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Birmingham, 1963

"Letter from Birmingham Jail"

As the events of the Birmingham Campaign intensified on the city’s streets, Martin Luther King, Jr., composed a letter from his prison cell in Birmingham in response to local religious leaders’ criticisms of the campaign: “Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?” (King, Why, 94–95).

Gaston, Arthur George

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).

Birmingham Campaign

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).

Connor, Theophilus Eugene "Bull"

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.

Bevel, James Luther

Credited by Martin Luther King with initiating the Children’s Crusade during the Birmingham Campaign of 1963, James Bevel emerged as a civil rights leader from the ranks of the Nashville, Tennessee, student movement. Bevel was at King’s side during many of the major campaigns of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and was at the Lorraine Motel at the time of King’s assassination in 1968.

Belafonte, Harold George, Jr.

Harry Belafonte, a supporter of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement, used his celebrity as a beloved entertainer to garner funding for the movement. In her autobiography, Coretta Scott King said of Belafonte, “Whenever we got into trouble or when tragedy struck, Harry has always come to our aid, his generous heart wide open” (Scott King, 144–145).

Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR)

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.


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