Running Steel, Running America: Race, Economic Policy and the Decline of Liberalism

By Judith Stein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO

Birmingham Before and After King: Racial Change in Steel

d-Day— May 2,1963—had begun. Police vans and sheriff's cars were carrying arrested black children away from the streets of downtown Birmingham. The steady numbers and cheerful determination of youngsters befuddled the police. But on the next day Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor revealed his true colors: dramatic photographs of beefy men hurling K-9 dogs and aiming fire hoses at the marchers fixed world attention on the city. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s bold decision to use children, when adults held back, transformed a beleaguered campaign into a brilliant triumph.

As the confrontation crested, three men— Howard Strevel, Reuben Farr, and C. Thomas Spivey—occasionally gazed down from the Steiner building downtown, overlooking the tumult. Strevel and Farr represented the United Steelworkers; Spivey, U.S. Steel. They were completing an agreement to end the racial division of labor at the city's huge steel facility. The clashes below caused Farr to hesitate. He suggested that they "back off" for a bit because there would be "hell to pay." Strevel firmly told him, "if we back off now, we are through." A week later, Strevel secretly delivered $40,000 in bail money that the union had pledged to release demonstrators from Birmingham's jails. 1

Despite the timing, the events on the street and those in the building were unconnected. King had come to Birmingham at the request of Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth of the Bethel Baptist Church to revive flagging demonstrations to desegregate downtown Birmingham. Except for Shuttlesworth, the tacti

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