Last month was Black History Month. It is a time to recognize the accomplishments and contributions that African-Americans have made to our country. Over fifty years ago, a very significant and courageous contribution was made in Birmingham, Alabama. It was made by African-American children! Children who were fed up with the injustices of segregation in the most segregationist city in Alabama. The protest that lasted several days was called “The Children’s March.” On May 2, 1963, over a thousand school children left their classrooms and marched into history.
On that day in May, over a thousand children skipped school and met near the 16th Street Baptist Church. Organizers sent them by small groups into downtown Birmingham. The children, the youngest were the age of 6, sang songs of the civil rights movement such as “We Shall Overcome.” The infamous Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor and the police force were stunned by the enormous number of students streaming into the heart of the city. Paddy wagons and school buses were used to transport the children to the city jail. At the end of the day 1,200 had been arrest9ed and jailed in a facility meant to hold 900.
The next day, May 3rd, the protest continued, and another 1000 or more young children and some adult sympathizers marched again. This time Commissioner Connor changed tactics. Since his position gave him control of the fire department, he ordered that high pressure fire hoses be turned on the demonstrators. In addition, police were ordered to allow trained dogs to attack at will and use their batons to turn back protesters. More arrests were made and the “agitators”, as Connor referred to them, were held in a containment area on the state fairgrounds. When the protests had ended over 2,500 persons had be arrested and incarcerated.
In the end a truce was called, and members of the African-American community and the white Senior Citizens Council negotiated a settlement. The settlement opened downtown stores, public conveniences, restaurants, and other entities to Black Americans. In many respects the courageous and perilous actions taken by children broke the grip of segregation in Alabama’s most segregationist city. The willingness of school children to march into the breach of hatred, be arrested and physically abused, and face attacking dogs, fire hoses, and police clubs ignited a fury of indignation across the nation. The era of “Jim Crow” laws and regulations favoring segregation was about to be seriously challenged. You can read more about the Children’s March here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham_campaign#Children’s_Crusade
Today a new march is planned. Another march led by children. In the wake of the Dorothy Stoneham Douglas High School shootings in Parkland, FL, students are mobilizing to march on Washington, D.C. in an effort to make their voices heard on the inability of Congress to do anything about gun control. The spokespersons for this march are articulate, determined, social media savvy and are engaging in the best traditions of our democracy. They have let it be known that the inaction of Congress to deal with the issues of universal background checks, banning of assault weapons, tightening restrictions on persons who are mentally ill, are felons, have restraining orders for domestic violence and abuse, and funding for protection of schools from gun violence are no longer going to be tolerated. The march dubbed “The March for Our Lives” is scheduled for March 24, 2018. It will no doubt be supported by other marches across the country. Once again, the nation will be challenged to deal with a problem that threatens the lives and well-being of its citizens; in this case it is our school children. Congress will have to decide whether or not the lives of children are more important than the blood money they receive from the National Rifle Association. #NeverAgain! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Never_Again_MSD