The Birmingham Campaign Began 50 Years Ago Today

On this day in 1963, the Birmingham Campaign, “Project C,” officially began. What happened here over the course of six weeks literally changed the world.

Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, executive director of the Southern Leadership Conference under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said the first day of direct non-violent action was aimed at the heart of Birmingham’s economy.

So the first groups of demonstrators headed for the segregated lunch counters at Woolworth’s, Loveman’s, Pizitz, Kress and Britt’s, all located on 19th Street North. Instead of serving their African American customers, the managers closed the counters for the day.

In the photo above, George Harris, 71, and Rev. Calvin Wood, took their seat at the Woolworth lunch counter from about 10:15 a.m. til 2 p.m. Later that afternoon, they and 18 others were arrested at Britt’s Department Store.

Before the campaign began, Birmingham activist Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Rev. N.H. Smith Jr., of the local Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) announced their intent to start the campaign by circulating The Birmingham Manifesto before the demonstrations began.

Birmingham Manifesto
April 3, 1963

The patience of an oppressed people cannot endure forever. The Negro citizens of Birmingham for the last several years have hoped in vain for some evidence of good faith resolution of our just grievances.

Birmingham is part of the United States and we are bona fide citizens. Yet the history of Birmingham reveals that very little of the democratic process touches the life of the Negro in Birmingham. We have been segregated racially, exploited economically, and dominated politically. Under the leadership of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, we sought relief by petition for the repeal of city ordinances requiring segregation and the institution of a merit hiring policy in city employment. We were rebuffed. We then turned to the system of the courts. We weathered set-back after set-back, with all of its costliness, finally winning the terminal, bus, parks and airport cases. The bus decision has been implemented a begrudgingly and the parks decision prompted the closing of all municipally-owned recreational facilities with the exception of the zoo and Legion Field. The airport case has been a slightly better experience with the experience of hotel accommodations and the subtle discrimination that continues in the limousine service.

We have always been a peaceful people, bearing our oppression with super-human effort. Yet we have been the victims of repeated violence, not only that inflicted by the hoodlum element but also that inflicted by the blatant misuse of police power. Our memories are seared with painful mob experience of Mother’s Day 1961 during the Freedom Rides. For years, while our homes and churches were being bombed, we heard nothing but the rantings and ravings of racist city officials.

The Negro protest for equality and justice has been a voice crying in the wilderness. Most of Birmingham has remained silent, probably ,out of fear. In the meanwhile, our city has acquired the dubious reputation of being the worst big city in race relations in the United States. Last fall, for a flickering moment, it appeared that sincere community leaders from religion, business and industry discerned the inevitable Confrontation in race relations approaching. Their Concern for the city’s image and Commonweal of all its citizens did not run deep enough. Solemn promises were made, pending a postponement of direct action, that we would be joined in a suit seeking the relief of segregation ordinances. Some merchants agreed to desegregate their rest-rooms as a good-faith start, some actually complying, only to retreat shortly thereafter. We hold in our hands now, broken faith and broken promises.

We believe in the American Dream of democracy, in the Jeffersonian doctrine that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Twice since September we have deferred our direct action thrust in order that a change in city government would not be made in the hysteria of community crisis. We act today in full Concert with our Hebraic-Christian tradition, the law of morality and the Constitution of our nation. The absence of justice and progress in Birmingham demands that we make a moral witness to give our community a chance to survive. We demonstrate our faith that we believe that The Beloved Community can come to Birmingham.

We appeal to the citizenry of Birmingham, Negro and white, to join us in this witness for decency, morality, self-respect and human dignity. Your individual and corporate support can hasten the day of “liberty and justice for all.” This is Birmingham’s moment of truth in which every citizen can play his part in her larger destiny. The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, in behalf of the Negro community of Birmingham.

F. L. Shuttlesworth, President
N. H. Smith, Secretary

[Sources — Birmingham Historical Society’s A Walk to Freedom: The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, 1956-1964, page 49;  the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, http://www.crmvet.org/docs/bhammanf.htm and Birmingham Public Library Archives, Birmingham Post Herald Collection, BPLDAM 827.1.1.6.11.]

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