The Children's March - Part 1
The Children's March - Part 2
The Children's March - Part 3
The Children's March - Part 4
Imagine what racial segregation would be like. Some American citizens were not allowed to do the same things or go to the same places as white people. African Americans couldn't go to most restaurants, parks, hotels, swimming pools, or amusement parks. They even had to use separate drinking fountains and bathrooms. Sometimes, there were no public restrooms that they could use at all.
Generations of African Americans grew up with these injustices and lived their whole lives powerless to change the situation. Being forced to live this way and not being able to change things is difficult. It is even harder to explain to your children, a tragic and sad situation.
Legal and cultural oppression was deeply ingrained in the south. Those that talked or attempted to work for change were dealt with violence. The law seemed to look the other way. In some cases, the law seemed to actually be on the side of the lawbreakers that committed crimes of violence to maintain segregation.
The situation looked bleak and overwhelming. Like many of his followers, Martin Luther King was discouraged. What could they do? Many were ready to give up, but they kept meeting, talking, and praying. One night, when Dr. King asked who would demonstrate with him, ready to go to jail if arrested, the children stood up.
This surprised everyone; some adults even told them to sit down. Dr. King was grateful for their offer and thanked them. He did not want to see children suffer fighting discrimination. The children, however, would not be denied the opportunity to be part of change. They wanted to help. This was distressing to Dr. King. The only volunteers to take action were children. He was not comfortable leading a protest with children. Reverend James Bevel, another civil rights activist and minister, encouraged Dr. King to accept the children's support. Reverend Bevel replied, "Then they are not too young to want their freedom."
It was difficult to deny the powerful reasoning and wisdom that Reverend Bevel shared. It made no sense to make children wait a lifetime for freedom. Everyone agreed that if children were old enough to join the church, they were old enough to decide to march.
Word of this bold decision quickly spread. Children and young adults told their friends. On the day of the march, they were a thousand strong.
As expected, the sheriff arrested the protesters and put them in jail. There were 400 children, some as young as 4. The next day even more showed up to protest. Friends of the children and young adults that had been arrested joined the march. Parents and their extended families got involved. This happened again the following day. Eventually, more than one thousand children were in jail.
Reverend Bevel understood that adults might be reluctant to march. They were rightfully afraid of going to jail. They were afraid of losing their jobs. They were afraid of hurting their families. Children were not bound by these fears. Reverend Bevel knew that when adults saw children march in a dignified and brave manner, standing up for their rights, older people joined the action.
Perhaps even more important, Reverend Bevel knew that the sight of children being in jail would dramatically stir the nation's conscience.
In Birmingham, there were people that supported the local Sheriff. He instructed police to beat marchers with their sticks. He told them to release police dogs on the children, allowing the dogs to bite.
He directed the Fire Department to turn fire hoses on the children, so strong, the force of the water could strip bark off trees.
Local, then national, and then international news organizations covered this abuse in print and TV. When people all over the country and the world saw pictures of this brutal misuse of police power all directed at children, they were outraged.
The great achievement of the Children's March was the realization that peaceful action on the part of the protesters would show the nation and the world the ugly nature of racism. Up to that moment, the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, felt he could do nothing about the segregation in the south. It was beyond executive authority.
After the chaos and embarrassment of Birmingham's Children's March, he could no longer stand by and watch. The action of youths and teens had awakened the nation -- the ugly, violent, and unjust situation in Alabama was no longer a "local issue."
Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested for his role in the Children's March. President Kennedy placed a personal call to the police station. Dr. King was released from jail.
The Children's March's original goal was to desegregate downtown stores in Birmingham. After the march, Dr. King had a global stage to demand more.
Clearly, brave children that were victims of racism and police brutality deserved more. With the country more united, it was the time to negotiate for meaningful change.
The Children's March began a serious of events that made passage of The Civil Rights Act possible. Great historical events are connected. Here are some of the important events that occurred in 1963:
June. Alabama Governor George Wallace stands in a school's doorway to physically prevent integration of schools even though in 1954 the Supreme Court of the United States declared, "...in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place.
June 11. President John F. Kennedy talks to the nation and delivers a speech supporting civil rights and equality.
August 28. Over a quarter of a million people, of all creeds and races, march on Washington DC to demand civil rights. Dr. Martin Luther King delivers his "I Have a Dream" speech. After the march, President John F. Kennedy meets with the organizers and makes plans to push for a Civil Rights Bill.
Fall/Autumn. The Freedom Party campaigns to register and organize African American Voters. Segregations stop them, but more than 80,000 African Americans are registered to vote
November 22. President John F. Kennedy is assassinated.
April 4, 1968. M.L. King was assassinated on in Memphis, Tennessee.