"Freedom Now!" was produced from tape recordings made in Birmingham, Alabama, and New York City by Dale Minor. The field recordings were made between May 11 and May 14, 1963, during the height of Negro demonstrations.
"Freedom Now!" documents and dramatizes the struggle for racial equality in Birmingham. The program deals with demonstrations that led to an agreement between white and Negro citizens of Birmingham, the various interpretations of that agreement, the bombing of Negro homes, the Negro reaction to those bombings, and the Negro leaders' attempt to control the struggle for racial equality.
The events in Birmingham represent a crucial phase of the Negro's struggle in the United States. Birmingham may go down in history as the first turning point for United States Negroes. This larger significance is dramatized in "Freedom Now!"
Included in the program are the voices of: The Revs. Fred Shuttlesworth, James Bevel, Ralph Abernathy, A. D. King, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bernard Lee; Birmingham's Mayor, Arthur Hanes; Police Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor; Birmingham financier Sidney W. Smyer; attorney Charles Morgan; a Black Muslim leader, Jeremiah X; CORE field secretary in Birmingham, Isaac Reynolds; and the voices of many Birmingham Negro and white citizens. Attorney Charles Morgan was recorded in the WBAI studios; all other recordings were made in the field.
The program was produced and edited for Pacifica Radio by Dale Minor and Chris Koch. Technical production was by Bob Kramer.
(Music: "I've Got a Job.")
ANNOUNCER: Pacifica Radio presents "Freedom Now!"
(Music: "I've Got a Job.")
ANNOUNCER: Forty days of organization and demonstration by the combined forces of the integration movement under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King culminated in the most significant turning point in the entire history of the struggle for racial justice in the United States.
RALPH ABERNATHY: Birmingham is on the front pages. It is on every radio station. It is seen today all over the world. The movement of freedom that is going on in the world today has somehow leaped over the head of the state troopers. And it fills the heart of every black American today, fills the hearts of those on the plantations of Mississippi and the swamps of Louisiana, in the fields of Georgia, in the hills of Alabama, and in this magic city of Birmingham. And we are going to continue here until the victory is won. (Applause.)
ANNOUNCER: Birmingham was chosen as the target of the integration movement, because, said Martin Luther King, Birmingham is the symbol of segregation. The demonstrations were planned the preceding winter when King was in the city holding workshops in nonviolent action. They began the first week in April, 1963, as an effort to bring about the desegregation of the downtown area. For four weeks the Birmingham effort followed the pattern of earlier integration campaigns in the South; however, two innovations changed the picture. They demonstrated in mass numbers, and even more important, the masses were principally composed of grammar and high school children. And on May 3rd, precisely one month after the campaign began, violence began to shake Birmingham from its complacency. Adult bystanders, already angered at the arrest of the children, came off the sidelines hurling bricks and bottles when the Birmingham police turned police dogs and high-pressure water hoses on the youthful demonstrators. Birmingham's jails were beginning to overflow and Negro leaders were threatening to empty the schools and fill the jails.
JAMES BEVEL: And I'll say just like the students here in this town said to Bull Connor, we will fill your jails, the Negroes across the South, as I said to Mr. Kennedy, we will fill the American jails . . . not only Birmingham, but Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, Chicago, and New York. We will fill the American jails, and tell the world, we don't have freedom over here.
ANNOUNCER: Before the week was over upwards of 3,200 Negroes would be jailed and a total of 16,000 Negro students out of school. Then on Wednesday Negro leaders, optimistic about negotiations then underway with leaders in the white community, and fearful of continued violence, called off the demonstrations. By Friday white and Negro negotiators had come to an agreement which included, on the white side, the dropping of charges against the demonstrators already arrested, and the establishment of a biracial committee to work out methods of establishing racial harmony and justice in Birmingham. Chief among the negotiators were Sidney W. Smyer, sixty-six-year-old white businessman, and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, for seven years the leader of local integration forces. Mr. Smyer explained his impression of the substantive portions of the Birmingham accord, saying it provided:
SIDNEY SMYER: That ninety days after the Supreme Court decisions on the Birmingham city government, eating facilities in the stores will be desegregated on a trial or test basis. Within thirty days any remaining white and colored signs over drinking fountains and restrooms will be removed, and without delay fitting rooms (which always have been private and for the use of one customer at a time) will be desegregated. Employment opportunities for Negroes will be upgraded. Within sixty days at least one sales person will be employed in one store.
ANNOUNCER: Birmingham's Mayor Hanes addressed himself to the negotiations and the negotiators.
