The climax of the modern civil rights movement occurred in Birmingham. The city’s violent response to the spring 1963 demonstrations against white supremacy forced the federal government to intervene on behalf of race reform.The public outcry provoked President John F. Kennedy to propose civil rights legislation that became the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act opened America’s social, economic, and political system to African Americans demonstrators Attackedand other minorities, including women, the handicapped, and gays and lesbians. The legislation addressed the principal goal of the movement of gaining access to the system as consumers but also set in motion strategies to gain equality through affirmative action policies.
Birmingham was a major centre of civil rights activities and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was an organisational centre for the movement. In particular, youths used the church as a centre to help plan out strategies to get more black high school children involved in the civil rights cause. In the Spring of 1963, stores in downtown Birmingham had been desegregated and just days before the bombing, schools in Birmingham had been ordered by a federal court to integrate – nearly ten years after Brown v Topeka. Many Klansmen would not accept this decision nor the successes the civil rights cause seemed to be making.
The chief of police in the city, Bull Connor, was very anti-civil rights and had ordered that police dogs and fire hoses be used on civil rights demonstrators in May 1963.
Birmingham was also a stronghold of the KKK. The influence of the KKK was such that children’s books that showed black and white rabbits together were banned from sale in book shops in the city. Segregation was the norm in the city. Violence against the black community in Birmingham was not unusual but the deliberate bombing of a church took that violence to a new level.