Despite energetic organization on the local level, Birmingham, Alabama remained a largely segregated city in the spring of 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr. and his colleagues at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) launched Project C (for confrontation), an ambitious program that wedded economic pressure and large scale direct action protest to undermine the city's rigid system of segregation. After conducting sit-ins, hosting mass meetings, and waging an economic boycott, the campaign received national media attention on April 7th when Public Safety Commissioner T. Eugene "Bull" Connor loosed police attack dogs on marchers undertaking nonviolent protest. King's decision to disregard a federal court injunction barring further demonstrations resulted in his arrest, along with local leader Fred L. Shuttlesworth, and many others on April 12th. While imprisoned, King penned "A Letter from Birmingham Jail," his eloquent response to critics of direct action protest. On May 3rd, Birmingham police used high pressure fire hoses to disrupt a peaceful demonstration composed largely of students, thereby provoking national outrage and prompting federal intervention. Officials from the Kennedy administration helped negotiate a settlement on May 10th, but rioting ensued the very next day in response to the bombing by Klansmen of the A.G. Gaston Motel and the home of the Reverend A.D. King. Despite the high cost, events in Birmingham helped galvanize national support for civil rights reform and contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Archival Collections and Reference Resources
- The Civil Rights Era in the U.S. News & World Report Photographs Collection: Selected Images from the Collections of the Library of Congress (Library of Congress)