ARTHUR HANES: Gentlemen, here's what's happened, as usual. For forty days now or more we have protected the Negroes, aided and abetted and fomented and stirred up and agitated by people who have come to Birmingham, by people who in the past have been associated with organizations which were subversive. They have been constant companions, they have shared speaking engagements with known Communists, and they've come into our town and stirred it up, which is nightmarish and ridiculous. But as usual you tolerate and they push you, and I say it's asking too much of a city to prove that they are tolerant, and that they are a good city, and we've seen here in Birmingham a political mob, a mob to me analogous to a bunch of highwaymen who would ride up to a city and threaten it. And we say they are a bunch of weak-kneed Quislings in the city of Birmingham who are responsible for these entire outbreaks, bow down and say, "Oh please go away, we'll give you whatever you want." Now isn't this a great spirit of America? Isn't it a great spirit of those who founded this country? You know what they've done, they've adopted the old philosophy and swallowed it. "Better red than dead"; "Better back than fighting." You see.
ANNOUNCER: There were other factors and forces active in the negotiations and their conclusion. The Justice Department had been working for some time to head off the confrontation that occurred the first two weeks in May. On April 3rd, Burke Marshall, chief of the Department's civil rights division, asked Dr. King to hold off the demonstrations. King refused. From that time on the federal government began pulling strings to get some kind of negotiations between white and Negro leaders underway. One of the problems faced was finding leaders of sufficiently liberal cast on the race question to push and spearhead genuine efforts in that direction. We discussed some of these matters with Charles Morgan, a Birmingham attorney, and sole representative of the American Civil Liberties Union in that city.
CHARLES MORGAN: See, we didn't produce a Walter Reuther in labor even though we've got a large labor population. There's no Ralph McGill in journalism. There's no production of a Martin Luther King. We did produce Fred Shuttlesworth. We don't have a noteworthy tradition for the production of leadership. It's pretty well a steel-controlled town. It has been. Most of these problems could pretty well have been settled by U.S. Steel in a five-minute board meeting in Pittsburgh. But it never was done. U.S. Steel's subsidiary there is the largest private depositor in the banks, the largest private employer in the state, the supplier of steel to all the fabricating industry in town, the supplier of slag to the by-products industries, the greatest purchaser. Well now, I know enough, I think, to know that when a corporate policy is established "that you do X, Y, Z," or that the implementation of that policy is a rather simple thing to carry out. But as has been said there are many people who sort of feel like they played second-string short-stop on a third-rate farm club for some pirates from Pittsburgh. Now you've got this great leadership capacity there in industry, and this really may be our power structure. It may be that U.S. Steel is the power structure that you find lacking otherwise.
ANNOUNCER: Do you think U.S. Steel itself possibly had something to do with this agreement?
MORGAN: I'm reasonably certain that the president of their subsidiary there participated in the Senior Citizens
ANNOUNCER: What's his name?
MORGAN: Wegel. Arthur V. Wegel. He talked in favor of the settlement agreement. But it's rather late when you're in the middle of the riot to settle the question.
ANNOUNCER: Mr. Smyer mentioned to reporters that Birmingham had a very happy relationship between the races prior to April 2nd. Is that true in your opinion?
MORGAN: No, it's certainly not true with the Negroes. But you see, when the community itself doesn't know how people feel, a man, an employee, has a constitutional right to lie to his employer. At least he does it. Now I'm not saying you do, or someone else does, but most folks say what people want to hear. Very rarely do you interview somebody and tell them that they're a pompous fool or something of that nature, even when you think it. Well, a maid's going to say the same thing to her employer and so's somebody else. They're going to say, "No, we're happy, Marse Tom, everything's fine! What problems we got? No, that's those other fellowsShuttlesworth and King, those agitators." And then they take half their pittance of a salary and they contribute it to the movement.
ANNOUNCER: Mayor Hanes also had his own opinion of conditions of life in the Negro community.
HANES: You talk about economics for Negroes, their standard of living in Birmingham is higher than that of 100 per cent of the black people throughout the world outside the United States, and I'd say higher than 8o per cent of the white people outside the United States. The average household earnings. We have four swimming pools for whites and four for Negroes. Three out of the four Negro pools far excel all four white pools. Four and four, now how is this discrimination? Have a golf course for 'em. Cost the taxpayers $22,000 a year to subsidize it, for the Negroes to play golf. Now what is so wrong to ask them to play golf on their own golf course, which is the same as the ones the white people have? Or to go to school with their own kind? We have as fine housing projects here for 'em as you'll ever see. Five bedrooms, two baths, all utilities, $20 a month. Free food program for 'em, free medical programs, welfare, they work in our homes, and you have to get all of 'em totin' privileges or they won't work for you. You know what I mean by totin' privileges? Oh, bring a little sack to work with them, a little tote sack. You take a little bit of soap, and tote a little bit of . . . Oh, yeah, and they tote a little bit of this every time they leave your house. But we tolerate that, we understand it, that's the way the Negroes do.
