Segregation ordinances

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Birmingham's segregations ordinances were sections of the Birmingham City Code which required businesses and events to provide separate facilities for white and black patrons. Racial segregation was the custom in Birmingham from the beginning, but the city ordinances making it a matter of local law appeared mainly in the early 20th century, and were enforced most strenuously during the long tenure of Birmingham City Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor.

Injustices arising from these local ordinances was one of the primary motivations for the organized Civil Rights Movement, which reached its head in the 1963 "Birmingham Campaign" aimed at desegregating downtown stores and lunch counters and opening up jobs as store clerks and municipal workers to African Americans. Various federal court decisions and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 made the city's segregation laws unenforceable. The Birmingham City Council voted unanimously on July 23, 1963 to strike them from the city code. It was explained by city attorney J. M. Breckinridge that the action meant that "a private owner now has the freedom to decide whether he will or will not serve Negroes."

The Citizens Committee for Conservative Government opposed the repeal.

Codes

1930

Birmingham's City Code was revised in 1930 and published as The General Code of the City of Birmingham, Alabama, of 1930. It included specific language requiring the races to be kept separated in public places, and against blacks and whites playing together at games of chance.

1944

Birmingham's city code was revised in 1944 and published as General Code of the City of Birmingham of 1944. This code contained several provisions relating to racial segregation:

  • "Chapter 14, Drugs and Food, Section 369, Separation of Races. It shall be unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectually separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment."
  • "Chapter 23, Gambling, Section 597, Negroes and White Persons Not To Play Together. It shall be unlawful for a negro and a white person to play together or in company with each other in any game of cards or dice, dominoes or checkers. Any person, who being the owner, proprietor or keeper or superintendent, of any tavern, inn, restaurant or other public house or public place, or the clerk, servant or employee or such owner, proprietor, keeper or superintendent, knowingly permits a negro and a white person to play together or in company with each other at any game with cards, dice, dominoes or checkers, in his house or on his premises shall, on conviction, be punished as provided in section 4."
  • "Chapter 35, Offenses-Miscellaneous, Section 859, Separation of Races.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person in charge or control of any room, hall, theatre, picture house, auditorium, yard, court, ballpark, public park, or other indoor or outdoor place, to which both white persons and negroes are admitted, to cause, permit or allow therein or thereon any theatrical performance, picture exhibition, speech, or educational or entertainment program of any kind whatsoever, unless such room, hall, theatre, picture house, auditorium, yard, court, ball park, or other place, has entrances, exits and seating or standing sections set aside for and assigned to the use of white persons, and other entrances, exits and seating or standing sections set aside for and assigned to the use of negroes, unless the entrances, exits and seating or standing sections set aside for and assigned to the use of white persons are distinctly separated from those set aside for and assigned to the use of negroes, by well defined physical barriers, and unless the members of each race are effectively restricted and confined to the sections set aside for and assigned to the use of such race.
(b) It shall be unlawful for any member of one race to use or occupy any entrance, exit or seating or standing section set aside for and assigned to the use of members of the other race."
  • "Chapter 40, Pool and Billiard Rooms and Bowling Alleys, Section 859: Separation of Races. It shall be unlawful for a negro and a white person to play together or in company with each other at any game of pool or billiards.
Any person, who, being the owner, proprietor or in charge of any poolroom, pooltable, billiard room or billiard table, knowingly permits a negro and a white person to play together or in company with each other at any game of pool or billiards on his premises shall, upon conviction, be punished as provided in section 4."
  • "Chapter 43, Street Railways, Section 1002, Separation of Races. Every common carrier engaged in operation streetcars in the city for the carriage of passengers shall provide equal but separate accomodations [sic] for the white and colored races by providing separate cars or by clearly indicating or designating by physical visible marks the area to be occupied by each race in any streetcar in which the two races are permitted to be carried together and by confining each race to occupancy of the area of such streetcar so set apart for it.
Every common carrier engaged in operating streetcars in the city for the carrying of passengers shall provide for each car used for white and colored passengers, separate entrances and exits to and from such cars in such manner as to prevent intermingling of the white and colored passengers when entering or leaving such car, but this provision for separate entrances and exits shall not apply to the cars operated on the following lines: The South Highlands, Idlewild and Rugby Highland lines or routes.
It shall be unlawful for any such common carrier to operate or cause or allow to be operated, or for any servant, employee or agent of any such common carrier to aid in operating for the carriage of white or colored passengers, any streetcar not equipped as provided in this section. And it shall be unlawful for any person, contrary to the provisions of this section providing for equal and separate accomodations [sic] for the white and colored races on streetcars, to ride or attempt to ride in a car or a division of a car designated for the race to which such person does not belong.
Failure to comply with this section shall be deemed a misdemeanor."
  • "Chapter 45, Sewers, Drains and Human Wastes, Section 1110, Toilet Facilities-Male Every employer of white or negro males shall provide for such white and negro males reasonably

accessible and separate toilet facilities in such number that there shall be available a separate water closet for each twenty-five or lesser number of white or negro males having access thereto during a single day. Such separate white and negro toilet facilities shall be clearly marked to distinguish each from the other and it shall be unlawful for any person to use any facility not designated for such person's comfort."

