Review: Dividing Lines (Birmingham)

Review: Dividing Lines: Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma
Review: Dividing Lines: Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma


Exactly 50 years ago, the Birmingham business community surrendered to integration as a result of pressure from the federal government and negative media publicity from the May 1963 demonstrations.

Those civil rights demonstrations led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Shuttlesworth in Birmingham in May 1963 generated iconic images of the Birmingham Police Department using “fire hoses” and “snarling police dogs” on black high school students.

Those images were broadcast across the world and the savage international criticism and the shift in American public opinion that resulted moved President Kennedy, a Cold War president, to propose a comprehensive federal civil rights bill to end racial segregation. After his assassination in November 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was sold and passed as a tribute to JFK’s legacy.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed mainly as a result of the events in Birmingham, destroyed the Jim Crow South. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed as a result of the events in Selma, reenfranchised Southern blacks whose distorting effect on the national electorate unleashed the forces that led to the creation of Black Run America (BRA).

In Dividing Lines: Municipal Politics and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, J. Mills Thornton III analyzes the Civil Rights Movement from the grassroots level and attempts to explain how municipal politics produced the explosions that carried the Civil Rights Movement forward in Montgomery, Birmingham, and Selma, which had failed to generate the same traction in other Southern cities such as Albany (GA), Meridian (MS), and Mobile.

“The Magic City” in 1963 was the third largest city in the South (behind Atlanta and New Orleans). Unlike other Southern cities, Birmingham was a Northern-style industrial city like Pittsburgh or Detroit, and its politics were dominated by a strong blue collar White working class and White lower middle class majority.

Earlier in its history, Birmingham’s politics had been dominated by three factions, business interests, labor unions, and the Klan. The decline of the Klan in the 1930s tipped the balance of municipal power in Birmingham toward the business community. After 1937, this led to a long period of stability in which the business community protected the racial values and economic interests of the White working class (through segregation and the “race wage”) in exchange for deference in politics to the business leadership.

The key figure in this racial alliance was Eugene “Bull” Connor who served as the Commissioner of Public Safety from 1937 to 1952 and again from 1957 to 1963. In 1952, the business community orchestrated the removal of Connor from office (through publicizing an illicit affair) after a series of Klan bombings in the Smithfield district convinced the “business progressives” that racial violence was damaging Birmingham’s national image and that Connor had become an albatross in their rivalry with Atlanta to become the Deep South’s premiere city.

It was in this context of diminishing racial tensions in Birmingham that the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Brown decision in 1954 and the Civil Rights Movement began to challenge segregation in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. In Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, as well as throughout Alabama in general (John Patterson and George Wallace were elected governor in 1958 and 1962), the attack on segregation by the federal courts and black demonstrators inflamed the White majority.

In Selma and Montgomery, the resistance was dominated by the White Citizens’ Council which exploded in growth and soon became the dominant force in municipal politics, which had the effect of silencing White moderates for a number of a years. In Birmingham, which was a rougher blue collar city, a boom town without an antebellum past, the Klan revived and violence was more commonly used to enforce community norms than in other parts of the state.

In 1957, “Bull” Connor rode the wave of segregationist outrage back to office as the Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham. By this time, Birmingham’s business elite and White upper middle class was moving “Over the Mountain” to the suburbs in Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills, and was losing power to the White working class majority which remained “Down in the Valley.”

Bull Connor’s Birmingham in 1963 was the largest city of its size in the Jim Crow South, which because it was an industrial city had the White electorate most committed to the defense of segregation, and where the Klan had the closest ties to the municipal power structure. It also had a business leadership, which increasingly resided outside of Birmingham, that was deeply committed to its municipal rivalry with Atlanta and the “New South” ideology of industrial progress.

The black community in Birmingham was sharply polarized between wealthy upper class moderates like A.G. Gaston and Arthur Shores, who believed in advancing “civil rights” through litigation in the federal courts and negotiation and compromise with the “business progressives,” and militants like the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights who believed that only a full frontal assault on the system could bring it down.

Among the other major players in Birmingham, there was the Alabama state government, which under Patterson and Wallace was committed to the defense of segregation, and the various branches of the federal government, which took different approaches to  segregation in Birmingham at different times. Also included in this mix were “outside agitators,” namely Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC, the Freedom Riders who came in 1961, and the Mainstream Media.