ANNOUNCER: This is Mary Hamilton, eighteen-year-old field representative for the Congress of Racial Equality, one of the last people to be released from jail, Saturday evening.
MARY HAMILTON: Generally the case is when they see an organizer around, if they can, they will arrest you. So I had been ordered by the police to stay off the sidewalk. I had really stepped up on a ledge as the demonstrators were walking towards us, and I lost my balance, it was really this simple, I had lost my balance and stepped down to regain my balance, and the minute I stepped down on the sidewalk, I was nabbed and placed in the police car and I was arrested. At that time about eighty people were arrested. Two groups were placed in two different buses and we were taken to the city jail. These demonstrators were, the average age range, I would say, was about seventeen, although the ages ranged from about seven to thirty-five or forty. Now this was a demonstration in which Dick Gregory was arrested. All the girls were placed in a downstairs cell block. It then began to rain and so we all climbed up and looked out the window, so here were these children, a good two hundred children out in the rain, just being drenched . . . the rain was just coming in torrents. And people were milling about and the police were out trying to drive people away. There was plenty of room in the cell block in which I was in to put these children. But instead, the police preferred to leave them out. And it rained on those children two hours. So we began banging on thethey were steel doors. So a mob of policemen came in. One of them said, "Well, we know what to do with the whole group." And so they herded us all into these solitary-confinement cells which were about two by two. You could take two steps, two short steps in both directions. Had nothing in them but a little steel seat that came out from the wall. There were from 12 to 15 of us in each of these cells. We were left in there . . . a good two hours. Now mind you, the girls who were previously in this section had been in there two hours before that, without toilet facilities and water. So you can understand how uncomfortable they were. We were very uncomfortable still. And so after about three hours, we began banging on the walls of the cell. Of course there's a big noise and everything. And so the police came crowding in again. That's one thing that seems to be characteristic of these cops. They can never be alone, by themselves, and they always must come with their guns, their clubs, and their helmets. Anyway they all herded into the cell. And wanted to know what was up. And I told them, I said, "The girls have been in here for five hours without bathroom facilities and without water . . . and you can't treat people this way." And I just went on like this. So they took all the girls out except me and left me in there by myself. Well I was in there about two hours and then finally I had to leave. So I began banging. And so they all came in again. One of them said, Well, I know what to do with her!" And he opened the gate and he came in and he . . . I thought . . . they had said, "Well, we'll take her shoes off of her." So I had thought that they were just going to ask me for my shoes. Well no, he just came in and he just snatched me, and he just encircled my body with his arm, and he took my shoes off. Well, by this time I was pretty angry and I guess I was trying to get out ofget out of his grasp and there was nothing I could do while he just slipped my shoes off. And he walked out and then he must of thought a minute, and he walked back in there and he snatched me, right in the front, and he walloped me with his fist up the side of my head so hard I was just stunned! And he was furious, you could just see it on his face.
ANNOUNCER: The releases made possible by parties to the Birmingham accord who posted bond to free the demonstrators from jail were slow even on a Saturday. Parents and friends stood outside the city jail as the demonstrators were freed, singly and in small groups throughout the day. I'm standing outside the entrance to the Birmingham city jail now. There are approximately a hundred people waiting here for friends, relatives, children to be released. They're being released very slowly. For the Negro leaders there can be no turning back or slackening of the pace. Dr. King is fond of quoting in this respect Gandhi's remark, "There go my people, I must hurry and catch up with them, for I am their leader." However, an alteration of that motto would probably be more descriptive of the power and temper of forces animating the American Negro today. Dr. King might more accurately say, "Here come my people, I must go faster, or be run over." Even within his own nonviolent movement, impatience is both evident and articulate. What would happen should King decide to slow down in Birmingham? The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth answers the question.
FRED SHUTTLESWORTH: We have this second a truce in Birmingham made in the presence of a representative of the President of the United States. Birmingham is not going to back up on it as we go demonstrate again. And if 2,800 of us went to jail this last time, 4,000 will go next time. I've led this movement seven years and I think the Negroes have confidence in me. I'm not going to sell it down the river.
ANNOUNCER: This reporter tried to speak with Police Commissioner Connor, Bull Connor, as he is known in Birmingham, whom most Negroes blame for the violence that marked the last two days of the demonstrations. Commissioner Connor, however, had been too often burned by the northern press.
EUGENE CONNOR: Now wait a minute, I ain't talking for no New York newspaper.
ANNOUNCER: Well, couldn't you just give us a few words?
CONNOR: Not for anything in New York.
ANNOUNCER: Well, we just wanted to talk about the whole thing.
CONNOR: But I told you to start with I won't talk to no New York newspaper, or TV, or radio. No, I ain't getting no press at all . . . to hell with you. . . . I've always got a bad press. What the hell's the press? Just a bunch of . . . if there's ever another war, that's what's going to cause it. You got that damn thing on? You know what's the trouble with this country? Communism, Socialism, and journalism.
ANNOUNCER: Saturday afternoon at a youth rally held in the 16th Street Baptist Church, to begin the next item on the movement's agenda, the voter registration drive, the Rev. James Bevel read aloud a circular, widely publicized, that morning, and broadcast once over a local radio station.
BEVEL (Reading.): The United Klans of America, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights incorporated presents a public speaking, "White Citizens, Know Your Rights." The city of Birmingham, and the entire United States of America, which was created by your ancestors for your personal benefit is under attack. It is under attack by Jews and Negro Communist citizens! Two low races of mankind, the Jew and Negro, are trying and succeeding in their efforts to take over the country that your ancestors fought and died for. The Jew leaders have said, "We shall destroy . . . whether Americans like it or not." The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan rally will assemble on the grounds of the Moose Lodge at seven-thirty, Saturday evening. The Moose Lodge is located on the Bessemer Highway, Route 11. The date is May 11, 1963. There will be parking for automobiles. Mongrelizers, beware! The Klan is riding again.
ANNOUNCER: At about seven, Saturday evening, a threatening telephone call was received at the Gaston Motel, warning that that motel would be bombed sometime that night. Commissioner Connor's police were immediately notified. Their reply was reportedly: "If you see anything, call us." I talked to Rev. Mr. Bevel later Saturday night about possible trouble and its likely effect on the agreement.
BEVEL: They are supposed to make some basic change downtown Monday. And I think they'll make it. So I'm generally satisfied with the agreement. I wish it could all happen tonight but tonight you have a Klan meeting. This is a real problem, and a real dilemma for the merchants here. These bombings and things that have gone on . . . eighteen or so, this is a real dilemma for white people of good will. We have to recognize this.
ANNOUNCER: Our interview concluded at about eleven-thirty p.m. Afterwards three reporters sat in the coffee shop of the Gaston Motel, headquarters for Martin Luther King and the various elements of the movement. From eleven-thirty 'til midnight we talked shop, wondering aloud, and waited for something to break. At about midnight it did. At about midnight we received word that the home of Rev. A. D. King, brother of Martin Luther King, had been bombed. It was a ten-minute drive from the Gaston Motel in Insley, a suburb of Birmingham. By the time we arrived a crowd of some one thousand Negroes had gathered at the scene of the bombing. Before we left, the number had doubled. As we approached the scene of the bombing, we were given a preview of the rage that was to fill the hours before dawn, litter the streets with bricks, broken glass, and damage police cars, and flash headlines around the world. A tire on a nearby patrol car was slashed.
MAN'S VOICE: Two bombs exploded in Rev. King's house. Rev. A. D. King's house here.
ANNOUNCER: Was anyone hurt?
MAN'S VOICE: Martin Luther King's brother, that's who it was. There wasn't anyone hurt, I understand, but they damaged the house all on the front, because they made two shots at the house.
ANNOUNCER: I entered the house by the side door. Glass and broken timbers were strewn about on the floor. Nearly every window in the building was broken. What remained of the front end was lit only by police flashlights. There was a large crater, five feet across and three feet deep where the front porch once had been. . . . We're inside the house now and it appears that the building has been damaged 40 per cent of the way back. The living room is completely, absolutely demolished. Was anyone in the house at the time the explosion occurred?
MAN'S VOICE: The whole family. Five children, a wife, and a husband. And the wife was sitting in here.
ANNOUNCER: How in the world is it possible that no one was hurt?
MAN: Well, that's the reason why we are Christians. It's miraculous. . . . God's not going to let anything happen to us.
ANNOUNCER: The entire front of the house is open to the street.
MAN: It shook my house just like it did the house here. . . . I live right up the street there.
ANNOUNCER: You heard the explosion, then?
MAN: I was looking right at it and looking at the car when it passed by my door.
