Birmingham (Burr-ming-HAM) Alabama is renowned for its role in the civil rights campaigns of the 1960s, that were spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963 there was the bombing by the Ku Klux Klan of the 16th Street Baptist church that was at the heart of the movement, 4 little girls were killed. Birmingham police with dogs and water cannon attacked defenceless crowds, including children, in the nearby park. All this was orchestrated by the renowned mayor Bull O’Connor. I remember it all so well from the UK media of that time.
That park (Kelly Ingram Park) is now a moving memorial to these events, with a number of evocative statues. Near the entrance are statues to the four little girls, and to King himself.
On the corner opposite the Baptist church is the Civil Rights Museum. America does museums very well, and this one is no exception. We are taken through the sequence of events over many years, much inspired by Rosa Parks in 1955 when she sat on a whites-only seat on a bus in Montgomery and refused to move.
After the civil war and the formal end of slavery Birmingham had been built on the back of the labour of blacks, but they were practically kept in a subjugated position with segregation and few voting rights, contrary to federal law. Legal cases, demonstrations, civil disobedience, marches, great speeches – all played their part. What an inspiring tale of resistance it is.
Of course, at the end is presented Martin Luther King’s inspired “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963. Overall, an uplifting story on the resistance of unjust local tyranny, and a very moving experience for those of us who witnessed these events through the media at the time.
Recent events suggest that the battle is still not won beyond question, and each generation must renew the struggle to retain a just world against the forces of prejudice that lie as potential in the dark heart of mankind.
Featured image shows statue to the 5 little girls before the Baptist Street Church.