In April of 1963, when Dr. King's S.C.L.C. and local activist Fred Shuttlesworth's A.C.H.R joined forces in leading a campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, it was the most segregated city in the country. The response of one local official that "blood would run in the streets" before the city would comply with the Supreme Court's recent school desegregation decision spoke for much of the white citizenry. And indeed blood did run in the streets, as Dr. King describes in Why We Can't Wait, with seventeen unsolved bombings of African American churches and private homes between 1957 and 1963, added to the routine physical intimidation and beating of African American residents. Foremost in fomenting this atmosphere of violence to maintain Jim Crow laws, a status quo which limited blacks to menial labor, prohibited them from associating with whites in churches, schools, parks, or any other public facilities, and conspired to cripple their ability to vote, was Eugene "Bull" Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety.
And, Dr. King adds, not only were African Americans in danger from Connor; no less than a visiting US senator had been arrested because he had walked through a door marked "Colored." The civil rights leader evokes the pervasive fear this man created.
It was a fear not only on the part of the black oppressed, but also in the hearts of the white oppressors. Guilt was part of their fear . . . . Certainly Birmingham had its white moderates who disapproved of Bull Connor's tactics . . . . But they remained publicly silent. It was a silence born of fear . . . .
Within in weeks, the Birmingham campaign would achieve an impressive victory, and Bull Connor's name would become known worldwide, forever synonymous with a particularly virulent strain of American racism.