Children’s March BIRMINGHAM, AL – 1963

Aiming to discuss segregation with the mayor of Birmingham, Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Bevel, member of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) came up with the idea to involve children in Civil Rights. Recruiting kids and training them in acts of non-violence, they wanted to peacefully turn the tide in their city.

On May 2, over 1000 African-American students marched from across Birmingham. As they neared police lines, hundreds were carried off to jail in paddy wagons and school buses.
“Rev. Martin Luther King stood right beside me,” Raymond Goolsby recalls. “He said, ‘I think it’s a mighty fine thing for children, what you’re doing because when you march, you’re really standing up; because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.’ And, boy, I mean he talked so eloquent and fast, after he finished his motivational speech, I was ready.”

May 2, DAY 1: Hundreds of youth protesters were arrested by Birmingham Police. In jail, they sang songs like “We Shall Overcome" and continued to demonstrate acts of non-violence despite their situation.

"My mother had told me not to march and said I'd better not go to jail. But this just felt like something we were supposed to do,” Brenda Phillips Hong said. "I didn't have sense to be afraid. I thought about our lives at the time. You look back and think, my God."

May 3, DAY 2: Commissioner of Public Safety Bull O’Connor ordered police to spray kids with powerful power hoses, hit them with batons, and threaten them with police dogs. However, despite the harsh treatment from city officials, kids continued to volunteer and protest for their rights.

“Don't worry about your children; they are going to be alright,” Dr. King said. Don't hold them back if they want to go to jail, for they are not only doing a job for themselves, but for all of America and for all of mankind.”

Footage of these events were aired across the world, which triggered outrage. Pressure was added on city officials to respond appropriately and not anger the public.

The campaign officially ended on May 10 when the U.S. Department of Justice interfered. The SCLC and local officials agreed to desegregate downtown businesses and release all protesters from jail.

A week later, the city Board of Education suspended and expelled students involved in the protest. The SCLC took it to a federal court that condemned the Birmingham BoE for their actions.

Civil Rights could no longer be ignored. After this event, children began becoming more involved in this movement. Later in the same year, four African-American girls were bombed by white supremacists.

The Children’s March in Birmingham created momentum for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
  • “Children’s Crusade.” Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle. 27 April 2017.
  • Stewart, Denise. “Children’s March 1963: A Defiant Moment.” The Root. 27 April 2017.

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