Millionaire entrepreneur A. G. Gaston acted as an intermediary between white moderates and civil rights leaders in Birmingham, Alabama, during the 1960s. Although he favored nonconfrontational methods of civil rights reform, Gaston expressed his support for the “guiding principals and commitment” of Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Gaston and Shores, 30 September 1963).
In April 1963 King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined with Birmingham, Alabama’s existing local movement, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), in a massive direct action campaign to attack the city’s segregation system by putting pressure on Birmingham’s merchants during the Easter season, the second biggest shopping season of the year. As ACMHR founder Fred Shuttlesworth stated in the group’s “Birmingham Manifesto,” the campaign was “a moral witness to give our community a chance to survive” (ACMHR, 3 April 1963).
An ardent segregationist who served for 22 years as commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, Alabama, Bull Connor used his administrative authority over the police and fire departments to ensure that Birmingham remained, as Martin Luther King described it, “the most segregated city in America” (King, 50). In 1963 the violent response of Connor and his police force to demonstrations during the Birmingham Campaign propelled the civil rights movement into the national spotlight.
During the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, Martin Luther King addressed Mayor Albert Boutwell in his ‘‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’’ writing that he hoped the Birmingham mayor would see the wisdom of not resisting desegregation.