Permanent Black Man
The “Children’s Crusade” Birmingham, Alabama May 2-5 1963The 1963 campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, generated national publicity and federal action because of the violent response by local authorities and the decision by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to recruit children for demonstrations. The “Children’s Crusade” added a new dynamic to the struggle in Birmingham and was a major factor in the success of the campaign.
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.
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.
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.