ANNOUNCER: The crowd outside was large and not a little angry. There were unruly elements in it. Slashing tires, hurling rocks at police vehicles, and shouting insults at the few policemen on the scene. But for the most part, it was controlled. Many of them sang. This was soon to change, and within minutes, Rev. Dr. King and his associates were struggling desperately to keep the angry crowd from turning into a rampaging mob. The incident that caused this change occurred just as I left the house and walked back out onto the lawn. Another bomb had just exploded in the neighborhood. Dr. King called for volunteers to guard his church.
A. D. KING: Right now I want fifteen or twenty men. I want fifteen or twenty men to go guard the First Baptist Church.
ANNOUNCER: The report of the second bomb was so loud that those present thought it was only a few blocks away. Our error was soon corrected.
P. A. SYSTEM: Please go to the motel immediately . . .
ANNOUNCER: The crowd, by now two thousand strong, began to rage and the local leaders of nonviolence worked frantically to head off a human explosion. With tremendous effort and a hairline margin, they succeeded.
A. D. KING: Everybody listen to me . . . Everybody listen to me . . .
(Sounds of confusion in background.)
ANNOUNCER: In the largely middle-class Negro suburb of Insley, violence was averted. Downtown, however, in the vicinity of the Gaston Motel, the inhabitants of the 4th Avenue bars, pool halls, and flophouses, uneducated, usually unemployed, socially disinherited, disowned by all, and responsible to none, went wild. By the time we arrived back at the motel, rioting had already littered the streets in that area and sent five policemen to the hospital, one with a serious knife wound. The explosion shattered the window of a grocery store cross the street from the motel in front of which we're standing now. The whole plate-glass window is out. Isaac Reynolds, field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality, was at the motel when the bomb exploded.
ISAAC REYNOLDS: I was lying on my bed watching television; about ten minutes to twelve, I heard a tremendous explosion and my glasses on my dresser were knocked off and I was thrown out of my bed. It threw my door open which was locked at the time. I got up and came out and found the lobby of the motel cloudy with smoke. And I went in to assist the people and I believe the sister of the manager was in the room asleep. It must have been God's help that she lived through it. There's a hole in the wall there. Her door was blown off. The wall in the room was completely destroyed, and yet she only had plaster marks and powder burns on her, and she appears to be seventy-five or eighty years old.
ANNOUNCER: Was she the only one that was injured?
REYNOLDS: Well, she was the only one that was injured during the explosion. The people here have gotten very excited and some policemen have been injured.
ANNOUNCER: How many?
REYNOLDS: I've seen four or five carried away.
ANNOUNCER: In the four-block area surrounding the Gaston Motel, the nightmare which began with the first bombing continued to rage. More policemen were injured. A white cab driver was pulled from his cab, beaten, stabbed, and his cab burned. The expected flood of violence miraculously never broke, but eddies and currents of it swirled through the streets.
MAN: They were berserk, they went crazy down there . . .
WOMAN: Who's gone berserk . . . the police officers?
ANNOUNCER: And in the middle of the terror, in a parking lot adjoining the motel, occurred one of the most memorable events of the night. A small group of Negro ministers, among them the Rev. A. D. King, in an attempt to arrest a situation which seemed to be rapidly reaching the point of no return, held an impromptu service.
A. D. KING: God is always on the side of right. Whoever it was who threw those bombs tonight, God knows the names. He knows their address. He knows the side of the bed that they sleep on. . . .
Please put off your hats, extinguish your cigarettes, and let us pray to Him who has brought us safe thus far.
Almighty God, who is the light, the truth, the way, we come at this hour, mindful of the kind of world in which we live. Oh God, we pray that thou would'st give us at this hour the spirit of patience. Give us the spirit of love. Give us the spirit of understanding. Have mercy, we pray. And bless our lives and bless this city in which we live, and bless our rulers tonight. Make them mindful of the responsibility that they have this night. Bless our governor and bless our nation. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen. Let us sing together: "We Shall Overcome." (Singing.)
ANNOUNCER: Dawn finally broke on the end of a nightmare. By five o'clock all was quiet. And by six those who wished were allowed to leave the area.
ANNOUNCER: A mass meeting held in the First Pilgrim Baptist Church, Sunday afternoon.
ANNOUNCER: The Rev. Ralph Abernathy.
ABERNATHY: Mr. Governor Wallace has moved with his state men. But thanks be to God there is one higher than he. On the route in from the airport I listened to the While House in Washington, D.C., and President Kennedy said that troopers were on their way. (Applause.) And not only did he say that, but he said that he had authorized Defense Secretary McNamara to take the necessary steps, so if it became necessary, that the National Guard here in Alabama would be federalized!
