At the invitation of ACMHR’s president, Fred Shuttlesworth, Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 to collaborate on the “Project C” campaign. Tensions quickly surfaced between the local organization and the very visible SCLC, as Shuttlesworth came to resent actions taken by SCLC and King without his input.
The ACMHR was founded in Birmingham, Alabama, on 5 June 1956, after Alabama Attorney General John Patterson outlawed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the state. Immediately afterward Shuttlesworth called a meeting of local ministers and community leaders at Sardis Baptist Church. The Birmingham News reported that the ACMHR “was formed here last night amid roars of an estimated 1,000 Negroes approving a ‘march to complete freedom’” (“Negroes Roar Approval”). Shuttlesworth was named ACMHR president by acclamation.
In its Declaration of Principles, the ACMHR announced, “we express publicly our determination to press forward persistently for Freedom and Democracy, and the removal from our society any forms of Second Class Citizenship” (“The Original Declaration of Principles,” June 2006). Following the example of the Montgomery Improvement Association, the ACMHR defied bus segregation in 1956 and 1958, attempted to integrate Birmingham’s schools and railroad stations in 1957, and championed the student sit-ins in 1960 and the Freedom Rides in 1961. The ACMHR became affiliated with SCLC in 1957.
With the backing of SCLC in April and May of 1963, the ACMHR conducted a sustained campaign of marches and nonviolent action to protest segregation in Birmingham. The ACMHR and SCLC sought to desegregate public facilities and attain equal employment opportunities for Birmingham’s black citizens by targeting the city’s downtown shopping district. Their demonstrations were met with arrests, assault by fire hoses and police dogs, and imprisonment. Although the campaign proved a success, Shuttlesworth expressed frustration that negotiations with white businessowners resulted in an agreement to end the Birmingham Campaign without ACMHR participation.
In 1969 Shuttlesworth left his position as ACMHR president, and vice president Edward Gardner took his place. In 2006, 60 black churches received historic plaques to commemorate their role in the Birmingham movement. By that time, 15 of those churches, including Shuttleworth’s Bethel Baptist and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“About ‘The Movement’ and the Movement Churches,” Birmingham Historical Society Newsletter (June 2006): 2.
“Documenting and Listing Movement Churches on the National Register of Historic Places,” Birmingham Historical Society Newsletter (June 2006): 4.
Eskew, But for Birmingham,1997.
Don McKee, “Dogs and Hoses Used to Stall Negro Trek at Birmingham,” Birmingham News, 4 May 1963.
“Negroes Roar Approval at Rights Meeting,” Birmingham News, 6 June 1956, reprinted in Birmingham Historical Society Newsletter (June 2006): 3.
“The Original Declaration of Principles,” Birmingham Historical Society Newsletter (June 2006): 2.