What was the Children's March? What impact did it have on the Civil Rights Movement? How did authorities respond to this march by children?
The Children's March was an African-American youth protest against segregation; it occurred during the first week of May in 1963 and began on May 2.
Many of the participating youth were still prepubescent children; however, they were supportive of the Civil Rights Movement and were determined to do their part for equality. The youth were trained in non-violent tactics by leaders in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The Reverend James Bevel was the brainchild behind the Children's March, and he was able to galvanize more than 3,000 youth to participate in the march for freedom.
The youth were met by throngs of police with attack dogs and fire hoses. Many of the children were sprayed from powerful hoses and beaten by police wielding batons. Many more were arrested for their part in the demonstrations. On May 5th, the youth marched to the Birmingham jail to make their stand; they sang freedom songs and prayed. Many of their peers who were already in jail rallied at the massive support they received. The Children's March was actually an important component of the Birmingham Campaign, and it marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.
The Birmingham campaign consisted of lunch-counter protests at public facilities and boycotts of Birmingham merchants. However, it was the persecution against courageous youth demonstrators that helped turn the tide of public opinion against segregation. In the end, city officials agreed to meet with civil rights leaders. In concert with the Birmingham campaign, the Children's March led to desegregation at public facilities in the city and the release of all demonstrators from prison.
In all, the Children's March was instrumental in garnering public support for integration in schools and public facilities throughout the South. That public support led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Civil Rights Act banned all segregation and discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or national origin, and the Voting Rights Act prohibited discriminatory literacy tests that disenfranchised African-American voters.