Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Jr. MLK, Reverend, Civil Rights Movement, Leader, Organizers, Boycott, Business, Inequality, Race, Racism, John Lewis, Symbol, Change, Social Change, Birmingham, Alabama, Segregation, Church, Protest, Bull Connor, Hoses, Freedom Rides, Freedom Riders, Cambridge, Maryland, Summer, 1963
The Troubling Summer of 1963
LESTER HOLT reporting:
It was the spring of 1963 and civil rights leaders decided to turn up the heat. In an effort to shine a national spotlight on segregation, Martin Luther King Jr. and other organizers traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to boycott downtown businesses and protest the city’s racial inequality.
Rep. JOHN LEWIS (D- Georgia): Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that he had emerged as more than a leader. He was a symbol. He was the personification of the movement.
HOLT: The push for social change evoked a reaction that would shock the nation. A 1963 NBC News special recounted the scene that unfolded in Birmingham.
RICHARD VALERIANI reporting: The violent outburst came during the final days of a five week long campaign of demonstrations against racial discrimination in Birmingham, the most totally segregated big city in the south. The campaign was directed, as in Albany, by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. He made his headquarters in a Negro motel a half block away. Behind me is the 16th Street Baptist church, the main staking area for the demonstration.
HOLT: A local injunction was issued banning all protests, but Dr. King would not back down.
Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING Jr.: Several law enforcement agencies have demonstrated now again that they will utilize a force of law to misuse the judicial process. This is raw tyranny under the guise of maintaining law and order. We cannot in all good conscious obey such an injunction, which is an unjust, undemocratic and unconstitutional misuse of the legal process.
HOLT: The protests continued. Days later Reverend King was arrested, but hundreds more took his place, many of them school children. Film crews captured what happened next as Birmingham’s Commissioner of Public Safety, Bull Conner, took action.
VALERIANI: In a supercharged atmosphere sparks of racial antagonism flared into violence. Firemen turned their hoses on the angry crowd. Police cars were brought in. They had been used once before on Easter Sunday to disperse shouting Negros. They had also been used against white crowds during the Freedom Rides two years ago.
Rep. LEWIS: To see these powerful and forceful water spouts, or hoses, that had been turned on little children and women – it was so strong it could take the bark off trees – picking people up and dropping them down. To see dogs, people in America were not used to that. It changed America forever. We just could see it on televisions and in our living rooms in America, the images of Birmingham, the flash around the world. And it was too much.
HOLT: The passion that had been ignited in Birmingham spread across the country.
VALERIANI: A corner restaurant known as “Dizzy Land” became one of the most improbable focal points of national attention when owner Robert Feshenfeld smeared a demonstrator with raw egg. Afterward NBC reporter Jack Perkins talked with a repentant Mr. Feshenfeld.
JACK PERKINS reporting: You saw yourself on television last Monday night, saw a very hateful man. Are you that kind of man?
ROBERT FESHENFELD: Well, I would say I’m just an ordinary American who feels that he has a right to defend his livelihood. I hope it never happens again either as far as, I would rather go out of business than have to participate in anything like it again.
Rep. LEWIS: The summer of 1963 was a very troubled summer. There was massive demonstration all over America, people demanding change, demanding support for civil rights.
Unidentified Woman #1: It’s a kind of disillusionment that takes you and you wonder how other people can be this way to other people.
Unidentified Man: We don’t stand for colored in this neighborhood, you see?
Unidentified Woman #2: My husband has to work with them, my children have to go to school with them, but I don’t say that I have to live with them.
Unidentified Woman #1: They don’t know me, there’s no desire to know me. They saw that when I came up or when my family came in, they looked at my skin and that was it. They don’t know anything about me and don’t care to know.
WHILE confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas.