Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolutionby Diane McWhorter
"The Year of Birmingham," 1963, was a cataclysmic turning point in America's long civil rights struggle. That spring, child demonstrators faced down police dogs and fire hoses in huge nonviolent marches for desegregation. A few months later, Ku Klux Klansmen retaliated by bombing the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and killing four young black girls. Diane
"The Year of Birmingham," 1963, was a cataclysmic turning point in America's long civil rights struggle. That spring, child demonstrators faced down police dogs and fire hoses in huge nonviolent marches for desegregation. A few months later, Ku Klux Klansmen retaliated by bombing the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and killing four young black girls. Diane McWhorter, journalist and daughter of a prominent Birmingham family, weaves together police and FBI documents, interviews with black activists and former Klansmen, and personal memories into an extraordinary narrative of the city, the personalities, and the events that brought about America's second emancipation.
Winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
Winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award
One of Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Nonfiction Books since 1923
“Best Books” List: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, American Heritage
Winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
Winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award
One of Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Nonfiction Books since 1923
“Best Books” List: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, American Heritage
“A tour de force, comparable in importance to J. Anthony Lukas's Common Ground and Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters. Carry Me Home is destined to become a classic in the history of the civil rights movement."
"An exhaustive journey through both the segregationist and integrationist sides of Birmingham's struggle . . . [McWhorter] contributes significantly to the historical record."
“A big, important book, a challenging portrait of an American city at the center of the most significant domestic drama of the twentieth century."
"McWhorter's own involvement in the story . . . reenergizes the struggle, serving as a reminder that history is always personal."
“This epic of reportage and history about Birmingham, Alabama, in the early'60s reads like a big ambitious novel. . . . McWhorter's complex narrative roves skillfully forward and backward . . . the cast is huge and vivid, the story brimming with courage, drama, villains and heroes. The War and Peace of the civil right movement.”
“The most important book on the movement since Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters."
Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction
Winner of the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize
Winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award
One of Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Nonfiction Books since 1923
“Best Books” List: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, American Heritage
- Simon & Schuster
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.70(d)
Read an Excerpt
Chapter Eight: Pivot
The Freedom Rides were proving to be one of history's rare alchemical phenomena, altering the structural makeup of everything they touched. They had engineered what was perhaps Birmingham's major civic turning point since Joe Gelders revealed to the La Follette committee that U.S. Steel had terrorists on its payroll. In the continuing evolution of vigilantism in Birmingham, the Freedom Riders' welcome to the city marked the end of Bull Connor's long life as the intermediary between the Big Mules and the Klan, alienating him with finality from his old sponsors. As Sid Smyer's study group proved, the business elite was finally distancing itself from the militantly segregationist ideology it had long shared with the Klan.
As Jim Farmer intended, the Freedom Rides had engaged the federal government in a symbiosis with the civil rights movement, but they had also made the government a shield for the Ku Klux Klan. The FBI's cover-up of Gary Thomas Rowe's actions would taint the Justice Department for decades, and that was only one of the bureau's insults to the civil rights movement. The most historic result of the Freedom Rides was perhaps the least well known: J. Edgar Hoover's enduring vendetta against Martin Luther King.
That Hoover's career path had wound its way to Birmingham had a certain logic: His profession as a hunter of subversives had been launched by U.S. Steel. To squelch the union movement among its workers in 1919, the Corporation had helped foment the Red Scare that led Congress to create an anti-radical general intelligence division of the Justice Department. Hoover was appointed its first chief, a green twenty-four-year-old who grafted his prejudices as a product of Jim Crow Washington on to his anti-red mission; Hoover's first black target had been America's pioneer "mass" leader, the Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey, whom he had bagged in 1923 on mail fraud charges.
Hoover's division was dissolved the following year, and he became director of the Bureau of Investigation, which acquired the prefix "Federal" during the New Deal. He never met a civil rights figure he didn't hold in suspicion Philip Randolph, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, even Mary McLeod Bethune. Truman's Committee on Civil Rights he considered pink at best. And his agents had cooperated with Bull Connor in closing down the Southern Negro Youth Congress. In 1953, the bureau opened a Communist-infiltration investigation of CORE, the cause of Hoover's current dilemma.
The Justice Department had been getting big doses of the FBI's aggressive passivity all week. Frustration over the Birmingham bureau's dodges had prompted the attorney general to buzz Hoover, technically his subordinate, and ask him how many agents "we" had in Birmingham. "We have enough, we have enough," the director said, and let loose a flood of words that neither answered the question nor didn't answer it. On Sunday night during the siege at Ralph Abernathy's church, the complaints about the FBI from Justice's "riot squadders" as the lawyers on these ad hoc assignments were henceforth known had grown so persistent that Robert Kennedy called his brother, who called Hoover at midnight. Hoover regarded any criticism of an FBI employee as "an attack on me personally," and he responded by scrounging around for a scapegoat. By morning he had found someone to take the blame for his staff's shortcomings in Alabama: It was the man responsible for the Sunday-night mess, Martin Luther King.