The segregationists in Birmingham couldn’t be effectively challenged at the ballot box at the state or local level. Instead, the attack on Jim Crow Birmingham came primarily through the federal courts: the destruction of the White primary in Smith v. Allwright (1944), the Brown decision (1954 and 1955), Boynton v. Virginia (1960), the ICC which ordered the integration of bus terminals (1960).

By 1962, federal courts (in Birmingham, usually the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which repeatedly overruled District Judges Seymour Lynne and Hobart Grooms) had ordered the integration of public schools, bus terminals, the parks, and the library in Birmingham. The Freedom Riders arrived in Birmingham in 1961 (and were beaten by the Klan) in order to test the integration of bus terminals which had already been ordered by the Supreme Court and ICC.

Starting around 1960, Birmingham’s small enclave of Disingenuous White Liberals (DWLs) began to encourage their allies in the Mainstream Media to attack Birmingham’s national image. In 1960, Harrison Salisbury published an article in the New York Times which depicted Bull Connor’s Birmingham as a racist tyranny paralyzed by fear:

“Every channel of communication, every medium of mutual interest, every reasoned approach, every inch of middle ground has been fragmented by the emotional dynamite of racism, enforced by the whip, the razor, the gun, the bomb, the torch, the club, the knife, the mob, the police, and many branches of the states’ apparatus.”

In the wake of the beating of the Freedom Riders in 1961 and the avalanche of criticism from the Mainstream Media, the “business progressives” in Birmingham (driven by their obsession to compete with Atlanta) turned against segregation and hatched a plot to rid the city of Bull Connor, the White working class majority, and to peacefully integrate the city with the black moderates under their own leadership.

The scheme was to exploit the growing number of registered black voters and the resentment in the White community over the closure of the city parks to convince Birmingham’s electorate to dump the City Commission and adopt the Mayor/Council form of government. The “business progressives” hoped that dumping the City Commission would reduce the power of the White working class majority, eliminate Bull Connor, and convince the “Over the Mountain” suburbs to consolidate with Birmingham, which would further change the electorate in their favor.

In 1962, Birmingham voters chose to adopt the Mayor/Council form of government, which had been sold to them as a way to defend segregation. In April 1963, Albert Boutwell was elected mayor of Birmingham, along with the new City Council. This brought about a lawsuit in which the City Commission attempted to hold onto power. It was resolved in favor of the City Council on May 23, 1963.

It was at this decisive point – when Birmingham was on the precipice of peaceful integration, and the “business progressives” were on the verge of getting their way – that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Shuttlesworth launched their direct action campaign in April 1963 and May 1963 to integrate the five downtown department stores.

The “business progressives” and downtown merchants had already sold out to integration in secret negotiations with the black moderates (the rivals of Fred Shuttlesworth) … and were waiting for Albert Boutwell to assume office, and the lawsuit with the City Commission to be resolved, at which time they would begin to integrate and wouldn’t have to choose between two rival governments.

Shuttlesworth and King chose to force to issue because they wanted a surrender, not a negotiated settlement. MLK defied a federal court order, which is why he was locked up in the Birmingham jail, where he wrote his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” in April. The case would ultimately go all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled against King. He returned to Birmingham to serve time in 1967.

In May 1963, the Birmingham campaign had largely been a failure, until MLK’s associate James Bevel (who would later be convicted of molesting his own children) hit upon the idea of using wave after wave of black children to paralyze law and order by overwhelming the resources of the Birmingham Police Department. It was at this point that Bull Connor (a lame duck, who would be removed from power in two weeks) authorized the use of fire hoses and police dogs to quell the demonstrations.

While the same tactics are routinely used in riot control across the world (see recent examples in Germany, Turkey, and Chile), Bull Connor and the Birmingham Police Department were demonized by the international press and the Mainstream Media, and the “shocking images” of police brutality in Birmingham (in which no one was killed) were used to justify the destruction of segregation by Congress.

In the months that followed, Mayor Albert Boutwell, the “business progressives,” and the downtown merchants submitted to one demand after another. There was a showdown between Gov. George Wallace and JFK over the integration of Birmingham City Schools which resulted in JFK federalizing the Alabama National Guard to compel integration. When the political process failed to preserve segregation, the Klan resorted to terrorism and blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed and removed the last vestiges of segregation in Birmingham. Also in 1964, the swelling number of black voters (along with upper middle class Whites in the Southside of Birmingham) defeated an attempt by the segregationists to restore the City Commission. Henceforth, the White working class majority which had supported segregation was electorally broken, and White liberals and their black moderate allies would dominate Birmingham into the late 1970s.

