Birmingham Demonstrations

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WSB-TV newsfilm clip of John F. Kennedy speaking at a press conference about civil rights demonstrations and the federal government's support and protection in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963 May 12.

Birmingham, Alabama remained segregated in spring 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr. and colleagues at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) launched Project C (for confrontation), which wedded economic pressure and direct action protest to undermine segregation. After sit-ins, mass meetings, and an economic boycott, the campaign received national media attention on April 7 when Public Safety Commissioner T. Eugene "Bull" Connor loosed police attack dogs on marchers undertaking nonviolent protest. King's decision to disregard a federal court injunction barring further demonstrations resulted in his arrest, along with local leader Fred L. Shuttlesworth, and others on April 12th. While imprisoned, King penned "A Letter from Birmingham Jail," his response to critics of direct action protest. On May 3, Birmingham police used high pressure fire hoses to disrupt a peaceful demonstration composed largely of students, thereby provoking national outrage and prompting federal intervention. Kennedy administration officials helped negotiate a settlement on May 10, but rioting ensued the next day in response to the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the A.G. Gaston Motel and the home of Reverend A.D. King. Events in Birmingham helped galvanize national support for civil rights reform and contributed to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.