and met Bernard. And Bernard taught us various freedom songs ... Bettie then became one of the major leaders in the songs, because she was always the star singer in our high school. — Charles Bonner. [15]

After four months of painstaking, clandestine work, the Lafayettes build enough support to risk coming out of the shadows. In May, Sam Boynton passes on of natural causes, and James Gildersleeve takes over as head of the DCVL. In conjunction with the Lafayettes, the League announces a "Boynton memorial service" at Tabernacle Church. Everyone knows that the service will also be a mass meeting for voter registration and the Freedom Movement. Afraid of white reprisals, the church deacons try to prevent it, but they are forced to relent when Rev. Anderson threatens to hold the service outside and publicly expose their fear.

As evening falls on May 14, Clark, his deputies, and the posse surround Tabernacle Baptist Church to threaten and photograph any who dare attend the meeting. The possemen in their semi-uniform of khaki work clothers, plastic construction helmets, cheap badges, and hate-filled faces, have pistols on their hips and long wooden clubs in their hands. It is an eerie scene as the flashing red and blue lights of the cop-cars illuminate the faces of 350 Black citizens who, with sublime courage, overcome their fear, face down the deputies, pass through the posse, and enter the church. But hundreds more who wish to honor Sam Boynton falter and turn back rather than run Clark's gauntlet or risk the inevitable Citizens Council retaliation.

Waving a court order from Judge Hare, Clark and some of his deputies invade the church to "prevent insurrection." But neither the audience nor the speakers are intimidated. Jim Forman of SNCC gives the main address, a strong speech, titled "The High Cost of Freedom." Furious at Clark's desecration of their sanctuary and the disrespect he shows to the memory of the much-admired Sam Boynton, the congregation defiantly cheers Forman's in-your-face castigation of Clark and the white power-structure. Meanwhile, outside, the deputies and possemen use their clubs to smash the taillights of parked cars. The next day, cops issue tickets to Blacks caught driving with a broken light.

So Bernard organized his first meeting in honor of Mr. Boynton, who had passed away. And Sheriff Jim Clark surrounded the church, but the most dramatic thing that happened was a group of white men drove up in a truck, and each one was armed with an axe handle. They were actually table legs, they worked at the table factory there in Selma, and they had each come out with these round table legs. That first meeting was very tense, it was at night, we had never had a mass meeting before. We didn't know what a mass meeting was. There was a lot of singing, a lot of praise to Mr. Boynton, a lot of discussion of the need to organize, to challenge the segregation laws, the apartheid laws, but most importantly, the need to register people to vote. And it was energizing, and it motivated everyone, particularly the students, to get involved in the Movement and to really try to get Black people registered to vote. — Charles Bonner [15]

More mass meetings follow. Bernard is arrested for "vagrancy." Colia participates in the Birmingham marches and is badly beaten by Bull Connor's cops. Pregnant with their first child, she temporarily returns home to Jackson MS to recover from internal injuries.

The Selma Times-Journal runs an article on Barnard, identifying who he is, what he is doing, and the exact address where he and Colia live. On the night of June 11, the Klan ambushes Bernard as he returns home from a mass meeting — savagely clubing him in the head. As he falls to the ground with blood pouring across his face, a Black neighbor comes out with a shotgun, and the Klansmen drive off.

That same night Medgar Evers is assasinated in Jackson, and Federal officials later tell the Lafayettes that the two attacks were part of a coordinated plan to murder Freedom Fighters in three states (the Klan couldn't locate the third target, Elton Cox, a CORE worker in Louisiana). Colia is still in Jackson when her friend and mentor Medgar Evers is killed and she helps lead the mass protests that follow.

Bernard is held overnight in the hospital and released the next morning. His face is covered with bruses, eyes swollen half shut, his clothes covered in blood. Rather than retreat home, rather than change into clean clothes, he walks the downtown streets, letting everyone — Black and white — know that he ain't running. His courage gives the lie to charges that SNCC organizers are "outsiders" who will stir up trouble and then flee at the first sign of danger. Courage and hope are the most contagious of all emotions, and from his example increasing numbers take heart. The mass meetings grow larger, and on registration day twice a month, in twos and threes, Blacks start going down to the Courthouse. They are not allowed to actually become voters, but their defiance begins to break the grip of fear that has imprisoned Selma for generations.

See Freedom Day in Selma for continuation.

For more information on the Selma Civil Rights Movement:
Books: Selma Voting Rights Campaign & March to Montgomery
Web: Selma Voting Rights Campaign & March to Montgomery
Personal stories from the Selma Movement 1963-1964: Charles Bonner & Betty Fikes

 


1963 (Jan-June) Quotation Sources:

1. "Keep on Movin' Toward Freedom: The Free State's Struggle with Equality," Marylandd Historical Society News, (Fall 2007)
2. Jean Wiley Interview
3. SNCC The New Abolitionists, Howard Zinn
4. Jackson Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism, John Salter
5. The Making of Black Revolutionaries, James Forman
6. Judy Richardson Interview
7. Civil War on Race Street: The Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge Maryland, Peter Levy
8. M.L. King Research Institute at Stanford University
9. Birmingham Campaign (King Institute ~ Stanford Univ.)
10. Why We Can't Wait, Dr. Martin Luther King
11. "Oh Freedom Over Me" American RadioWorks
12. God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights, Charles Marsh
13. "Report to the American People on Civil Rights" American Presidency Project ~ UCSB
14. On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail, Charles Cobb
15. Chuck Bonner & Betty Mae Fikes Interview
16. The Good Doctors: The MCHR and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care, John Dittmer
17. A Game of Nonviolence in Greensboro, NC, by Robert Watson. (Univ. North Carolina Greensboro)


1962

1963 (July-Dec)

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