A Changed Birmingham Embraces a Troubled Past

By Rick Hampson
USA TODAY

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Rare is the city that features, on the home page of its website, a period photo of two helmeted white cops handcuffing a young black woman.

But things have changed in Birmingham, where the grim black-and-white image promotes a year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s campaign to integrate the city’s public facilities.

It was a time when the city’s public safety commissioner, the fittingly nicknamed Bull Connor, was a world-famous brute, and when its own nickname, thanks to dozens of unsolved, racially motivated explosions, was “Bombingham.”

And 1963 was the year when a desperate King sent children out against police lines; when dogs and hoses were loosed on them; when a Klansmen’s bomb at a church killed four girls dressed in Sunday white.

This turning point in the civil rights movement is marked this year in a series of events and exhibitions.

“It seems Birmingham is really dealing with its own history,” says Laura Schultz of Wilmington, N.C., on a visit with her two children to the city’s civil rights sites. “It’s honestly confronting its past.”

That past includes these landmark events of 1963:

King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written on scrap paper while the civil rights leader was in solitary confinement for protest-marching in violation of a court order, was his stirring reply to a call from moderate white religious leaders to adopt less confrontational tactics.

The “Children’s Crusade,” the result of King’s decision — highly controversial at the time within the movement — to allow hundreds of students to demonstrate. They were attacked by dogs, pummeled by high-pressure fire hoses and thrown in jails with common criminals.

Read more at USA TODAY.

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