If there is any lesson to be learned in this story, it is that the existence of the Union is what ultimately proved fatal to segregation in Birmingham.

– In Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Tuskegee, Gov. George Wallace was forced to submit to integration, which had been mandated by the federal courts, and which was enforced by President Kennedy who federalized the Alabama National Guard.

– In Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, as well as Alabama in general, the Civil Rights Movement inflamed and invigorated the segregationist majority, which would have prevailed had it not been for outside interference.

– In Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, the White segregationist majority succeeded in defeating the White moderates at the local level, and cowing them into silence. Gov. Patterson even sued the New York Times for libel which resulted in a landmark Supreme Court case.

– In Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, integration was compelled by the federal courts, and the swelling number of black voters was a product of federal court intervention. The White majority in Birmingham voted to retain the City Commission in 1962 and voted for Bull Connor for mayor in 1963, but the White minority prevailed with the assistance of black voters.

– Finally, Alabama’s representatives in Congress decisively rejected the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in spite of the Mainstream Media, but were forced to submit to these laws only because the Northern majority in Congress voted for them.

The “System” isn’t what destroyed segregation in Birmingham and Alabama. At the state and local level, the “System” was sufficient to rollback such challenges. In the 1890s, the Northern majority lost interest in defending Reconstruction, and the “System” unraveled and Alabama passed the 1901 Constitution. In 1964, the Northern majority was inflamed by the images in Birmingham, and launched the Second Reconstruction by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If it were not for the existence of the Union, Birmingham would probably still be segregated today in 2013. That’s something to consider as we ponder the next wave of amnesty for illegal aliens, gay marriage, and the confiscation of firearms.

Note: OD has already reviewed the chapter on the parallel collapse of segregation in Montgomery.

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  1. JFK spearheaded the civil rights movement and the making of MLK which put him in the white house by narrowly defeating Nixon within 100 k of votes. no recount of the ballots since the msm back then were limited.. three major networks.
    Nixon of course conceded.
    Lee Harvey Oswald may well be a James booth. The msm simply cover the motive as the public clearly didn’t want spearchuckers in their midst.

    JFK, his father was a boot leger with mob ties. Joe Kennedy was an ambassador of England during ww2 he’s association with lucky luciano was release from prison and sent back in exchange for cooporation with his mob native of invasion of Sicily.

  2. Typical mob…JFK was a womanizer, slept with countless women,after his death, Jacklyn Kennedy married a tycoon.

  3. The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground. – Thomas Jefferson
    For one, I am opposed to negro citizenship in any and every form. I believe this Government was made on the white basis. I believe it was made by white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity for ever, and I am in favor of conferring citizenship to white men, men of European birth and descent, instead of conferring it upon negroes, Indians, and other inferior races. – Stephen A. Douglas
    How did we lose our country? White liberals crusaded for egalitarianism and lined their pockets through this crusade. When the ever-expanding crusade needed to appeal to the coloured races, the need to destroy Whites either by submergence, mongrelization, sterilization, or direct killing became paramount. The Roman power was founded on genocide and slavery … and so was the original American power. If we do not successfully impose these dreadful twins upon the coloured races, they will most assuredly impose them upon us. The sands of time are running out for us.

  4. Are the “business progressives” named at all?

    They must number in the 6summatorother range…right?

    Birmingham was simply the test case for things like Joberg, Cape, Salisbury. Will YT defend his furthest most colonies or fold.

  5. I’d like to open this discussion up a bit. The Civil Rights struggle is considered an American wide thing.

    It’s clear that it was aimed at a white community that had a self conscious white identity, and that it was also the local upper class abandoning ties to their own ethnic working class. How does a Marxist interpret this process? Or a Libertarian? Or a liberal? It was effectively a retreat, like a reverse Roarke’s Drift.

  6. “the local upper class abandoning ties to their own ethnic working class”

    The American grande bourgeoisie has always had a rather adversarial relationship with even its own lower orders not least of all the rich Anglican Tidewater planters with the twice dispossessed Presbyterian Scotch-Irish crofters.