Making a target of King would solve another problem for Hoover. Three months earlier, his new attorney general had declared war on the Mafia, an organization that Hoover insisted did not exist possibly, as students of the FBI would later claim, because its dons had photographic proof of the director's taste for makeup and women's clothing. Hoping to divert Kennedy from the Mafia, Hoover declared that "the Communist Party U.S.A. presents a greater menace to the internal security of our Nation than it ever has." Kennedy practically laughed, saying that the Party's membership consisted primarily of FBI agents. But Hoover could now get the upper hand over his boss if it was proved that the civil rights movement currently being protected by the attorney general's men was under the thumb of the Communist Party.
On Monday, May 22, Hoover ordered a report on King. Later in the day he received some spotty intelligence. The only potential red bait was that after King had been stabbed in the New York department store in 1958, Ben Davis, the black Harvard-educated Stalinist who was Angelo Herndon's lawyer before becoming Harlem's Communist councilman, had donated blood to his fellow Atlantan. Also, there was King's speech at the twenty-fifth anniversary commemoration of the Highlander Folk School, which the bureau, along with the rest of the segregationist world, referred to as a "Communist Party training school." Indeed, the FBI document's details, as well as its spirit, echoed the report that Detective Tom Cook had done on King a year earlier for Bull Connor. On the new report's admission that King had not been investigated by the FBI, Hoover annotated a peevish "Why not?" Hoover's minions needed no further directive to get to the bottom of the civil rights mess this "latest form of the eternal rebellion against authority," as Hoover characterized Communism.
Alabama's Big Man
On Monday night, King faced the first public challenge to his leadership from within the Movement. Fred Shuttlesworth had so far kept his beefs with him private, in the family, but now a showdown between the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was taking place at Montgomery's black YMCA. The students were asking King to put his "body" in the Movement and accompany them to Jackson, Mississippi, on the freedom bus. His excuse that he was on probation for his arrest during the Atlanta sit-ins stunned them. They, too, were on probation, for they had sponsored the sit-ins. "Well, now, I think I should choose the time and place of my Golgotha," King said, referring to the site of Jesus' Crucifixion. The students laughed at the man whom they had seen as a messiah and from then on mocked him as "de Lawd."
To the student vanguard, the black leader of choice was Shuttlesworth, whose star was rising that night in Birmingham as King's was in eclipse in Montgomery. Shuttlesworth arrived at the mass meeting in the middle of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights treasurer Bill Shortridge's startling announcement that people had "run him down on the street" all week to give him money. Spying Shuttlesworth, the submissive first vice president, Ed Gardner, rushed to the pulpit and roused the assembled to their feet for a screaming ovation. Second vice president Abraham Lincoln Woods's introduction of Shuttlesworth hailed a Second Coming. "Nothing has happened in the South until God let this big man be born in Alabama," he said. Even Connor's surveillance men seemed to sense what Shuttlesworth had understood that Christmas night more than four years earlier when a bomb blew up his house: He had entered history. "They are trying to make Shuttlesworth very big and important," the detectives observed.
Shuttlesworth returned to Montgomery on Tuesday "to keep all the symbols all together in one place." Twelve hundred National Guardsmen in combat garb, along with more than six hundred federal marshals, patrolled the capital with fixed bayonets and stood guard at the homes of black activists, costing the Ala-bama taxpayers $30,000 a day. Rather than seeing "Pat's soldiers" as a nuisance, Shuttlesworth encouraged King, Abernathy, and Wyatt Walker to make nuisances of themselves, insisting that they report to the militia command before making the least move.
Meanwhile, the SNCC students prepared to die. Early on Wednesday morning, they took a bus out of Montgomery bound for Jackson. Escorted by forty-two vehicles containing Guardsmen, state police, and journalists, plus three L-19 reconnaissance planes and two helicopters, the twelve riders were outnumbered by the sixteen reporters one of them the Times's Claude Sitton, who had flown to Alabama on Monday. The Freedom Rides were turning out not to be the containable political crisis the Kennedys had assumed they would be when they gave state authorities the green light to arrest the riders on Monday ("I'm sure they would be represented by competent counsel," the starchy Byron White told reporters). A second freedom bus, carrying mostly CORE members, including a foot-dragging Jim Farmer, left a few hours after the first. Robert Kennedy dismissed these trips as unauthorized.
The Kennedys' irritation increased as their own peer group joined the bus protest. William Sloane Coffin Jr., the thirty-six-year-old son of New York's Sloane furniture family who was the chaplain of Yale University, had decided to become a Freedom Rider after seeing a picture in his Sunday paper of John Lewis lying on a Montgomery street, bleeding. Coffin and six other Ivy Leaguers, including an old Yale Divinity classmate originally from Montgomery and a black Yale Law student, rolled into the Montgomery Greyhound station late Wednesday afternoon, May 24. They debarked through a column of National Guard bayonets into the embrace of Fred Shuttlesworth and Wyatt Tee Walker, who took them to Ralph Abernathy's house for a fried chicken supper. Martin Luther King took a testy call from Robert Kennedy and after hanging up reported to Abernathy's guests that the Kennedys didn't have a clue that the Freedom Rides were part of "the social revolution going on in the world."
