Barnett Wrightmy colleague here at AL.
Fifty years ago, in Junethe Christian Century found itself near the center of American public debate when it was the first large-circulation magazine to publish the full text of Martin Luther King Jr. There an astute sheriff, Laurie Pritchett, had deflected their efforts with a cool head, orderly arrests and an abundance of prearranged jail space.
His books include Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth. Apr 17, issue But for weeks Connor failed to take the bait, and the movement had difficulty recruiting volunteers to violate segregationist statutes and suffer arrest and imprisonment. Criticism rained down on its head from the Kennedy administration and others, including many black leaders in Birmingham, who counseled patience and an avoidance of confrontation.
With the protest faltering, King decided that he himself should get arrested to dramatize the cause. On Good Friday, April 12, he led a march that violated an injunction that the city had won against such protests. In controlled fury, he began to craft a letter of reply in its margins and then on paper smuggled into his cell.
Kennedy who counseled law-abiding fortitude and gradualism. He never actually sent it to the eight religious leaders. The letter was a powerful indictment of the shortcomings of timid moderation in the face of injustice, a sermon of chastisement—a shrewd, tough-minded, even militant political document.
As the remarkable work of historian David Chappell has demonstrated, southern white moderates such as the eight clergymen were pivotal to the political strategy of the civil rights movement. King and other leaders of the movement had carefully analyzed their opponents, and whereas the view from the north of southern race relations was often one of a monolithic structure of white supremacy, they knew otherwise.
Jim Crow was rife with fissures, and they moved to drive wedges into these cracks that they hoped would make the seemingly solid walls of segregation quake and crumble. King, as Chappell says in Inside Agitatorssaw three types of southerners: Resolute southern segregationists were plagued therefore not only by black demonstrators in the streets, but by unreliable moderate allies sitting on stools in whites-only lunch counters and in pews in whites-only churches.
As Chappell demonstrates in A Stone of Hopesegregationists came up short in winning the firm allegiance of this constituency. Segregationists outspent, outvoted, and outgunned the black protestors. To a considerable degree, the fight for civil rights in the South rested on the relative success that white segregationists and their opponents had in mobilizing for their side the emotional resources of southern evangelical Protestantism.
The mass meetings and demonstrations of the black movement were, for many, conversion experiences, reflections of a religious fervor that the segregationists could not match. Even worse for the white supremacist cause, the extremists found themselves unable to count on much support from southern religious leaders.
Movement spokesmen and northern critics such as the editors of the Christian Century condemned white southern Christians for sitting on their hands, but so too did extreme segregationists.
And the latter were not above death threats. When thus appropriated, you are effective only with the one faction. Neither the opposite one nor the moderate group will listen to you any longer.
But he did set out to convert or, failing that, to pressure or to neutralize white moderates by demolishing their arguments, shaming their consciences and, not least, threatening their interests.
The letter undertook the task of demolishing the arguments of the moderates. Often praised for its moral philosophy, it is also a masterful work of strategic thinking. Here and there ironic barbs and flashes of overt indignation suggest the difficulties that King had in maintaining this stance.
Yet it was one well chosen for the audience he imagined, hoisting them with their own petard. But then King pointedly called into question the very conception of insiders and outsiders in the face of injustice. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. With more than a hint of sarcasm, he alluded solicitously to their intellectual well-being: But the merchants had reneged on these promises.
Direct action was thus not an alternative to negotiations but an effort to force new, good faith negotiations. Here King articulated a crucial point about nonviolent direct action. The clergymen had indicted Wallace for proposing to do so, and now they were registering the same indictment against King.
What was the difference between Wallace and King in this respect? How could King consistently demand that southerners obey the ruling in Brown v.
Board of Education while he was violating the local injunction against demonstrations? There are, he said, just and unjust laws. He urged obedience to the first and violation of the second.
But how then does one discern the difference?A gallery of LIFE magazine covers from -- a year that played a key role in shaping America's view of itself and the world in the s. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was rebuilt after being bombed in , a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.
(From Encyclopedia of Alabama, photograph by Justin Dubois) Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham. In the spring of , activists in Birmingham, Alabama launched one of the most influential campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement: Project C, better known as The Birmingham Campaign.
Jul 24, · SUNDAY, SEPT.
15, , at A.M. in Birmingham, Ala., a dynamite bomb exploded during services at the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four black girls in .
"Birmingham became the moment of truth," argued Bayard Rustin, who organised the March on Washington. "Birmingham meant that tokenism is finished.
Birmingham Civic Society is a voluntary body in Birmingham, England, and is registered with the Civic Trust. Birmingham Civic Society Badge, granted by the College of Arms by Letters Patent in , which may be worn by all members of the society.