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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.

Malcolm X, then the leader of the Nation of Islam, was publicly critical of King and Bevel using children in their cause. The campaign was ended on May 10 after the Justice Department helped broker an agreement between the SCLC and local officials to end segregation in downtown stores and release the jailed students.

Shortly after, the city’s Board of Education said all students that were part of the Crusade would be suspended or expelled. The SCLC and NAACP fought the board’s decision with an appeals court eventually overturning the local federal court’s ruling. The Children’s Crusade was largely seen as a victory, and King used it as a pivotal point in the civil rights struggle.

Graphic photos of Connor’s violent tactics helped to bring light to the racial discrimination Blacks in the South dealt with daily. The Crusade also galvanized civil rights leaders to organize the historic 1963 March On Washington and it impacted the eventual signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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MAY: This Month in Black History
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7 thoughts on “Little Known Black History Fact: Birmingham Children’s Crusade

  1. Hello, I came across this post looking for images of the Children’s Crusade march, and in particular the mention of Malcolm X. The piece suggests that Malcolm was “leader of the Nation of Islam.” Malcolm split from the Nation, which Elijah Muhammad continued to lead, and he was later killed (supposedly because of his disagreement with the Nation) while Elijah Muhammad continued to lead the Nation until his death in 1975.

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  3. americanize. on said:

    I think Mr. Bevel,mint well but he under estimated that devil bull conner,may his soul rot in hell.

    • VirilisAfricanum on said:

      LoL…I suspect “hell” is exactly where he went. I seem to recall that Connor was also a Sunday school teacher, but somehow I think his conduct during the other days of the week is what earned Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor a seat down below.

  4. VirilisAfricanum on said:

    I am trying to understand your point my friend. The point of the article is a reflection, date I say an appreciation, of the role that children played in the civil rights struggle. As many of those children are now in their 60s, with grandchildren of their own, I doubt that any of them lament their participation in our history.
    With regard to integration, it is and remains the opposite side of the coin of desegregation… For without it (integration), Thurgood Marshall would not have been able to successfully argue against the “Separate, but Equal” doctrine.
    To your point about ‘sticking together’, the implication is that there was ever a time in history where we spoke with a monolithic voice. The article, mentioned Malcolm X who, as we know, had vastly different ideologies from MLK. In fact, each preceding generation had leaders who differed in their philosophical approaches to the issue during their time – Booker T and W.E.B, off example. Even now, not only blacks, but no race, or ethnic group can truly say that they all speak with one voice.
    In the end, the question is, did they achieve the objective they set out to achieve; I think the article is clear that they did.

  5. LaTanya Davis on said:

    Reblogged this on Memoir Notes and commented:
    This post highlights an interesting fact that most people are not aware of–that many children participated in The Civil Rights Movement.

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