ANNOUNCER: Washington, Monday, May 13. The New York Times: "President Kennedy last night dispatched federal troops to bases near Birmingham, Ala., for use if racial violence breaks out again. His action followed three hours of rioting early this morning in which 50 persons were injured. The rioting erupted after 2 buildings were bombed." In his Monday afternoon press conference Mayor Hanes had some rather bitter comments to make on the President's action.
HANES: You got bayonet brotherhood, gentlemen. They're going to tell the people of Birmingham: You'll love this Negro at the point of a bayonet, whether you want to or not. They are going to say you associate with him, whether you want to or not, and they're going to put a bayonet to the people's back and say give half of what you've got to the Negro. Gentlemen, this is Socialism of the rankest sort. And these troops are standing by as a bludgeon and a threat to the good decent American people of Birmingham, Alabama, to tell them if you don't do our will then, gentlemen, we're going to come in and force you to.
ANNOUNCER: Mayor Hanes, would you address yourself to the bombings last night?
HANES: I'll address myself to the bombings. Of course we have no idea who done it. We've got strong reason to believe, and I think the FBI will bear this out, these are not the bombings in the past that have been occurring in Birmingham. We know they were done, feel reasonably sure, were done by King and his crowd, and the Communists, to stir up trouble. You see King and his mob can't stay in business if everything is peaceful and calm and there is tranquility. If there are no incidents for them to attach themselves to, to appeal to the people of the country to donate, and hold rallies in Madison Square Garden, and here and there and everywhere to raise funds. Then they have to create something, you see. I'm going to tell you gentlemen right here, as far as I'm concerned, in Alabama, Birmingham. Alabama, can be a firm stand for the rights of people locally to determine their affairs.
ANNOUNCER: Four hours before Mayor Hanes's press conference the Revs. King and Abernathy began a walk intended to make the rounds of the local Negro pool halls. The procession is now proceeding up 17th Street, Dr. King and Dr. Abernathy in the lead. And we are now entering a pool hall. We're descending a flight of stairs into the basement and we're now in a colored pool hall.
BERNARD LEE: May I have your attention, please. Turn your radio down back there. All right, I'm Bernard Lee; I'm one of Dr. King's aides and, of course, all of you know what happened Saturday night, and we were very much concerned. You saw some of us out in the street trying to keep the crowd down and stop the confusion that was going on. So Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy felt it very necessary to talk to you. Some of you were out there and this is the reason why he is here. Now Rev. Abernathy whom many of you know, who has lived in Montgomery, Alabama, and is now living in Atlanta, Georgia, will speak to you. He is an official of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and has been here in Birmingham with Dr. King on this situation, and he will speak to you at this time. Rev. Ralph Abernathy.
ABERNATHY: Thank you very kindly, Mr. Lee. The first thing I want to say to you is that we are involved in a struggle for freedom and we don't want to get the impression that we are cowards, because we don't need any cowards in our band. In fact, we do not want any cowards in our band. We intend to march on and to struggle on until freedom is won. We are not going to Los Angeles, California, to find freedom, but we are determined to find freedom right here in Birmingham, Alabama. Now we know that the time has come for that freedom. A few days ago all of us paid our income taxes, isn't that right?
ABERNATHY: And did anybody tell us to wait: that the time had not come for Negroes to pay their taxes? We pay automobile taxes. We pay taxes on food, sales taxes, and other commodities, and we pay the same taxes as our white brothers pay. So we are determined to gain our freedom. But Gov. Wallace is not our leader, isn't that right?
VOICES: That's right! That's right!
ABERNATHY: Bull Connor is not our leader?
VOICES: Right! Right! Right!
ABERNATHY: . . . Then let us now hear the leader, Martin Luther King.
M. L. KING: Thank you very kindly, my dear friends and coworkers in this struggle for freedom here in Birmingham, Alabama. We want to thank you for taking time out of your pool games to allow us to say these few words to you. Now, as has been said, we are engaged in a strugglea mighty struggle for human dignity and, as you know after several days of demonstrations in a nonviolent, peaceful manner, we came to an agreement with the business and industrial leaders of this community. They made certain specific agreements in employment and in integrating the facilities in all these stores as well as some other things. And then came the Saturday night when the people who bombed the motel and the parsonage of my brother, Rev. A. D. King, revealed that they are trying to sabotage all that we are trying to do. These bombings were carried out by people who don't believe in freedomwho don't believe in democracy, and who don't believe in integration. And they feel that they can sabotage this whole thing by bombing homes and businesses, and by keeping terror alive in this community. But we must make two things clear. First, we are not going to stop in our righteous struggle to gain freedom here in Birmingham, Alabama.
