On Dec. 1 of that year, a seamstress named Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery bus and took a seat. As the bus continued along its route, picking up more passengers, the Negroes aboard rose on the driver's orders to give their seats to white people. When the driver told Mrs. Parks to get up, she refused. "I don't really know why I wouldn't move," she said later. "There was no plot or plan at all. I was just tired from shopping. My feet hurt." She was arrested and fined $10.
For some reason, that small incident triggered the frustrations of Montgomery's Negroes, who for years had bent subserviently beneath the prejudices of the white community. Within hours, the Negroes were embarked upon a bus boycott that was more than 99 percent effective, almost ruined Montgomery's bus line. The boycott committee soon became the Montgomery Improvement Association, with Martin Luther King Jr. as president. His leadership was more inspirational than administrative; he is, as an observer says, "more at home with a conception than he is with the details of its application." King's home was bombed, and when his enraged people seemed ready to take to the streets in a riot of protest, he controlled them with is calm preaching of nonviolence. King became world famous and in less than a year the Supreme Court upheld an earlier order forbidding Jim Crow seating in Alabama buses.
Albany. Montgomery was one of the first great battles won by the Negro in the South, and for a while after it was won everything seemed anticlimactic to King. When the sit-ins and freedom-ride movements gained momentum, King's S.C.L.C. helped organize and support them. But King somehow did not seem very efficient, and his apparent luck of imagination was to bring him to his lowest ebb in the Negro movement.
In December 1961, King joined a mass protest demonstration in Albany, Ga., was arrested, and dramatically declared that he would stay in jail until Albany consented to desegregate its public facilities. But just two days after his arrest, King came out on bail. The Albany movement collapsed, and King was bitterly criticized for helping to kill it. Today he admits mistakes in Albany.
"Looking back over it," he says, "I'm sorry I was bailed out. I didn't understand at the time what was happening. We though that the victory had been won. When we got out, we discovered it was all a hoax. We had lost a real opportunity to redo Albany, and we lost an initiative that we never regained."
But King also learned a lesson in Albany. "We attacked the political power structure instead of the economic power structure," he says. "You don't win against a political power structure where you don't have the votes. But you can win against an economic power structure when you have the economic power to make the difference between a merchant's profit and loss."
Birmingham. It was while he was in his post-Albany eclipse that King began planning for his most massive assault on the barricades of segregation. The target: Birmingham, citadel of blind, die-hard segregation. King's lieutenant, Wyatt Tee Walker, has explained the theory that governs King's planning: "We've got to have a crisis to bargain with. To take a moderate approach, hoping to get white help, doesn't work. They nail you to the cross, and it saps the enthusiasm of the followers. You've got to have a crisis."
The Negroes made their crisis, but it was no spur-of-the- moment matter. King himself went to Birmingham to conduct workshops in nonviolent techniques. he recruited 200 people who were willing to go to jail for the cause, carefully planned his strategy in ten meetings with local Negro leaders. Then, declaring that Birmingham is the "most thoroughly segregated big city in the U.S.," he announced early in 1963 that he would lead demonstrations there until "Pharaoh lets God's People go."
Awaiting King in Birmingham was Public Safety Commissioner Theophilus Eugene ("Bull") Connor, a man who was to become a symbol of police brutality yet who, in fact, merely reflected the seething hatreds in a city where acts of violence were as common as chitlins and ham hocks. As it happened, Bull Connor was running for mayor against a relative moderate, Albert Boutwell. To avoid giving campaign fuel to Connor, King waited until after the April 2 election. Between Jan. 16 and March 29, he launched himself into a whirlwind speaking tour, made 28 speeches in 16 cities across the nation.
Moving into Birmingham in the first week of April, King and his group began putting their plans to work. Bull Connor, who had lost the election but refused to relinquish power, sent his spies into the Negro community to seek information. Fearing that their phones were tapped, King and his friends worked up a code. he became "J.F.K.," Ralph Abernathy "Dean Rusk," Birmingham Preacher Fred Shuttlesworth "Bull," and Negro Businessman John Drew "Pope John." Demonstrators were called "baptismal candidates," and the whole operation was labeled "Project C" -- for "Confrontation."
