The Birmingham Truce was an agreement reached between Birmingham city leaders and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, the organizers of the Birmingham Campaign of public demonstrations for desegregation in the Spring of 1963. The deal was reached with the assistance of Burke Marshall, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, sent to Birmingham by Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
The agreement was signed on May 10 and announced to the public at a press conference that afternoon at the A. G. Gaston Motel. It represented the end of the ACHMR and Southern Christian Leadership Conference's campaign of organized, non-violent demonstrations and set forth a timetable for various concessions by city leaders and merchants to achieve some nominal gains in desegregating public facilities and promoting Civil Rights for African Americans in the city.
- Within 3 days after close of demonstrations, fitting rooms will be desegregated.
- Within 30 days after the city government is established by court order, signs on wash rooms, rest rooms and drinking fountains will be removed.
- Within 60 days after the city government is established by court order, a program of lunchroom counter desegregation will be commenced.
- When the city government is established by court order, a program of upgrading Negro employment will be continued and there will be meetings with responsible local leadership to consider further steps.
- Within 60 days from the court order determining Birmingham's city government, the employment program will include at least one sales person or cashier.
- Within 15 days from the cessation of demonstrations, a Committee on Racial Problems and Employment composed of members of the Senior Citizens' Committee will be established, with a membership made public and the publicly announced purpose of establishing liaison with members of the Negro community to carry out a program of up-grading and improving employment opportunities with the Negro citizens of the Birmingham community.
The "cessation of demonstrations" referred to in the truce took effect on the day it was signed, May 10.
The "city government" referred to in the truce was the incoming Mayor-Council form of government which was approved by public referendum on November 6, 1962. Albert Boutwell had won an election on March 5 to become the new Mayor of Birmingham, but the outgoing Birmingham City Commission refused to leave office and filed for a court judgment to be allowed to fulfill their original terms of office. The incoming mayor and council were expected to end the belligerent racial policies of Public Safety commissioner Bull Connor and move the city back from the brink of international embarrassment. The courts ruled in favor of the incoming Council, which took office on May 23.
The "Senior Citizens' Committee" was a group of 100 business leaders, including twelve African Americans, formed through the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and headed by Sidney Smyer. The committee, rather than the elected City Commission, engaged in negotiations with the ACMHR and SCLC to end the demonstrations. For their concessions, Commission President Art Hanes labelled them "weak-kneed quisling traitors".
The "biracial committee" was formed with 200 members, of which 39 were black. A subcommittee on race relations was split 50-50, with its black members representing a range of backgrounds.
On the evening after the truce was announced two bombings took place, one at the motel and one at the home of A. D. King in Ensley. Those bombings touched off rioting in the streets which included attacks on police officers. Though order had been generally restored before daybreak by Alabama State Troopers and an armed militia group from Dallas County, the threat of further violence in Birmingham prompted President Kennedy to authorize "Operation Oak Tree", placing Army units in the vicinity on alert for possible deployment to the city. While worldwide public sympathy for the cause of Civil Rights had been ignited by images of police dogs and firehoses being used against young, peaceful demonstrators, it was the prospect of widespread rioting which motivated the administration, in particular, to push for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Meanwhile, owners of the city's department stores, which in many cases had been reluctantly complying with Birmingham's segregation laws to begin with, had already agreed in principle to remove "whites only" signs from fitting rooms, water fountains and restrooms. As in Atlanta, the desegregation of lunch counters was timed to coincide with the court-ordered desegregation of Birmingham City Schools.
- 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