May 2nd, 1963

Black Children Arrested and Assaulted While Protesting Segregation in Birmingham

On May 2, 1963, more than 700 black children protesting racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, were arrested, blasted with fire hoses, clubbed by police, and attacked by police dogs. As part of the Children's Crusade launched by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to revive the Birmingham anti-segregation campaign, more than 1000 African American children trained in nonviolent tactics walked out of their classes and assembled at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to march to downtown Birmingham. Hundreds were arrested and transported to jail in school buses and paddy wagons but the children refused to relent.

On May 3, 1963, hundreds more children began to march. Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene "Bull" Connor directed local police and firemen to attack the children with high-pressure fire hoses, batons, and police dogs. Images of children being brutally assaulted by officers and dogs appeared on television and in newspapers throughout the nation and world, provoking global outrage. The United States Department of Justice soon intervened. The campaign to desegregate Birmingham ended on May 10, 1963, with an agreement that the SCLC would halt demonstrations in exchange for city officials releasing imprisoned protesters and desegregating the city's downtown stores. The following evening, disgruntled proponents of segregation responded to the agreement with a series of local bombings.

In the wake of the Children's Crusade, the Birmingham Board of Education announced that all children who participated in the march would be suspended or expelled from school. While the local federal district court upheld the ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the decision.