  7. How does a Marxist interpret this process?

    A Marxist interprets Negro Civil Rights as the mobilization of negro lumpen and working class by a would-be negro bourgeoisie.

    Libertarians and Liberals are fucking cranks that all believe their own individual enlightened intuitions on such matters.

  8. It would be telling to see how whites in SA split according to Dutch, Portuguese, German, French or British root… And also along class lines. Because the same process played out in Birmingham and is now crushing whites in the US and Canada.

  9. “The merchant class have no nationality, nor race.”

    Nathan Bedford Forrest was a merchant of cotton, plantation real estate, and slaves.

  10. “The merchant class have no nationality, nor race.”

    Nathan Bedford Forrest was a merchant of cotton, plantation real estate, and slaves.

    Before the war. After, not so much.

  11. I lived through some of the later days of integration in Alabama. I was in attending what is now Southside High School just east of Selma on highway 80 in the late 60’s when blacks began to appear. I clearly remember one particular day waiting to board the bus to go home. I uncle was a senior in the same school. He got on the bus and a black guy was setting in the seat next to my uncle’s friend. My uncle asked him to move so he could set by his friend. He wouldn’t move, so my uncle and his friend violently removed the black guy. More of that should have happened and should be happening now. Instead most whites will not join in the fight and overwhelm the black hoard.

  12. “The merchant class have no nationality, nor race.”

    Nathan Bedford Forrest was a merchant of cotton, plantation real estate, and slaves”

    Americas was founded by the wealthy and for the wealthy.

  13. @J Spruce

    Your comments are unintelligible. Learn to construct a proper sentence, idiot.

  14. Hunter :

    I read the Wapo story you linked to on that disgusting filthy nigger James Bevel, the blabbering shovel-nosed One Banana Difference rape ape who fucked his own daughter(s), then made her go to the bathroom to use an old-fashioned douche he had prepared in advance for her.

    Disgusting, filthy, verminous OBD animal with stunning Dunning-Kruger mental deficiencies that result in a fantastically inflated ego and endless self-righteous nigger babble.

    And, MLK’s right-hand man !

    Here’s the saddest part of the James Bevel story, however, in two parts:

    Part I: Though sentenced to 15 years for “unlawful fornication,” Bevel was released on appeal after serving only 7 months in prison (and was made good a few months later by cancer);

    Part II: His daughter and sex toy Jamese (who changed her name to the equally ridiculous niggerfied “Aaralyn”), the one of his 16 chirren (!) who provided the most damning testimony against him in court, went on to marry white Olympic speed skater and DWL Nathaniel Mills (brother of 1988 acrobat Gold Medalist Phoebe Mills), and together they produced a little half-simian mud puppy.

    Just, wow.

    – Arturo

  15. The other lesson from this story is how the white working class is consistently ethnocentric whereas the white upper class tends to be “anti-racist.” We see this today in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and West Coast, all of which are infested with upper middle class DWL’s, and two of which are homogeneously white (the Mexicanized and Asianized West Coast being the exception). If upper middle class whites voted against their own kind in fricking Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, then I don’t think there’s much hope for the ethnomasochist white trash living in Vermont, Massachusetts, Northern Minnesota, etc.

    Hopefully these DWL’s are anomalies within the white population as a whole who just happen to be concentrated in specific areas

  16. This is a little off topic but I just happened to be reading “Hitler Born at Versailles” and here’s another abomination linked to the existence of the Union. From Colonel House’s journal,” Our quarrel with Germany does not stir much emotion in the West of the country or to the south of Ohio. That’s three-fourths of the country.” (House, II, 60) He added: “As for the rest of the country I noticed that it is the old men and sometimes women who are displaying bellicosity.” Colonel House being the Jewish controller of President Wilson.
    Without Yankee love for WWI we would not have had WWII. Without WWII no Frankfurt school mental aberration. Maybe we would still have it but their arguments would have been much more difficult without the boogeyman of Hitler.

  17. Without Yankee love for WWI we would not have had WWII. Without WWII no Frankfurt school mental aberration. Maybe we would still have it but their arguments would have been much more difficult without the boogeyman of Hitler.

    Read David Irving compilation memoir-brits and france would have made concession with the nsdap leaders u.s. had not meddle with euro affairs.

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