Bull Connor’s Birmingham was regarded as the most racially segregated city of the 1960s. Despite the fact that 38% of the city was Black, the city’s planning department imposed drastic limitations on where they could live; therefore, the city was divided into zones where the provision of amenities was biased towards the white population. The city also had elaborate segregation ordinances listed in the Barriers Gallery and reaffirmed by the City Clerk on May 25, 1951. In the 1940s, many Blacks tried to purchase homes in off-limit areas only to be challenged by the city government and the courts in interventions that would later become violent.
In particular, the ministers were the victims of such violence: they received death threats, were beaten up, arrested by the police, or had their houses bombed or raided. Many synagogues and churches were also destroyed, with numerous dynamite bombs found hidden within these churches. Between 1947 and 1965, a total of 50 dynamite bombs were utilized first against African-Americans attempting to move into entirely white neighborhoods and later against anyone fighting against racial segregation in the city (Elliott, 2013). While most of these bombs acted to destroy property and instill fear in the protesters, they also led to the deaths of many people, including children.
The city was aware of the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, who were beating up freedom riders and burning their buses; however, it did not take any action. The police either failed to arrest the KKK members or, in other instances, were violent against the African-American protesters themselves. By the May of 1963, the police had begun using fire hoses and setting dogs against the protesters, arresting over 1000 children aged between 6 and 18 years. The city was so much against racial desegregation that instead of desegregating its public parks, it decided to close sixty of them.
The Birmingham Campaign had been non-violent, as Dr. King feared that the recent violence against peaceful protesters would escalate to all-out violence, thus penning a letter in which he detailed the four steps to a peaceful protest. The first steps entail collecting hard facts to determine whether injustice is happening. To determine whether to proceed to the next step, it is important to be sure about the nature and scope of injustice, as well as gather the evidence necessary in the second step.
The second step involves negotiating with the relevant authorities, stakeholders, and community groups to determine whether a compromise can be reached amicably without causing further strain on relationships. In these negotiations,the facts are brought to the table, withboth sides positing their arguments and agreementsdrafted on the way forward (King, 1963). At this stage, it is important to honor the agreements as failure to do so may result in violence. Honoring agreements is also significant in the third step of self- purification. Self-purification entails honoring one’s side of the negotiations so that any resulting skirmishes will be the result of the other party. In the final step, Dr. Luther calls on protesters to become involved in direct action through marches, non-violent protests, etc. Direct action creates tension and places pressure on parties that have refused to negotiate without provoking retaliation. Dr. King calls for the dramatization of the issue until taking action on the latter becomes the only reasonable option for the other party.
Elliott, D. (2013, July 6). Remembering Birmingham’s ‘Dynamite Hill’ Neighborhood”. National Public Radio (NPR). Retrieved fromhttps://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/07/06/197342590/remembering-birminghams-dynamite-hill-neighborhood
King, M. L. (1963, April 16). Letter from Birmingham City Jail (Excerpts). Retrieved from http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/letter-from-birmingham-city-jail-excerpts/