Kids Making Good
Flashback to Birmingham: The Children's Crusade
May 2, 1963: Children as young as six or seven set out with their older brothers and sisters for a demonstration against the segregationist policies of this deeply divided southern city.
In the early '60s, Birmingham, Alabama, was the Ku Klux Klan country. Police commissioner, Eugene "Bull" Connor, was dedicated to preserving the color line.
A black couple had been beaten for trying to enroll their children in a whites-only school. The city chose to close its library, parks, and pools rather than comply with court-ordered desegregation.
Dr. King's efforts to change the status quo were going nowhere in the spring of '63. Negotiations and demonstrations were met with resistance; at one point King and other civil rights leaders were jailed. After their release they planned a non-violent young people's march intended to build support in Birmingham's black community and the nation at large for the fight for freedom.
Bull Connor responded with violence.
The Bull Turns Savage
"Get them!" he told police officers in the streets. That day 959 black children -- ages six to 16 -- were arrested.
The next day, hundreds more young people filled the streets. As TV cameras rolled, Bull Connor ordered his police to attack the children with police dogs and water hoses.
The black and white images of hate that flickered on television screens across the nation prompted universal condemnation but ultimately brought victory, forcing Birmingham's white establishment to negotiate directly with King and other civil rights leaders.
It was a pivotal moment for the civil rights movement and our nation. Yet sadly, most American children will observe Dr. King's birthday without any understanding of the contributions children their own age once made in the fight for social justice.
That's the bad news... The good news is that even without a historical context, children's interest in community service, activism, and social justice shows signs of resurgence.
New Century, New Generation of Activists
And so, as we prepare to celebrate Dr. King's birthday, we offer a salute to youth activists who are contributing to the betterment of their communities.
Though he would certainly be saddened to see the crass commercialism of modern American life, Dr. King would undoubtedly be pleased to shake the hand of any of the young people profiled here, all of whom work locally and globally to improve a corner of their world and keep a piece of his dream alive.
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