M. L. KING: We must also make it clear that we don't like these bombings and that something must be done about them. Now, as you know, on Saturday night after the bombing we did have a temporary reign of terror. Now, I can understand how impatient we areI can well understand how these dread and deep-seated resentments well up in our souls. I can well understand how we are often driven to the brink of bitterness, and even despair, because of the way we are treated by policemen and highway patrolmen, and the way we are bombed, and our children are exploited, and we are exploited. I can understand how we feel, but we must make it clear that it is possible to stand up against all of these evils and injustices without fighting back with violence. Now, I believe in nonviolence as a creed. In other words, I believe that violence is immoral. But I go beyond that, and I hope you will see thisthat not only is violence immoral in our struggle, but it is impractical. We can't win with violence. We make a much greater moral impact when we are the recipients of violence rather than the inflictors. That is when we are willing to receive violence if necessary, but we do not inflict it on anybody else. Now we must not beat up any policemenas brutal as they may be. We must not burn down any stores. We must not stab anybody, for we have a greater weapon than all this. We have the power of our soulsthe power of our standing up together and this amazing unity and this soul force are the things that will free us in this day.
So, tell everybody, your friends and your neighbors and your relatives, that this is a nonviolent movement; and that even if they bomb some more houses or businesses, that we are still going to stand up for our freedom, and yet we're not going to use violence. Let us not become so angry that we lose our heads. Let nobody pull us so low as to make us hate them, or as to make us use violence.
Let us go out on the wings of nonviolence and through this way we will be able to land in this great City of Freedom. God bless you, and thank you for this wonderful opportunity.
ABERNATHY: Will those of you who are going to be nonviolent and follow the advice of our leader, who will not fight back, who will not throw bombs, who will not throw bricks, who will not use any knives, cut any tires, or do anything in the form of retaliatory violencelet us hear you say, "Aye!"
ABERNATHY: Let us now sing our great song, "We Shall Overcome!"
(Singing of "We Shall Overcome" fades into . . .)
ANNOUNCER: We are now proceeding down Fourth Avenuethe tenderloin area of the Negro section of Birminghamand we are now entering another pool hall. This one seems to appeal to an older group of people than the last one we went into.
SPEAKER: May I have your attention for just a minutecould you fellows hold it up there on the crap table for just a minute?
ABERNATHY: . . . do nothing in any kind of way that will mar the beauty of our nonviolent movement. I want you to say it from the bottom of your stomach.
ABERNATHY: Let us now sing, "We Shall Overcome Someday," for this is the theme song of our movement, and it must be sung in every pool room and every tavern, in every church, whether it's Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian, throughout the South. We sing it in the jails wherever we go, and we must let them know all over the world that the Negro is going to overcome. Come on"We Shall Overcome!"
ABERNATHY: Let's lock hands.
ANNOUNCER: Following that meeting, however, as Rev. King and his group attempted to proceed down 16th Street to visit more pool halls, police turned them back.
Violence, bloodshed, poverty, and oppression have long been the bread of black Birmingham, and brutality today has deep and well-entangled roots in that Alabama steel town. However, it is probably not insignificant that in the present range of opinion, Mayor Hanes is the pessimist and attorney Charles Morgan, the man who envisioned a decent future. What do you think the near future is going to bring for Birmingham in particular and other places in the South in general?
MORGAN: . . . I think the South will solve its problem. All across the South there are millions upon millions of white people who have a sense of fairness and a sense of justice. And they're never called on to do anythingthey live lives just like anyone else but when they are, they can and they will produce. I think that it would be very difficult for instance for a person like me. Why, you see, from the time you're a child you grow up with a Negro in the house. It's been a paternalistic sort of relationship, but it's still a relationshipit is a relationship even if paternalistic. Now those days are dead. Those things are gone. They ought to be gone, but at the same time the relationship is still there. Nobody hates their own maid. Nobody hates their own yardman. Nobody really hates anybody they know. White people in the South don't know Negro lawyers. The Negro doctors during the demonstration ran an advertisement in the papers. There were forty or fifty doctors and dentists. The important thing of the advertisement was not that they backed the demonstrationthat was important as far as the Negro community was concerned. But for the white community, it let them know that there were forty or fifty doctors in town. They don't know this. I think once Negroes are registered to vote, the barriers will break down much more rapidly because that's power. And we can demonstrate about a lunch counter all the time. Now Jeremiah X, who is a Muslim, had a pretty good quote in the New York Times that he had made in Birmingham.