  • "Chapter 45, Sewers, Drains and Human Wastes, Section 1111, Toilet Facilities-Female

Every employer of white or negro females shall provide for such white and negro females reasonably accessible and separate toilet facilities in such number that there shall be available a separate water closet for each twenty-five or lesser number of white or negro females having access thereto during a single day. Such separate white and negro toilet facilities shall be clearly marked to distinguish each from the other and it shall be unlawful for any person to use any facility not designated for such person's comfort."

  • "Chapter 51, Traffic, Section 1413, Separation of Races. Every owner or operator of any jitney, bus or taxicab in the city shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races by dividing separate vehicles or by clearly indicating or designating by visible markers the area to be occupied by each race in any vehicle in which the two races are permitted to be carried together and by confining each race to occupancy of the area of such vehicle so set apart for it.It shall be unlawful for any person to operate or cause or allow to be operated or to aid in operating for the carriage of white and colored passengers any vehicle not equipped as provided in this section. And it shall be unlawful for any person, contrary to the provisions of this section providing for equal and separate accommodations for the white and colored races, to ride or attempt to ride in a vehicle or a division of a vehicle designated for the race to which such person does not belong.
Failure to comply with this section shall be deemed a misdemeanor."

1950

On September 19, 1950 the Birmingham City Commission adopted Ordinance 798-F amending Section 597 of the Code, adding several team sports to the previously-adopted list of sidewalk games. This action followed three years after the integration of baseball's National League Brooklyn Dodgers, and effectively barred Major League teams from playing exhibition games in Birmingham.

  • "Section 597, Negroes and White Persons Not To Play Together. It shall be unlawful for a Negro and a white person to play together or in company with each other in any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, baseball, softball, football, basketball or similar games.
Any person, who being the owner, proprietor or keeper or superintendent of any tavern, inn, restaurant, ballfield, stadium or other public house or public place, or the clerk, servant or employee of such owner, proprietor, keeper, or superintendent, knowingly permits a Negro and a white person to play together or in company with each other, at any game with a baseball, softball, basketball or other ball, in his house or on his premises or in a house or on premises under his charge, supervision or control, shall, on conviction, be punished as provided in Section 4."

1963, as appealed

  • Chapter 14, Drugs and Food, Section 369 was repealed.
  • Chapter 23, Gambling, Section 597 was repealed.
  • Chapter 35, Offenses-Miscellaneous, Section 859 was repealed. It had read as above, but with the following additional provisions:
"(C) It shall be unlawful for any person to conduct, participate in, or engage in any theatrical performance, picture exhibition, speech or educational or entertainment program of any kind whatsoever, in any room, hall, theater, picture house, auditorium, yard, court, ball park, public park, or other indoor or outdoor place, knowing that any provision of the two preceding subdivisions has not been complied with."
"(D) The chief of police and members of the police department shall have the right, and it shall be their duty, to disperse any gathering or assemblage in violation of this section, and to arrest any person guilty of violating the same."
  • Chapter 40, Pool and Billiard Rooms and Bowling Alleys, Section 859 was repealed.
  • Chapter 45, Sewers, Drains and Human Wastes, Sections 1110 and 1111 were repealed.
  • Ordinance 63-07: A new ordinance to prohibit "unlawful assemblages and breaches of the peace," was passed, consolidating various existing ordinances. The new law spelled out that no more than six individuals could participate in a demonstration, and that they must maintain a distance 10 feet between each other when in front of a business or public facility. Also, demonstrators were barred from, "shouting, singing, or engaging in any boisterous conduct 'in such a manner as to disturb the peace and tranquility of the community'."
  • Building Code of Birmingham, Section 2002.1 was amended to remove a requirement that new buildings provide separate toilets for use by white and black users.

1964

Birmingham adopted a new city code in 1964. Some parts of the 1944 code, including all zoning codes, were specifically exempted from repeal by passage of the new code.

The city adopted its current code in 1980.

References