The protest began. Day after day, Negro men, women and children in their Sunday best paraded cheerfully downtown to be hauled off to jail for demonstrating. The sight and sound of so many people filling his jail so triumphantly made Bull Connor nearly apoplectic. he arrested them at lunch counters and in the streets, wherever they gathered. Still they cam, rank on rank. At length, on Tuesday, May 7, 2,500 Negroes poured out of church, surged through the police lines and swarmed downtown. Connor furiously ordered the fire hoses turned on. Armed with clubs, cops beat their way into the crowds. An armored car menacingly bulldozed the milling throngs. Fire hoses swept them down the streets. In all, the Birmingham demonstrations resulted in the jailing of more than 3,300 Negroes, including King himself.
The Response. The Negroes had created their crisis -- and Connor had made it a success. "The civil rights movement," said President Kennedy in a meeting later with King, "owes Bull Connor as much as it owes Abraham Lincoln." that was a best an oversimplification; nevertheless, because of Connor, the riots seared the front pages of the world press, outraged millions of people. Everywhere, King's presence, in the pulpit or at rallies, was demanded. But while he preached nonviolence, violence spread. "Freedom Walker" William Moore was shot and killed in Alabama. Mississippi's N.A.A.C.P. Leader Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his home. There was violence in Jackson, Miss., in Cambridge, Md., in Danville, Va. In Birmingham, later in the year, a church bombing killed four Negro Sunday-school children, while two other youngsters were shot and killed the same day.
Those events awakened long-slumbering Negro resentments, from which a fresh Negro urgency drew strength. For the first time, a unanimity of purpose slammed into the Negro consciousness with the force of a fire hose. Class lines began to shatter. Middle-class Negroes, who were aspiring for acceptance by the white community, suddenly found a point of identity with Negroes at the bottom of the economic heap. Many wealthy Negroes, once reluctant to join the fight, pitched in.
Now sit-in campaigns and demonstrations erupted like machine-gun fire in every major city in the North, as well as in hundreds of new places in the South. Negroes demanded better job opportunities, an end to the de facto school segregation that ghetto life had forced upon them. The N.A.A.C.P.'s Roy Wilkins, a calm, cool civil rights leader, lost some of his calmness and coolness. Said he: "My objectivity went out the window when I saw the picture of those cops sitting on that woman and holding her down by the throat." Wilkins promptly joined a street demonstration, got himself arrested.
"Free at Last." Many whites also began to participate, particularly the white clergy, which cast off its lethargy as ministers, priests and rabbis tucked the Scriptures under their arms and marched to jails with Negroes whom they had never seen before. The Rev. Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, executive head of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., declared: "Some time or other, we are all going to have to stand and be on the receiving end of a fire hose." Blake thereupon joined two dozen other clergymen in a protest march -- and was arrested.
In the months following Birmingham, Negroes paraded, demonstrated, sat in, stormed and fought through civil rights sorties in 800 cities and towns in the land. The revolt's basic and startling new assumption -- that the black man can read and understand the Constitution, and can demand his equal rights without fear -- was not lost on Washington. President Kennedy, who had been in no great hurry to produce a civil rights bill, now moved swiftly. The Justice Department drew up a tight and tough bill, aimed particularly at voting rights, employment, and the end of segregation in public facilities.
To cap the summer's great storm of protest, the Negro leaders sponsored the now famous March on Washington. It was a remarkable spectacle, one of disorganized order, with a stateliness that no amount of planning could have produced. Some 200,000 strong, whites and blacks of all ages walked from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. There, the Negro leaders spoke -- Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Young and SNICK's Lewis.
But it was King who most dramatically articulated the Negro's grievances, and it was he whom those present, as well as millions who watched on television, would remember longest. "When we let freedom ring," he cried, "when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we ill be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing, in the words of the old Negro spiritual,
Even the Unions. The march made irreversible all that had gone before in the year of the Negro revolution. In that year, the Negroes made more gains than they had achieved in any year since the end of the Civil War. A speedup in school integration in the South brought to 1,141 the number of desegregated school districts. In the North, city after city re-examined de facto school segregation and set up plans to redress the balance. In 300 cities in the South, public facilities -- from swimming pools to restaurants -- were integrated, and in scores of cities across the nation, leaders established biracial committees as a start toward resolving local inequities.