JEREMIAH X: It's something that doesn't amount to anything to be able to sit down at a lunch counter and eat a hot dog with a white man. What we want is the lunch counter, and the store that the counter is in, and the land that the store is on. This is what we advocate. We're tired of being for handouts, and the chance to use the white man's facilities, we want something of our own. We want the back pay that the white man owes to the black man. This is what we want today.
MORGAN: . . . He'll get it by voting. . . . He'll get it by an equality of opportunity that he hasn't had. But the way he's going to get this is through court cases. Of course, through demonstrations, which bolster the community. The principal thing the Negro demonstrations do, is not for the white people, it's for the Negroes.
M. L. KING: . . . These persons were seeking to assassinate us. They feel that they can block this movement and this ongoing struggle for freedom with bombs. But it can't be done that way for we are on the move. Dogs can't stop us and bombs can't stop us. For we are on the way . . . to the land of freedom. And so we have a legitimate right to be disturbed and to be resentful and to have righteous indignation concerning what happened on Saturday night in these bombings. And they've got to stop! And I'm going to tell you this, they can be found, the people who did it. (Applause.) I remember a few years ago a young man who wanted to make some money put a bomb in a suitcase on an airplane. You remember that. It was a complicated, intricate situation, but do you know that our government, through the FBI, had the machinery to go through the intricate details and they found out who bombed that plane.
Now, if they can find that out, they can find out who's bombing these places down in Birmingham, Alabama. (Applause.) But now let me give you the other side: We've got to be calm. (Amen.) We've got to maintain our commitment to nonviolence. I'm giving you some difficult advice now. It's difficult to stand up amid the things that you've faced here in Birmingham across the years and be true to the creed of nonviolence. Let nobody pull you so low as to make you hate them. Let nobody pull you so low as to make you use violence against them. It may be necessary for the streets of Birmingham to flow a little more with a little blood before we achieve our freedom, but I give you this difficult advice: Let it be our blood and not the blood of our white brothers. And if we can do this(Applause.) If we can do this, we, like Jesus Christ, will redeem this social situation. By bearing this cross, we will transform a dark Good Friday into a bright Easter morning.
The only thing that I can say to you tonight is keep your head high and keep on moving for freedom. We aren't going to stop; these shootings aren't going to stop us. These bombings aren't going to stop us. Let us go on. But I can say to you tonight, Not long! Go back with me if you will to the sands of Egypt. See God's children struggling to get out of the hands of an oppressive Pharaoh. Not long after that . . . watch the Red Seas as they begin to roll back . . . Watch God's children as they walk safely to the other side. How long? Not long. Go back with me to the scene on Calvary. And there you will see Christ on a cross, Caesar in a palace. But not long after that, that same Christian rises up to split history into a.d. and b.c. So that even the life of Caesar must be dated by His name. How long? Not long. I can say to you tonight as we are singing our song, "We Shall Overcome"we shall overcome. Deep in my heart I do believe we shall overcome. Before the victory's won, some may have to get scarred up a bit, but we shall overcome! Before the victory is won, some may lose a job, but we shall overcome! Before the victory's won, we shall be misunderstood and called bad names, but we shall overcome. Before we get to the City of Brotherhood, somebody's home will be bombed, but we shall overcome. And I'll tell you why. We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward Justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right, "No lie can live forever."
We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right, "Truth crushed to earth will rise again." We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right, "Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne, Yet that scaffold sways the future, And behind the dim unknown Standeth God within the shadow, Keeping watch above His own."
We shall overcome because the Bible is right, "You shall reap what you sow." This is what we live by. This is my faith. And within this faith we will be able to go out and carve a tunnel of hope through the mountain of despair. With this faith, we will go out and adjourn the councils of hopelessness. With this faith we will be able to make a better Birmingham, and this will be the day when God's kingdom will be a reality, right here in this city, and so I say, Don't stop, don't get weary, walk together, children, don't get weary. There's a great camp meeting in the promised land of freedom.
Copyright © 1966, Pacifica Foundation.
The Lasiewicz Foundation
This edited excerpt of "Freedom Now!" was published in "The Exacting Ear, The Story of Listener Sponsored Radio, and an Anthology of Programs from KPFA, KPFK & WBAI" Edited by Eleanor McKinney ) 1966, Pacifica Foundation. Reprinted with permission.
For a complete audio recording of "Freedom Now!" radio documentary, contact the Pacifica Archives. The program is in two CDs: Archive Number BB0385A is 57:00 minutes Archive Number BB0385B is 60:15 minutes.
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