Our Story Moment (Childern’s March)

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The GREATEST POWER has always been in the possession fo the YOUTH! Look at the Courage and Impressive Strength of ALL the Children who participated in the Children’s March of 1963 which help to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed into law!

The Children’s Crusade was the name bestowed upon a march by hundreds of school students in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 2, May 3, May 4, and May 5, 1963, during the American Civil Rights Movement’s Birmingham Campaign. Initiated and organized by Rev. James Bevel, the purpose of the march was to walk downtown to talk to the mayor about segregation in their city. Many children left their schools in order to be arrested, set free, and then to get arrested again the next day. The marches were stopped due to the head of police “Bull Connor” who brought fire hoses to ward off the children and set police dogs after the children.

A pivotal civil rights campaign was fought in Birmingham, the most segregated city in the US. Fire hoses and dogs were used to prevent them from meeting the Mayor. The students remained non violent. This event prompted President John F. Kennedy to publicly fully support racial equality and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


On 2 May, more than a thousand African American students skipped their classes and gathered at Sixth Street Baptist Church to march to downtown Birmingham. As they approached police lines, hundreds were arrested and carried off to jail in paddy wagons and school buses. When hundreds more young people gathered the following day for another march, commissioner Bull Connor directed the local police and fire departments to use force to halt the demonstration. Images of children being blasted by high-pressure fire hoses, clubbed by police officers, and attacked by police dogs appeared on television and in newspapers and triggered outrage throughout the world.

On the evening of 3 May, King offered encouragement to parents of the young protesters in a speech delivered at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. He said, “Don’t worry about your children; they are going to be alright. Don’t hold them back if they want to go to jail, for they are not only doing a job for themselves, but for all of America and for all of mankind.”

After intervention from the U. S. Department of Justice, the Birmingham campaign ended on 10 May when the SCLC and local officials reached an agreement in which the city promised to desegregate downtown stores and release all protestors from jail if the SCLC would end the boycotts and demonstrations. A week and a half later, the Birmingham board of education announced that all students who participated in the demonstrations would be either suspended or expelled. The SCLC and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) immediately took the issue to the local federal district court, where the judge upheld the ruling. On 22 May, the same day as the initial ruling, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision and condemned the board of education for its actions.

While he faced criticism for exposing children to violence—most notably from Malcolm X, who said that “real men don’t put their children on the firing line”— King maintained that the demonstrations allowed children to develop “a sense of their own stake in freedom.” He later wrote, “Looking back, it is clear that the introduction of Birmingham’s children into the campaign was one of the wisest moves we made. It brought a new impact to the crusade, and the impetus that we needed to win the struggle.” The success in Birmingham provided momentum for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and helped pave the way for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Sources

Clayborne Carson , ed., The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., (New York, NY: Warner Books, Inc., 1998).

Martin Luther King, Jr., “Address Delivered at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church,” 3 May 1963.

M. S. Handler, “Malcolm X Terms Dr. King’s Tactics Futile,” New York Times, 11 May 1963.

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