Through Angels Eyes
A survival story from the civil rights movement's most explosive time and place: Birmingham, 1963.

Who was Bull Connor?

Answer

Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor was Commissioner of Public Safety in the city of Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights campaign of 1963. Connor was a devout segregationist who reveled in his brash manner and racist epithets. He has gone down in infamy as the man who ordered fire hoses and police dogs to be unleashed upon innocent child marchers.

Connor was born in Selma, Alabama on July 11, 1897. His mother died when he was 8 years old and the boy was forced to move around the country with his father, who had jobs in more than 30 states. Young Connor’s first job was as a radio sporstcaster in Birmingham. He moved into politics in 1934, when he was elected to the Alabama legislature. Three years later he was appointed to the position of Commissioner of Public Safety. He served four consecutive terms before skipping a term. He returned to the position in 1957 and 1961. Connor was ousted from office in late May, 1963. He died on March 10, 1963.

Bull Connor features in the gripping Young Adult novel ‘Through Angel’s Eyes’, set during the Birmingham civil rights campaign. . .

I wanted to let Miss Hattie know 'bout how proud I was a' those marchers. But it seemed that my thoughts a' the protestors was bein' crowded out by the images that'd made the deepest impact on me— the scared policeman, the barkin' dogs, an' the old White man with the dark-rimmed glasses. So, that's what I told her 'bout.
"That'd be Bull Connor," Miss Hattie'd said after I described the ol' man. "What do ya know 'bout him, Miss Hattie?" I asked.

"I know he's one of the most racist men in the whole state a' Alabama, Angel," she said quietly. "He knows how to keep Black folks in they place."
"He didn't look too happy when we all started clappin' those who was bein' arrested."
"I bet he wasn't," Miss Hattie said, restin' her chin on her hands. "You see, Angel, that man is a law unto himself. He likes to think this is his city an' he's gonna fight to keep it the way it's always been."
"Do ya think he'll use those dogs, Miss Hattie?"
"If he's smart he won't, Angel," she answered. "But I'm pickin' that he ain't that smart." "Do ya reckon we'll be able to stand up to 'em if he does?"
"Angel," she said, "If Bull Connor uses his dogs against those peaceable people, he'll be doin' as much for us Black folks as Mister Lincoln did by freein' the slaves."

"What do ya mean, Miss Hattie?" I asked, surprised at how she could even compare the two a' those men.
"Well, Angel," Miss Hattie leaned back in her chair now, "see that pair a' scissors?"
Miss Hattie was in one of her story tellin' moods again. I remembered how she'd tied in gettin' a pussy sore with the Black movement last time we'd talked 'bout this sorta thing. Now I braced myself for her to fill me in on what the pair a' scissors lyin' on the table between us had to do with Mister Lincoln an' that Bull Connor fella.
"Yeah," I said.
"Well, when I first got those scissors they was sharper than my best kitchen knife. But over the years they become dull. So now, they've lost their sharpness. Makes it hard to cut through anythin'."
She was drawin' this out on purpose—tryin' my patience, teachin' me how to think.

"What's that got to do with anythin'?" I tried not to show my impatience.
"Angel, when folks are born—be they White, Black or in-between—they're born with what we call a conscience. At first, it's shiny an' new, jus' like my scissors were. So, that conscience has got a sharp edge to it. It'll prick you when you go against it, jus' as surely as those scissors would've when they was new."
She reached across an' picked up the scissors now, runnin' a finger along an edge.
"But when it becomes dull that conscience don't work too good. It ain't even gonna prick ya, unless ..."
Miss Hattie stabbed the point a' the scissors into the tip a' her finger. As a drop a' blood oozed outta the tiny wound, she smiled across at me.
"Unless, you do somethin' drastic to force that dulled conscience to sit up an' take notice." "Like maulin' innocent folks with police dogs," I finished off.
"Exactly, girl. The world's conscience, dulled as it is, won't stand for that."
"I sure hope you're right, Miss Hattie!' But, even so, it don't make me any less scared a' them dogs."

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68.
"... the barkin' dogs, an' the old White man with the dark-rimmed glasses. So, that's what I told her 'bout. "That'd be Bull Connor," Miss Hattie'd said after I described the ol' man. "What do ya know 'bout him, Miss Hattie?" I asked. "I know he's one of the most racist men in the whole ..."
84.
"... ya reckon we'll be able to stand up to 'em if he does?" "Angel," she said, "If Bull Connor uses his dogs against those peaceable people, he'll be doin' as much for us Black folks as Mister Lincoln did by freein' the slaves." "What do ya mean, Miss Hattie?" I asked, surprised at how she ..."
"...she'd tied in gettin' a pussy sore with the Black movement last time we'd talked 'bout this sorta thing. Now I braced myself for her to fill me in on what the pair a' scissors lyin' on the table between us had to do with Mister Lincoln an' that Bull Connor fella. ..."
"...Black folks carry inside but up until now never shared with others was an amazin' experience. It brought us all closer together—made us stronger. Sittin' there, listenin' to Doctor King, Mister Ab'nathy an' Fred—lettin' their words pick you up—made ya feel like it didn't matter how many dogs ol' Bull Connor had, we was still gonna win. ..."
252.
"... 'round the police, headin' for downtown. We sat there waitin' as the first group left. Within minutes the whirr a' police sirens filled the church, 'n then the unmistakable voice a' Bull Connor. He ordered the marchers to stop, but there was no reply. "Arrest them!" Those two words rang ..."
258.
"... still been busy with the group 'round front. Realizin' this, I turned to Amie at my side. "Looks like we've tricked ol' Bull Connor already," I said, surprised at how shaky my voice sounded. "He'll catch up," she replied, grabbin' my hand. We both squeezed at the same time, smiled at ..."
"...The sound a' singin' soon made its way down the line. Jim had encouraged this, sayin' it was a great way to take your mind offa your fear. I thought it was a great way to let ol' Bull Connor know where we was at, too. But I guess we weren't out there to hide from him, so pretty soon I joined in 'n the words of 'Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'round filled the air. ..."
"...We'd got to the start a' the downtown area before Bull Connor's men'd managed to group against us. But long before they arrived we'd already drawn the attention a' the local White people. They was small groups at first, runnin' alongside us, yellin' their meanest insults. But the closer we got to downtown, the larger the crowds 'n, I noticed, the ..."
"...Up ahead of us, above the noise a' the crowd, we could hear Bull Connor's voice over a loudspeaker. But rather than orderin' his men to begin arrestin' us, he was directin' his attention to the White crowds, tellin' 'em to get back. Slowly the people began obeyin' him, edgin' back a pace or two. But it wasn't enough for ol' Bull Connor, 'n ..."

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"...That brought a smile to my face, too. To punish us, ol' Bull Connor'd put us in a place we'd never get to see any other time. We weren't good enough to use these facilities. But it was okay to lock us up in here. Somehow that didn't make no sense to me. Then I remembered that Jimmy'd told me once that one ..."

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Who was Bull Connor?

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