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The Birmingham Campaign

In: Historical Events

Submitted By IsobelHackett
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The Birmingham movement was a culmination of King’s ideas, theology, experiences and civil rights tactics’. How far do you agree with this statement?
Martin Luther King undoubtedly played a key role in helping black people win civil rights through the Birmingham movement in 1963. However it can be argued that his leadership though effective was only partly responsible for the gains made by the campaign; as the opposition changed their tactics, Martin Luther King’s ideas and theologies were tested and therefore he was made to harness alternative strategies that had been initiated by other civil rights activists. Essentially the Birmingham movement was crafted to allow the best possible outcome.
King preached a distinctive philosophy based on the teachings of Jesus and the example of Mohandas Gandhi. He believed that all Christians should love their enemies and never retaliate. Nonetheless, he also taught that Christians should stand up to injustice. Consequently, he advocated civil disobedience and direct action, insisting that protest should always be peaceful. The perseverance shown through peaceful protest won mass support from both the public and media making it difficult for Federal government to ignore demands. King involved in provoking the authorities but it can be said that the brutality stimulated from such protests was what gave King the upper hand; it provided him with the driving force to challenge the system.
Peaceful protest was applied to the Birmingham movement, since it was a tactic that had inspired others when first successfully executed by King in the Montgomery bus boycott. He had been arrested, following a march, along with 156 other prominent black protestors. The arrest backfired and drew media attention to the campaign. The Birmingham movement sought to replicate these events. Indeed, King was arrested and jailed for taking place in an illegal March, despite the local Police Chief Eugene 'Bull' Connor adopting a more lenient approach to the early dispute. The Birmingham campaign reinforced the significance of media involvement that had been so crucial to Montgomery's triumph; news reports were able to portray the injustice of segregation to a national and international audience. Furthermore, under the leadership of Martin Luther King the Montgomery bus boycott had financially crippled the bus companies thereby highlighting the economic power of black citizens. Similarly the mass imprisonment of students and young people that took place as a part of the Birmingham campaign, put stress upon Birmingham authorities. since accommodating all the youngsters would have been an enormously costly undertaking, if not an impossible one. Fundamentally the success of the Montgomery bus boycott led to the establishment of the SCLC; a movement that was to play a major part in the Birmingham campaign, especially since the NAACP had been banned by the city authorities, showing how committed they were to maintain segregation but also how the progress King had made with the NAACP became insignificant. In relation, the profound impact that peaceful protests had once had, came to a standstill through the Albany Movement. Local Police Chief Lurie Pritchett had studied the strategy of the protestors and adopted a new approach designed to deny them media attention. King acknowledged that his tactics had not worked, and thus gathered from the experience that it was necessary for the Birmingham campaign to carry more focus on specific issues and target police chiefs who were more likely to respond with violence; a fine-tuning to his first ideologies.
The movement gradually gave way to aggression because peaceful protests were considered too slow and they started lacking in results. Consequently Martin Luther King inspired similar movements used by fellow activists to strengthen and diversify the Birmingham campaign. For instance King developed the tactics of direct action as he had seen how effective this form of campaign was to the Montgomery bus boycott. Rosa Park refused to leave her seat and allow a white man to take her place; as a result of this direct action Parks was arrested leading to a two-pronged attack on segregation laws in Alabama. The NAACP mounted a legal case to challenge the segregation laws, whilst the black people of Montgomery began a campaign targeting local bus companies. Likewise, the Birmingham campaign took on a form of protest that involved a large group of people, whilst the SCLC were in negotiations with city authorities. King, like Rosa Parks, involved in illegal activity and proclaimed that he was proud of his crime; something that had sparked media attention for Rosa and now for King in the Birmingham campaign. King was given the idea to target Birmingham, Alabama, as the Freedom Rides had shown that ‘Bull’ Connor was likely to react violently to protest. It can be argued that this decision was rather controversial considering King had refused to be involved with the Freedom Rides until the campaign beckoned a public outcry. King came realise that the violent behaviour shown from both sides of the civil rights movement gained the most publicity; so it appeared as if King choose to abandoned his first philosophy of peaceful protest and instead encourage violence through aggravating 'Bull' Connor in the Birmingham campaign. Some may also argue the Birmingham campaign would have been short lived without the likes of James Bevel, as King's actions alone had not set apart the Birmingham movement from any other protest that had previously taken place. James Bevel took swift action following King's arrest and as a leading member of the SCLC he took it upon himself to change tact. Bevel recruited students and young people to take part in the campaign, arguing that their imprisonment would not seriously affect the income of black families and that the Birmingham authorities would be embarrassed if their jails were full of young people. Indeed, as a result of these student marches, the police attacked the demonstrators with high pressure fire hoses and arrested and imprisoned 1300 black children. The violence that had taken place was similar to that of the Little Rock Campaign; the severe unrest caused a media frenzy and prompted President F. Kennedy, as it did Eisenhower, to take action. Essentially Martin Luther King had been responsible for laying down the foundations to the campaign, using a culmination of his experience, which gave James Bevel the means to ridicule the authorities which in turn brought about the success of the Birmingham movement.
In conclusion, The Birmingham movement forced Martin Luther King to compromise some of his initial ideas and theologies. King's experience heavily influenced the Campaign because it was from his experiences that he learnt who to target and how. The Albany movement had shown that peaceful protest did not always bring about change but the focus of the Greensboro sit-ins and the aggression provoked by 'Bull' Connor against the Freedom rides exposed American corruption and Soviet Superiority. King approached the Birmingham campaign with a new incentive; he hoped violence would lead to the desegregation of the city, an idea that morally challenged his believes. Additionally, if it wasn't for the violence encouraged by James Bevel, the campaign would not have lived long enough to ignite reform. The Birmingham campaign was a clear culmination of King's experiences however King did choose to apply ideas of other activists to the campaign, ideas which did not completely comply with his theologies.

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