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Birmingham, Alabama, became a focus for the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. Martin Luther King's brother was a pastor in this city and there was virtually no competition for King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, so a civil rights campaign could easily be led in this city with little competition. Knowing that Birmingham was a stronghold of the KluKluxKlan, any SCLC activity in this city would be certain to provoke attention and trouble, thus gaining recognition for the movement and possibly causing federal intervention, which was desired by King. But, because the local SCLC leader was not especially popular in Birmingham, demonstrations were poorly attended. In addition, the imminent retirement of Police Chief "Bull" Connor brought hope that conditions in the city would improve, anyway.
When the leaders of the march were forewarned not to go down a certain route, they sent their people directly in the path of Bull Connor and his force. While King had not wanted to use youths in this march, they were, nevertheless, apparently sent on this fateful path. When Connor set hoses and dogs on the protesters, King won the national attention he desired. Five hundred youths were arrested and taken to jail. In fact, King himself spent the night in jail for violating the court order forbidding him to march; while in jail, he wrote his letter modeled in part on Henry David Thoreau's letter from a Massachusetts jail. He was refused his right to contact a lawyer for twenty-four hours. When he was allowed contact, he received a copy of the Birmingham Post Herald of April 13, which had a public letter from eight local clergymen—Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish—calling the demonstrations “unwise and untimely.” King did not get released from jail until President John F. Kennedy himself intervened.
In 1963 racial tensions in Birmingham escalated until a bomb exploded in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four girls. As a result, interracial groups organized and began to work toward the prevention of future incidents.
The incidents of Birmingham are mentioned in the poem "Alabama Centennial" written by Naomi Long Madgett. Today Birmingham's international airport has the name of one of its Civil Rights Leaders: Reverend Fred Shuttleworth, who was a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Council and was instrumental in helping Martin Luther King in the 1963 campaign.
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