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Discussion on Birmingham Campaign [continued], 1980 February 23 [Box 138, Item 2, Side 1]
Dent, Thomas C.
Andrew Young recalls the Birmingham Civil Rights Campaign and his work with Martin Luther King, Jr.
00:00 – Interview continues, discussing the turning point in the Birmingham Campaign. They struggled to get fifty people to be arrested with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph [Abernathy?]. A total of fifty-five were arrested on Good Friday, mostly ministers. A crowd gathered around the arrests and fire hoses and police dogs were brought out. That was the moment the scandal of racism and segregation hit the consciousness of the American people. 01:20 – King and Ralph led the group. A block from the church they were stopped by police and knelt in prayer. As they moved forward, they were grabbed by police and King and others were shoved roughly into the “paddy wagons.” Bull Connor (Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety) was out personally giving orders. The crowd that gathered was totally black. He turned the fire hoses and police dogs on the crowd. This was the first time these had been used. The spectacle on television turned public opinion, as the depth of Birmingham’s racism came out. 03:50 – Manifestations of that incident. It did not lead to more people coming out to help with the demonstrations. The number doubled, but it was still only about 110. King had written the Letter from Birmingham Jail the first time he was arrested there, but it had not received much circulation. People began to go back to it after the incident with the police dogs. He had written it on the backs of envelopes and in the margins of the New York Times. The secretary who typed it, Willie Pearl Mackey, was frustrated by typing from the margins and did not realize the importance of what she was typing at the time, and threw it away when she was done. 07:20 – The word was spreading and there was a national media impact. Birmingham did not put it on the front page of the paper. Another turning point was the arrest of a group of around 110 ministers the next day, Saturday. Most of the preachers were in jail over Easter. The boycott was successful over the Easter holiday. They had a mass meeting and a march on Easter at the closest church to the jail, the New Pilgrim Baptist Church. 10:00 – 6,000-10,000 people from Birmingham came to the Easter march, indicating a major turn in the community. Two blocks from the jail, Connor had stationed fire trucks blocking the street with fire hoses drawn. Young encouraged people to get to their knees and they prayed and sang. Wyatt Walker, who had already bonded out, and Young tried to reason with Connor. They wanted to walk to the jail to sing and pray. Fred [Billips?] jumped up, saying “the Lord is with this movement. We’re going on to the jail.” 13:00 – The people got up and started walking. The police could not do anything. Even the dogs calmed down. Connor told them to turn on the hoses, but they did not. The people sang “I Want Jesus to Walk with me” and quietly walked through. That was a turning point. 15:28 – The high school student leadership were scheduled to go to jail in a demonstration that Monday. They would be bonded out Tuesday night and mobilize Wednesday and Thursday to get as many students as possible to go back with them on Friday for “D-Day” (Desegregation Day). Monday was an uneventful arrest. Going to jail became the “in” thing to do. The schools virtually closed down on Friday. The steering committee had been trying to slow the movement and restrict the numbers going to jail. Bevel told him they had four church loads of kids and another group walking from Brighton, Alabama and no way to ship them back or feed them. Young let the steering committee know that things had gone too far to end it. About 3,500 students were arrested. 19:30 – That was the end of it, from Good Friday to the following Friday. The people Young had been negotiating with had agreed to officially come to the negotiating table. The white leadership was informed about what they were doing and why. Burke Marshall, Attorney General for Civil Rights, had come to town and was working with them. They formed a committee of one hundred businessmen and appointed Chuck Morgan and David Vann as their negotiators to negotiate with Young, King, and Fred Shuttlesworth. 21:32 – More on Bull Connor. Young had little relationship with him. Young’s custom was to speak to the police and call them by name. They acted more humane toward him when he did so. Connor kept the racists away from the demonstrations, telling the public to stay away and let the police handle it. He had the respect of the reactionary racist community. He represented the white masses. 24:15 – Chuck Morgan later became a civil rights attorney and David Vann became mayor of Birmingham. They were the only two whites willing to talk to them. They agreed to meet and decide where to go after they picked up Young, King, and Shuttlesworth from the Gaston Hotel. They went to John Drew’s house unannounced. They negotiated all that night. They agreed to the four points of their Birmingham Manifesto. They agreed to stop demonstrating on a certain day. There would be a ten day cooling off period, and on the tenth day small groups would be served at the lunch counters. 27:00 – They selected a group of about a dozen. Morgan and Vann agreed to take the “colored” and “white” signs down in all the department stores the day they signed the agreement. After ten days, they had occasional desegregated usage of the facilities, but would call ahead and set up a time. The stores would prepare the help to receive them. This was at the end of May. It was a roughly thirty day transition period, and then people could use public accommodation as they wanted to. 29:00 – They agreed that after forty-five days, each store would appoint at least one black person (or one within thirty days and four within forty-five days). At the end of the year, they would have a plan of fair hiring. There would be no more harassment for voters trying to register. The business community agreed to work together to develop a plan for school desegregation the following year. They officially had everything they wanted, including all of the people to be let out of jail. The Kennedy’s worked with the unions to supply bonds from their pension funds to bail people out of jail. The Attorney General’s office agreed to facilitate the court process up to the federal level, and that they had not broken any laws. [Side 1 ends 31:26, continues on Side 2.]
Young, Andrew, 1932-
Tulane University Digital Library
Amistad Research Center
Audiocassette, mono. 16-bit
Box 138, Item 2, Side 1, Tom Dent collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U.S. copyright laws.