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"Whites Only" signs were as plentiful in Birmingham, Ala., in early spring of 1963 as blossoms on a row of magnolia trees. The city was a perfect target for Negro demonstrations for integration, for equal treatment, for freedom.
Birmingham refused to allow Negro children to attend white schools. Negroes could not worship in white churches, drink at white water fountains, or eat at white restaurants. Negroes were born and died in colored hospitals....

But any progress was blocked by Eugene "Bull" Connor, the city's Commissioner of Public Safety. Connor was a firm segregationist, and some people claimed he threatened merchants who were willing to take down "colored" and "white" signs....
Dr. King was determined that Project C would bring down the signs. Negroes would be able to eat next to white people in Birmingham before he would end the project....

The demonstrations began on a small scale.... At first there were a few sit-ins at lunch counters and a few arrests....
On Saturday, April 6, a group of carefully selected demonstrators marched on City Hall....

A row of Birmingham policemen blocked the marchers' path about three blocks from City Hall. Both sides were calm and polite. The police ordered the marchers to disperse. They refused. Quietly, they were escorted into police wagons....

On April 10 a court injunction ordered the demonstrations to stop.... Bull Connor was convinced he had won. Dr. King had never disobeyed a court order.
For several months Dr. King and hiss staff had discussed the possibility of civil disobedience.... They knew that someday a local court would forbid them to demonstrate. They had prayed for guidance and they had decided they would disobey such an order....
So, on Good Friday, Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy... led about 40 demonstrators into the street.... The march began at the Sixth Avenue Zion Hill Church. Slowly, the marchers headed for the city's downtown section. A thousand Negroes lined the streets.... They cheered as the group passed by.... Some dropped to their knees in silent prayer.
Then, after eight blocks, the march was over.... Dr. King, Reverend Abernathy, and 53 demonstrators were arrested....

Eight days after they were arrested, Dr. King and Ralph Abernathy posted bond. Dr. King was anxious to begin new demonstrations....
Students were invited to attend mass meetings at churches after school.... By May 2 the Negro children of Birmingham were ready to march.... They left the Sixteenth St. Baptist Church in small groups. While police were arresting one group, another would appear on the other side of the street.... Birmingham police arrested 1,000 people that afternoon....

An even larger group of marchers left the church the next day.... A long line of policemen blocked their path. A police captain ordered them to stop....
The students kept on marching, Furious, Bull Connors ordered fire engines at the scene to turn their high-powered hoses on the marchers.... Crushing streams of water flattened youngsters against the sidewalk. Some tried to get up and were knocked down. Many lay bleeding on the cement.
Across the street, in Kelly Ingram Park, about 1,500 adult Negroes were horrified at the brutal treatment of their children. They shouted threats. They began to throw rocks, then bottles and bricks at Connor's men....
Connor was ready for trouble. At his command, five police dogs were brought out to the street.... Most of the demonstrators stood their ground. The snarling dogs lunged at the crowd. Gradually the dogs drove the crowd back to the church.

By this time an angry mob of Negroes was forming at the scene.... A white mob formed, too. Before long both sides were hurling rocks and bottles at each other.
Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth tried to calm the rioters.... Suddenly a blast of water slammed him against a brick wall. Shuttlesworth had to be taken to a hospital... for treatment of a chest injury.

Two hours after Bull Connor ordered the hoses turned on the marchers, the battle was over.... Dr. King spoke to 1,000 people at a church meeting that night. "The eyes of the world are on Birmingham," he said. "We're going on in spite of dogs and fire hoses. We've gone too far to turn pack."

He was right.... That night, television news programs carried scenes of police dogs growling at children and women sprawled helpless under the force of a fire hose....
The pictures and stories of what had happened in Birmingham shocked America and the rest of the world....

Robert M. Bleiweiss (ed.), Marching to Freedom: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr., New York, NY, 1968, pp. 88-96

Lyrics transcribed by Manfred Helfert from version performed by Phil Ochs at Newport Folk Festival, 26-28 Jul 1963, released on "Newport Broadside," 1964.

SPOKEN: Well, I think, whenever there's a deep tragedy,
There's also present something of the ridiculous.
So I'd like to do you a song now,
Called "Talking Birmingham Jam."

Walkin' down to Birmingham, 'way down South in Dixie land,
I thought that I would stop awhile,
Take a vacation, Southern style.
Got some Southern hospitality,
Down there in a Southern hospital.

Well, all the signs there said, "Welcome in,
Welcome, if you're White, my friend.
Come along, and watch the fights;
Well, we feed our dogs on Civil Rights.
We believe in Segregation --
Negroes in one mob,
Policemen, politicians, dogs in the other!"

Well, I've seen travelin' many ways,
I've traveled in cars and old subways.
But in Birmingham, some people chose
The flight on the street from a fire hose,
Doin' some hard travelin',
From hydrants a-plenty!

Well, a pack of dogs was standin' by,
I walked up to them and I said "Hi."
Well, I asked one dog what they all were doin';
He walked up to me and started chewin' --
It was a black dog,
Seems ev'rybody down there is prejudiced!

Well, I said, "There must be some man around,
There can't be only you dogs in town."
They said, "Sure, we have Old Bull Connor,
There he goes, walkin' yonder,
Throwin' some raw meat to the Mayor,
Feedin' bones to the City Council!"

Well, I said, "There's still something missing here,
You must have a Governor, somewhere."
"Sure, he's done his duty, he ain't no fool,
He's blocking our kids from our schools,
Standin' in the doorway, crackin' jokes,
Gettin' re-elected!"

So I asked 'em how they spent their time
With Segregation on their mind.
They said, "If you don't like to live this way,
Get outa here, go back to the U.S.A,
Live with all them Russians,
New York agitators!"

Some say they'd passed their darkest hour,
Those moderates are back in power.
They'll listen close, with open ears,
They'll help us out in a couple a-hundred years;
But don't push 'em, whatever you do,
Or else you get those extremists back in!

You see, Alabama is a sovereign state,
With sovereign dogs and sovereign hate.
They stand for the Bible, for the Constitution,
They stand against Communist revolution.
They say, "It's Pinkoes like you
That free the slaves!"



TO 1960s PAGE



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