New job opportunities opened nearly everywhere, as the nation's businesses sent out calls for qualified Negro help -- and, finding a shortage, began training programs for unskilled Negroes. Banks, supermarkets, hotels and department stores upgraded Negro employees. In Philadelphia, Cleveland and New York, pressure on the A.F.L.-C.I.O construction unions -- the most notorious Jim Crow organizations in the North -- produced progress toward training of Negro apprentices. San Francisco's tile setters, memphis' rubber workers and St. Louis' bricklayers opened their union rolls to willing beginners. Television and Madison Avenue blossomed with Negro actors and ad models in "non- Negro" roles. In Denver, Sears, Roebuck & Co., which hitherto had had one Negro employee (dusting shelves), hired 19 more Negroes for a variety of jobs. To varying degrees it was the same way in Houston, at Grant's five and ten, and in San Francisco, where Tidewater Oil took on a Negro for executive training. Even in the South, the job situation improved. Negroes began moving into professional positions in North Carolina's state government. Three Nashville banks agreed to hire Negroes in clerical positions, and some white-collar jobs opened in South Carolina.
Still, for every tortuous inch gained, there are miles of progress left to be covered. There remain 1,888 Southern school districts where segregation is the rule -- and scores of other districts where desegregation sits uneasily in token form. Though Montgomery buses are technically integrated, the city's other public facilities still are not. Team sports are still carefully segregated in a large number of Southern institutions; the NBC television network recently canceled coverage of the annual Blue-Gray football game because Negroes are not eligible to participate. Only 22 states have enforceable fair-employment laws on the books. And not counting Mississippi, where there is a total absence of integrated public facilities, those in other Southern states are so spotty and inconsistent (a downtown lunch counter, yes; the city swimming pool, no) that it is hard for a Negro nowadays to know where he may go and where he may not.
Backlash. In general, housing is still the Negro's toughest barrier. Here and there -- for example, in Denver's Park Hill residential section, where Negro home buying at first created flurries of panic -- colored families have been able to move into white sections with little trouble. But the major metropolitan areas of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Los Angeles continue to fill up at the heart with Negroes while whites from a suburban collar on the outside. California used to pride itself on its progressive attitude, and boasts a fair- housing law on the books to prove it. Now it has been struck with a campaign by the 40,000-member California Real Estate Association to nullify the law.
The white counterattack in California reflects one natural consequence of the Negro's militant position: a backlash reaction, derived from the notion that "the Negro is pushing too far, too fast," and that he is also threatening the unskilled white man's job security. James P. Mitchell, Eisenhower's onetime Labor Secretary, now San Francisco's human-relations coordinator and a friend of the Negro feels that "militancy could quite easily antagonize important people who are now prepared or preparing to do something. What Negroes have to remember is something they tend to forget: that they are a minority, and that they can only achieve what they want with the support of the majority." Says Los Angeles Housewife Maureen Hartman: "I don't see why the Negroes are weeping and wailing. This is not Birmingham. They can go anywhere. They can vote, hold good jobs, eat in the best restaurants. Just what do they expect from us?"
Re-examination. What the Negroes expect, and what they are getting to a degree that would have been astonishing at the start of 1963, is a change of attitude. "A lot of people," says Chicago's Negro Baptist Minister Arthur Brazier, "are re-examining their motives. Even if this means that a lot of hidden prejudices have been uncovered in Northerners, good will be gained from the fact that Americans have been forced to act on days other than Brotherhood Days and Weeks."
Often the changes in attitudes are tiny in scope but broad in meaning. No longer do the starters at Miami's municipal golf courses ask a trio of white men if they will accept a Negro fourth; they merely assign the Negro, and foursome heads onto the course. A New York adoption agency is asking white families to take Negro children. Louise Morgan, a former Chicago advertising executive, says: "I had conned myself into thinking I was a liberal. The rude awakening occurred less than a year ago, when a Negro writer and his family sought an apartment in my building and were turned down. I had met him. He was bright and a gentleman. Yet I didn't lift a finger to help him. That's all changed now." In California, Real Estate Dealer Richard S. Hallmark quit his job in protest over the commonly accepted methods of restricting Negro house buying. "I had never sold to a Negro family in my life, but it grated on my conscience," he says. "I'm tired of people telling me they don't give a goddam about the law and that they're just not going to sell or rent to 'niggers.' I'm not a martyr or a crusader, but they made me ashamed. The colored people are here to stay, so we might as well get used to it."