But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle

But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle

But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle

But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle

Synopsis

Birmingham served as the stage for some of the most dramatic and important moments in the history of the civil rights struggle. In this vivid narrative account, Glenn Eskew traces the evolution of nonviolent protest in the city, focusing particularly on the sometimes problematic intersection of the local and national movements.

Eskew describes the changing face of Birmingham's civil rights campaign, from the politics of accommodation practiced by the city's black bourgeoisie in the 1950s to local pastor Fred L. Shuttlesworth's groundbreaking use of nonviolent direct action to challenge segregation during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In 1963, the national movement, in the person of Martin Luther King Jr., turned to Birmingham. The national uproar that followed on Police Commissioner Bull Connor's use of dogs and fire hoses against the demonstrators provided the impetus behind passage of the watershed Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Paradoxically, though, the larger victory won in the streets of Birmingham did little for many of the city's black citizens, argues Eskew. The cancellation of protest marches before any clear-cut gains had been made left Shuttlesworth feeling betrayed even as King claimed a personal victory. While African Americans were admitted to the leadership of the city, the way power was exercised- and for whom- remained fundamentally unchanged.

Excerpt

Civil order collapsed in Birmingham, Alabama, when Bull Connor's fire hoses and police dogs failed to control the thousands of African American activists and schoolchildren who converged on the downtown business district shortly after noon on May 7, 1963. Singing freedom songs, parading with picket signs, kneeling in prayer, black folk swarmed down the streets and sidewalks through the heart of Birmingham at the height of the day. A sea of dark faces produced wave upon wave of jubilant integrationists whose light- spirited singing drowned out the chimes playing "Dixie" from the Protective Life Building. The gloved white women who normally met under the clock at Loveman's Department Store had stayed home because of the "troubles" downtown, an outcome that, coupled with the yearlong black boycott of white-owned businesses, increased the anxiety of apoplectic merchants; yet this day, those women might have seen their maids marching toward them. For white people, it appeared that Armageddon had arrived; the black masses knew it as Jubilee Day: the fear had gone. Shouts of joy blended with once sinister sirens as protesters passed patrolmen un-

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