1963 – Police used dogs and cattle prods on peaceful civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, AL.

Firemen turn fire hoses on demonstrators, Birmingham, Alabama, 1963Photo by Charles Moore. Fair Use Image CONTRIBUTED BY: SAMUEL MOMODU

The Birmingham Campaign was a movement led in early 1963 by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which sought to bring national attention of the efforts of local black leaders to desegregate public facilities in Birmingham, Alabama. The campaign was led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Reverends James Bevel and Fred Shuttlesworth, among others.

In April 1963, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) joined Birmingham’s local campaign organized by Rev. Shuttlesworth and his group, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR). The goal of the local campaign was to attack the city’s segregation system by putting pressure on Birmingham’s merchants during the Easter season, the second biggest shopping season of the year. When that campaign stalled, the ACMHR asked SCLC to help.

The campaign was originally scheduled to begin in early March 1963 but was postponed until April. On April 3, 1963, it was launched with mass meetings, lunch counter sit-ins, a march on city hall, and a boycott of downtown merchants. King spoke to Birmingham’s black citizens about nonviolence and its methods and appealed for volunteers. When Birmingham’s residents enthusiastically responded, the campaign’s actions expanded to kneel-ins at churches, sit-ins at the library, and a march on the county courthouse to register voters.

On April 10, 1963, the city government obtained a state court injunction against the protests. After debate, campaign leaders decided to disobey the court order. King contemplated whether he and Ralph Abernathy—SCLC’s second-in-command—should be arrested. King decided that he must risk jail. On Good Friday, April 12, 1963, King was arrested in Birmingham after violating the anti-protest injunction and was placed in solitary confinement. During this time, he wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” on the margins of the Birmingham News, in reaction to a statement published by eight Birmingham clergymen condemning the protests.


1864 – Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest captured Fort Pillow, in Tennessee and slaughters the black Union troops there

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An account of the Fort Pillow Massacre in a Letter from Naval Officer Robert S. Critchell, published in the New York Times on 3 May 1864  —  The following letter has just been received by Mr. BLOW,  a member of Congress in Washington, D.C from Missouri, respecting the treatment of our soldiers after the surrender of Fort Pillow:
Wood engraving depicting the Fort Pillow Massacre.
Wood engraving depicting the Fort Pillow Massacre.
image: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC-USZ62-42018)

Fort Pillow Massacre, Confederate slaughter of African American Federal troops stationed at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, on April 12, 1864, during the American Civil War. The action stemmed from Southern outrage at the North’s use of Black soldiers. From the beginning of hostilities, the Confederate leadership was faced with the question of whether to treat Black soldiers captured in battle as slaves in insurrection or, as the Union insisted, as prisoners of war.

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