The Birmingham Campaign

April 2, 1963: Mayoral Election: Albert Boutwell vs “Bull” Connor


The city of Birmingham held it’s first Mayoral election on April 2nd, 1963, having converted from a commission form of Government. The two candidates for the position were lieutenant Governor of Alabama, Albert Boutwell and Public Safety Commissioner, Theodophilus Eugene Connor.  Boutwell was  the grandson of two Confederate veterans and the former Chairman of the Interim Legislative Committee on Segregation in Public Schools. He, however, was the least prejudiced of the two. His opponent was a belligerent, boisterous bigot who reveled in his ability to overpower and intimidate.

Boutwell defeated Connor by 7.982 votes. This was clearly the result that the Civil Rights leaders were hoping for. However, Fred Shuttlesworth assessment of the situation reflected their lack of optimisim when he referred to Boutwell as “just a dignified Bull Connor.” This sentiment was backed up when Boutwell urged all of the citizens of Birmingham, both Black and White, to ignore the impending Civil Rights movement.

February 28, 1963: MLK Sets Up Base

Today, Martin Luther King arrived in Birmingham, along with Ralph Abernathy, and set up his operational base in Room 30 of the Gaston Motel at 5th Avenue, North. The Motel was close to Kelly Ingram Park, which would soon become a focal point of the campaign. King’s schedule calls for the campaign to begin in the first week of March. However in a meeting with local Negro leaders, the objection is raised that a mayoral election is to occur on March 5. The two leading candidates are rabid seccesionist Eugene ‘Bull” Connor and mild-mannered Albert Boutwell. Wouldn’t it be better to wait until after the elections, to prevent the campaign becoming a political football that could boost Connor’s chances of getting elected? King agrees and the start of the campaign is re-scheduled for two weeks after the elections.

February 28, 1963: JFK Shows His Hand

On this day, president John Fitzgerald Kennedy asked Congress to broaden existing laws to protect African Americans. In his speech to Congress, JFK stated that “the harmful, wasteful and wrongful results of racial discrimination and segregation still appear in virtually every part of the Nation.”
Kennedy’s proposed legislation, however, was grounded in realism. He knew that a strong civl rights bill wouldn’t pass through Congress. For one thing, the House Rules Committee was headed by the Virginia Democrat Howard Smith, a staunch opponent of any civil rights advances. Kennedy also knew that he needed the support of Southern Democrats in Congress

to pass his other initiatives. He also was well aware that he could not win re-election in 1964 without Southern support.
So, Kennedy asked for relatively minor changes to voting rights laws, modest assistance to school districts attempting to desegregate voluntarily along with an extension of the commission studying civil rights matters.The Bill was destined to die in Congress. Here’s Attorney general Robert Kennedy’s take on why . . .There wasn’t any interest in it. There was no public demand for it. There was no demand by the newspapers or radio or television . . . nobody paid any attention to it.

January 16, 1963: MLK Sets His Sights on Birmingham

Throughout the early 1960’s, Martin Luther King had followed the struggles to desegregate the city of Birmingham’s buses, schools, parks and lunch counters. King was mightily impressed with the fearless leadership displayed by the head of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), Fred Shuttlesworth. After much deliberation, King and the rest of the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) finally committed to a mass-action civil rights campaign in Birmingham. It was on this day that King made that announcement public. Memorably stating that the demonstrations would continue until “Pharoah lets God’s people go”, King had set the stage for an epic showdown between two seemingly immovable forces.

January 14, 1963: Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever

On January 14, 1963, George Wallace was sworn in as Governor of Alabama. It was no coincidence that Wallace stood on the very spot where Jefferson Davis had been sworn in as 1st (and only) President of the Confederate States of America 102 years before. Wallace was, afterall, determined to uphold the ways of the Old South. He made this abundantly clear in his inaugural address . . .

In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this 
earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before
the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation
tomorrow, segregation forever.

Of course, Wallace didn’t actually write those inflammatory words – he merely spoke them. Wallace’s political speech writer was a guy by the name of  Asa Earl Carter. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he was active in efforts to stop the civil rights campaign in Birmingham. He founded the North Alabama Citizen’s Council as well as a Ku Klux Klan group. He also moonlighted as a western writer, his most well known works being “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and “The Education of Little Tree.”

Check out the George Wallace Inauguration Speech below:


100 years after that momentous day of hope for America there was no triumphant celebration of it’s centennial. The facts of the last 100 years would not allow it. For, though the word slavery had been consigned to the pages of history, it had been replaced with other words – words that were seared into the hearts and minds of Black people across the land as 1963 dawned; words like . . .
Ku Klux Klan
Black Codes
Jim Crow
Emmett Till
Little Rock

Each of these words was like another brick in the wall of segregation that, 100 years later, still separated the Black American from the freedom that was his birth right. Yes, for Black America, January 1, 1963 marked a bitter centennial.


September, 1862 – things weren’t going well for Abraham Lincoln. The nation was tearing itself apart in a ghastly war that seemed without end. Lincoln desperately needed to gain the upper hand – to put the advancing Confederacy on the back foot and give impetus back to the Union. His generals had let him down but he had one trump card – a move that would make him the saviour of every black man in the South – and the embodiment of evil to every white man.

So, on September 22, Lincoln announced a dramatic ultimatum to every Confederate State – return to the Union by January 1, 1863 or he, the President of the their nation, would issue a formal emancipation of all slaves within that State. Well, the ultimatum came and not one Southern State complied. And so it was, that on January 1, 1863 Ol’ Abe issued his proclamation promising freedom to the 3.1 million Black people who existed in a state of slavery under the Confederacy.

In areas under Union occupation, the news was greeted amongst the Black populace with wild jubilation. About 50,000 slaves were freed immediately.

Here is how the great day was remembered by future  political leader Booker T. Washington, who, at the time, was a 9 year old in Virginia:

As the great day drew nearer, there was more singing in the slave quarters than usual. It was bolder, had more ring, and lasted later into the night. Most of the verses of the plantation songs had some reference to freedom…. Some man who seemed to be a stranger (a United States officer, I presume) made a little speech and then read a rather long paper—the Emancipation Proclamation, I think. After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing that she would never live to see.

And so, a new day for the Black American had dawned. It was a day full of hope and dreams, a day when the, until then, hollow words of equality espoused by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence seemed within reach. Surely now, now that the Black man was officially more than mere property, his lot would improve immeasurably. Surely!


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