Birmingham Manifesto

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The Birmingham Manifesto is a statement of principles drafted on behalf of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights on April 2, 1963 at the outset of the planned Birmingham Campaign of the Civil Rights Movement. Wyatt Walker, then executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, claimed to have authored the manifesto, which was issued under the signatures of Fred Shuttlesworth and ACMHR secretary Nelson H. Smith.

The manifesto explained how earlier efforts by the ACMHR to win progress on behalf of Birmingham black citizens were entirely rebuffed and outlined the movement's justification for civil disobedience and direct action as the last resort for establishing justice. Specifically the demonstrations would be aimed at winning the repeal of Birmingham's segregation laws and establishing integrated hiring policies among merchants and in city government.

The manifesto was distributed in the form of handbills on the day after the 1963 Birmingham mayoral election. Birmingham's white "moderates" and black establishment were both upset that mass demonstrations were taking place just as a new mayor and council government, headed by the milder segregationist Albert Boutwell, was set to take the place of the former Birmingham City Commission dominated by arch-bigots Art Hanes and Bull Connor. Critics complained that the SCLC and ACMHR should give the new government a chance. Movement leaders responded that demonstrations had already been delayed many times in hopes of negotiations that never materialized.

A follow-up press release, issued on April 3 as demonstrations began, spelled out the specific demands of the movement:

  • Immediate desegregation of lunch counters, restrooms and drinking fountains in downtown department and variety stores.
  • The establishment of fair hiring practices in Birmingham businesses.
  • Dismissal of charges against non-violent protesters in previous ACMHR boycotts.
  • Establishment of a merit system to open the way for African American city employees.
  • Re-opening of closed parks and swimming pools on an integrated basis.
  • Establishment of a bi-racial committee to work out a schedule for desegregation in other areas of life.

The document pledged that boycotts and sit-in demonstrations would continue until those demands were satisfied. Both documents were largely ignored by the press, which helped foster the mistaken impression in Birmingham as well as in the U. S. Justice Department that movement leaders were unfocussed and were stirring people up without stated aims. Even The Birmingham World, a black-owned paper which did print the manifesto, tucked it into page 2 behind front-page stories on the election outcome, a domestic argument, and a story praising Angela Davis for making the dean's list at Brandeis University.

Texts

The patience of an oppressed people cannot endure forever. The Negro citizens of Birmingham for the last several years have hoped in vain for some evidence of good faith resolution of our just grievances.

Birmingham is part of the United States and we are bona fide citizens. Yet the history of Birmingham reveals that very little of the democratic process touches the life of the Negro in Birmingham. We have been segregated racially, exploited economically, and dominated politically. Under the leadership of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, we sought relief by petition for the repeal of city ordinances requiring segregation and the institution of a merit hiring policy in city employment. We were rebuffed. We then turned to the system of the courts. We weathered set-back after set-back, with all of its costliness, finally winning the terminal, bus, parks and airport cases. The bus decision has been implemented begrudgingly and the parks decision prompted the closing of all municipally-owned recreational facilities with the exception of the zoo and Legion Field. The airport case has been a slightly better experience with the exception of hotel accommodations and the subtle discrimination that continues in the limousine service.

We have always been a peaceful people, bearing our oppression with super-human effort. Yet we have been the victims of repeated violence, not only that inflicted by the hoodlum element but also that inflicted by the blatant misuse of police power. Our memories are seared with painful mob experience of Mother's Day 1961 during the Freedom Rides. For years, while our homes and churches were being bombed, we heard nothing but the rantings and ravings of racist city officials.

The Negro protest for equality and justice has been a voice crying in the wilderness. Most of Birmingham has remained silent, probably ,out of fear. In the meanwhile, our city has acquired the dubious reputation of being the worst big city in race relations in the United States. Last Fall, for a flickering moment, it appeared that sincere community leaders from religion, business and industry discerned the inevitable confrontation in race relations approaching. Their concern for the city's image and common weal of all its citizens did not run deep enough. Solemn promises were made, pending a postponement of direct action, that we would be joined in a suit seeking the relief of segregation ordinances. Some merchants agreed to desegregate their rest-rooms as a good-faith start, some actually complying, only to retreat shortly thereafter. We hold in our hands now, broken faith and broken promises.

We believe in the American Dream of democracy, in the Jeffersonian doctrine that "all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Twice since September we have deferred our direct action thrust in order that a change in city government would not be made in the hysteria of community crisis. We act today in full concert with our Hebraic-Christian tradition, the law of morality and the Constitution of our nation. The absence of justice and progress in Birmingham demands that we make a moral witness to give our community a chance to survive. We demonstrate our faith that we believe that the Beloved Community can come to Birmingham.

We appeal to the citizenry of Birmingham, Negro and white, to join us in this witness for decency, morality, self-respect and human dignity. Your individual and corporate support can hasten the day of "liberty and justice for all." This is Birmingham's moment of truth in which every citizen can play his part in her larger destiny. The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, in behalf of the Negro community of Birmingham.
F. L. Shuttlesworth, President
N. H. Smith, Secretary
Civil Rights Movement (19561965)
Documents Segregation laws · ACMHR Declaration of Principles · Nonviolence pledge · Birmingham Manifesto · A Call For Unity · Appeal for Law and Order · Letter from Birmingham Jail · Birmingham Truce · Civil Rights Act of 1964
Events Freedom Rides · Who Speaks for Birmingham? · Selective Buying Campaign · Birmingham Campaign · Children's Crusade · Police dogs and firehoses · List of racially-motivated bombings · 1963 church bombing · May 1963 riot
Organizations Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights · Birmingham City Commission · Ku Klux Klan · Miles College · NAACP · Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Activists Fred Shuttlesworth · Martin Luther King, Jr · A. D. King · James Bevel · Frank Dukes · Edward Gardner · Lola Hendricks · Colonel Stone Johnson · Autherine Lucy · Vivian Malone · Joseph Lowery · James Orange · Nelson H. Smith · John Porter · Abraham Woods, Jr
Other figures Albert Boutwell · Robert Chambliss · Bull Connor · A. G. Gaston · Art Hanes · Lucius Pitts · Sidney Smyer · J. B. Stoner · "8 white clergymen" · Virgil Ware · "4 little girls"
Places Kelly Ingram Park · A. G. Gaston Motel · Movement churches
Legacy Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail · Birmingham Civil Rights Institute · Birmingham Pledge

References

  • Shuttlesworth, Fred. "Birmingham Manifesto." The King Center.
  • Shuttlesworth, Fred. "Birmingham Manifesto." The King Center.
  • Eskew, Glenn T. (1997) But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle." Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807846678
  • Manis, Andrew (1999) A Fire You Can't Put Out: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham's Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0817309683
  • McWhorter, Diane (2001) Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0743226488