The Children's Crusade

In the 1960s, no place in the United States was believed to be more racist than Birmingham, Alabama. The old steel town earned the name "Bombingham" in the civil rights era for the number of terrorist acts committed against African Americans in that city.

In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference decided to take the civil rights struggle to Birmingham.

In charge of the police there was Bull Connor, a violently racist man who could be counted on for an extreme response to non-violent resistance. King and the SCLC had realized that it was men like Connor who unwittingly were creating support for the Civil Rights Movement with their overt acts of oppression.

In April, American televisions started showing footage of civil rights activists being sprayed by high-pressure water hoses and attacked by police dogs. At the beginning of May, King made a bold decision to recruit high school students to march in the streets of Birmingham. Would Connor turn the hoses and dogs on the kids?

The answer was yes. When over a thousand African-American children marched on May 2, 1963, Connor used the exact same tactics to break up their peaceful protest. Over 250 reporters from around the world were on the scene, and Americans watched as police knocked down, sprayed, and sent dogs after Birmingham's children.

It was the shock Americans needed--how could Americans fight an ideological war against the Soviet Union, taking the side of freedom, liberty, and truth, while treating its own citizens in such a manner? After Birmingham came King's triumphant March on Washington and Kennedy's announcement of a forthcoming civil rights bill.

King earned criticism for putting teenagers on the front lines, but the Children's Crusade came only eight years after the brutal killing of Emmett Till in Mississippi. The South's children were already on the front lines of the civil rights struggle.