The Children’s Crusade march in Birmingham, Ala. offered the world a firsthand look at the extreme bigotry and violent resistance the Civil Rights Movement faced. On May 2, 1963 a peaceful protest escalated into a brutal show of force from racists determined to snatch equal rights from the hands of young Black people.
In 1963, Rev. James Bevel crafted the idea of a citywide protest led by Birmingham school students against segregated classrooms. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., disagreed at first. He thought using minors put them in too much danger.
But Bevel was able to get the idea off the ground. The march began with thousands of students walking out of class and organizing in groups at the Sixth Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham. Birmingham police headed the group off and began arresting students, despite their lack of aggression.
The next day, more students gathered, which prompted Birmingham’s police chief Bull Connor to order attack dogs, riot police, and the city’s fire department, which turned its powerful hoses at full blast on the students.
Connor, well known for his use of violence towards Black protesters, was vilified in the national and international press for ordering the attack. Between May 2 and May 5, the skirmishes continued, although King encouraged parents of the jailed and battered students to continue their resistance.