What was the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, 1963?
AnswerThe Children’s Crusade was the name that the press gave to a series of marches in downtown Birmingham, Alabama between May 2nd and 5th, 1963. The marchers were all children, ranging in age from seven through to eighteen. Their simple objective was to walk to the center of downtown from the 16th Street Baptist Church and have a discussion with the mayor about segregation. They were met, however, by police officers with clubs and dogs and by firemen with high pressure hoses.
The students remained non-violent despite the vicious attacks that were instigated by the ‘keepers of the peace’ under the smirking gaze of Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene ‘Bull Connor. Images of the beatings were broadcast around the world and led to a huge amount of pressure being brought to bear on the United States to improve conditions for it’s Black citizens. Although desegregation occurred slowly in Alabama, the Children’s Crusade helped create the momentum that led to the passing of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964.
The Children’s Crusade is featured in the Young Adult Novel ‘Through Angel’s Eyes’, which tells the story of the Birmingham Campaign through the eyes of a 13 year old Black girl.
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Chapter 2: ALABAMA, FEBRUARY 1963.34.
"... room. "But there are other things," he continued, "things unique to us as Afro-Americans that are just as important, maybe, in a way, even more so, that are not part of this curriculum and that you children deserve to have. Problem is, how can you get both in just six hours a day?" I had a ..."
"..."All right, boy, you've had your say." Mister Newton's voice interrupted my thoughts. It was the angriest I ever heard him. "Now these other children gave up their playing time to learn something this morning. And as it seems none of us will be allowed to learn anything in your presence, I'll ask you to leave this room right now and stay away from our Afro-American classes until you can have some positive input. ..."
Chapter 4: ALABAMA, EARLY APRIL 1963.
"..."Democracy in America means nothin' more than the domination of the majority over the minority," he said. "That's why Black folks can cast votes all year long, but if the majority is against us, we suffer. Our children still die, our youth still suffer from malnutrition, our middle-aged people are still plagued by sickle-cell anemia, and our elderly still face unbearable poverty and hardship. There is no democracy in America for Black people!" ..."
"...takin' out her feelin's on that food. Rememberin' back to our conversation on Sataday, I jus' knew what she must've been thinkin'—that Daddy's words was encouragin' us to get more involved in the movement, that the pain that'd been a part a' her life was gonna come upon her children, an' that there was nothin' she could do 'bout it. ..."
Chapter 5: ALABAMA, SATURDAY APRIL 13, 1963
"...Jim's boomin' voice paused long enough to allow another "Yeah" from four hundred young throats. Then he carried on to tell us that from tonight there was gonna be a shift in the movement—a shift towards us, the children. While, there'd been some progress over the last two weeks, Jim'd said, if they carried on like they was they couldn't break down the barriers to freedom. But with the children, things could be different. He explained that we didn't have no jobs for the White man to threaten ..."
"...He went on to talk 'bout how it was the children who'd been the key to success in Jackson, Mississippi two years ago. I listened for a few minutes, then I lost attention as I thought 'bout what this meant for us—for me. He was wantin' us—kids who spend their time playin' hopscotch—to march against those police dogs an' fire ..."
"..."Now, we've been talkin' about how old a demonstrator should be." Jim had my attention again. "Should they be seventeen, or fourteen, how about twelve? Should we limit the right of children—you children—to protest against racism? Why, before you're even born, while you're still a fetus in the womb, racism has already affected you. Your mother can't get to a decent hospital. Can't afford to feed you well. Ain't got money to buy you a crib. By the time you're born, ..."
"..."Remember, what you're doin' today is a great thing. Be proud, be dignified, hold your head up high." With those words Jim Bevel began organizin' the hundreds a' children who'd turned up this mornin' in answer to his call. This was the third day a' the child marches. They began on 'D' day, Thursday, when over nine-hundred kids got arrested. I held back that day, my courage only gettin' me to the sidelines. Friday was the same. Even ..."
"...so minutes before me 'n Amie spilled out onto Fourteenth Street. The light from the sun blinded me for a moment. I blinked three or four times, then looked 'round me. Those ahead of us had already stretched out as far as I could see, a solid line a' schoolchildren marchin' in twos. There was no sign a' the police. They musta' still been busy with the group 'round front. Realizin' this, I turned to Amie at my side. ..."
Chapter 6: ALABAMA, MAY 5 1963.180.
"... shame of Birmingham," he read. Then he passed that paper to the kid in the seat closest to him 'n picked up the next paper: "Courageous children fight injustice." Again he passed the paper to one a' the kids 'n picked up another. As the papers began makin' their way 'round the class, I ..."
Chapter 8: ALABAMA, LATE MAY 1963.
"...at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." ..."
"...revealed and all flesh shall see it together. ... And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, Black men and White men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last.'" ..."
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