Window on Freedom: Race, Civil Rights, and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1988

By Brenda Gayle Plummer | Go to book overview

Birmingham, Addis Ababa,
and the Image of America

International Influence on
U.S. Civil Rights Politics in the
Kennedy Administration
MARY L. DUDZIAK

On 22 May 1963 Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia convened the Conference of African Heads of States and Governments. Gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were heads of state and other representatives of all but two independent African nations. This was a moment, Selassie told the assembled leaders, “without parallel in history.” “We stand today on the stage of world affairs, before the audience of world Opinion,” he intoned. “Africa is today in mid-course, in transition from the Africa of Yesterday to the Africa of Tomorrow. … The task on which we have embarked—the making of Africa, will not wait. We must act to shape and mould the future and leave our imprint on events as they pass into history.” The mission of the conference was charting the future of African politics, and the Organization of African Unity resulted from its labors. Selassie hoped that the gathering, and the foundation it laid, would ultimately bear fruit in the formation of a unified Africa, operating as an integrated political entity like the United States of America or the USSR. 1 Over the next few days, African leaders worked together to produce a series of resolutions embodying their common goals and aspirations. As they did so, the focus of their deliberations would stray far from the shores of Africa. These heads of state believed that their own interests were implicated in a dramatic conflict many miles away.

During the weeks leading up to Addis Ababa, civil rights protest had come to a head in Birmingham, Alabama. On 3 May more than 1,000 African American children and teenagers embarked on a civil rights march. Birmingham's jails were already filled with protesters, so it was Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor's objective to deter the demonstrators without arresting them. To do that, he used fire hoses. The strength of the city's high-pressure hoses knocked down protesters. Police dogs lunging at demonstrators backed up water guns. 2 While the police tactics did not deter Birmingham's determined civil rights movement, they had a widespread impact. Dramatic pho

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