On the morning of Thursday, May 25, Shuttlesworth stalked up and down Abernathy's porch, lecturing the National Guardsmen about the evils of segregation. He had decided to accompany Coffin's group on the eleven-thirty bus to Jackson. Guardsmen escorted them through the barricade of troops around the Trailways station. Shuttlesworth, Abernathy, Walker, and the old Alabama State sit-in leader Bernard Lee bought tickets along with Coffin's people and went to get coffee at the white lunch counter. Shuttlesworth noticed that General Henry Graham, whose "very nice" bearing had so impressed him at Abernathy's church Sunday night and whose voice had broken the day before in wishing the
Montgomery-bound riders "a safe journey" had "gotten tired of us." Graham gave the nod to the Montgomery County sheriff to arrest all eleven men. Walker, who was telephoning his wife in Atlanta to tell her he would be home that night, protested that he didn't see any "Colored" sign over the phone booth, but General Graham said wearily, "Now everyone is happy. This is what they wanted and we have accommodated them." Although Coffin received top billing, Shuttlesworth once again made it onto the front page of the New York Times.
The Klan's Day in Court
The Ku Klux Klan was experiencing its first tremors of vulnerability. Barely a week earlier, the FBI had observed that the Klan's chief, Bobby Shelton, was in Birmingham "expecting calls from the governor's office." But apparently, after four Klansmen were indicted on federal charges in the Anniston freedom bus firebombing on Monday, John Patterson began to rethink their collaboration. More recently, an FBI informant overheard him tell a Klansman, "You need not think that because you all supported me you can take the law into your own hands.
I'm going to start arresting you every time you get out of line and start causing trouble."
The Justice Department had already moved against the Klan. John Doar, a Justice lawyer who happened to be in Alabama working on a voter registration case, had sought a novel injunction restraining the Klan from interfering with the safe travel of persons in the state. A Republican from Wisconsin, Doar was an Eisenhower holdover who had become the imperturbable Gary Cooper of the Kennedy civil rights team, and the Montgomery-based federal judge who gave him his injunction in the dark hours of the morning following the Saturday riot in the capital was a fellow tall Republican, from the "Free County of Winston," the anti-secessionist stronghold in North Alabama that had contributed a cavalry detail to the Union Army. Judge Frank Johnson had by now desegregated Montgomery's parks (which the commission promptly closed, in 1959) and, three years before, had delivered an unmerciful dressing-down to his old law school chum George Wallace, when the "fighting little judge" defied the "errand boys of the Civil Rights Commission" who had subpoenaed his district's voting records. Wallace had reputedly showed up at the judge's house one night with a paper bag over his head to cut a deal.
On Friday, May 26, Judge Johnson, whose house was being guarded by U.S. marshals, hosted the Ku Klux Klan in his courtroom for a hearing on his restraining order against it. The cocksure Klansmen who had hijacked the Greyhound bus in Anniston had become shaky boys. Cecil Lamar Lewallyn, the youth charged with throwing the firebomb, cowered behind the witness stand. When his voice could not carry beyond the bench, Johnson acidly informed his court, "He's trying to plead the Fifth Amendment." Then Johnson summoned a federal marshal to "commit this man to jail for contempt of court." Watching Lewallyn being led from the courtroom was his attorney J. B. Stoner, who was enjoying his emerging alliance with the Klan at the same time that he was rallying his National States Rights Party behind another defendant, Adolf Eichmann, who was about to go on trial in Jerusalem for the war crimes he had committed as Hitler's operations man.
The chief quarry of the Justice Department's Klan injunction, Bobby Shelton, further provoked Judge Johnson when he took the witness stand and proceeded to ignore John Doar's questions. Fiddling with his glasses and furrowing his brow, Shelton finally answered Doar's query about whether he knew any members of the Alabama Klans: "To authenticate this information, I do not." Judge Johnson turned furiously on him and said, "That's not responsive." Ultimately, Shelton admitted that he knew Robert Thomas, Hubert Page, and the suspected organizer of the Anniston attack, Ace Carter's old crony Kenneth Adams, who was also represented by Stoner.
Johnson had put on an exhilarating performance. But as his earlier rout of George Wallace had proved, often in Alabama to lose was to win. Wallace had used his showdown with Johnson and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission to turn a simple "niggering" antic into a protest against the aggression of Big Government. And similarly, Wallace's future ally, Shelton, shed crocodile tears and condemned Johnson in a press release. The Freedom Rides, among their many turning points, were about to crown Shelton the undisputed king among Kluxers.
The Movement was facing the inevitable letdown that follows moral victory. The collegiate protesters had posted bond after only a day in jail and boarded a plane north under National Guard watch. (General Graham had recovered his country club manners to wish the departing visitors "a return to the South under more favorable conditions.") Still in the Montgomery jail, Fred Shuttlesworth, Wyatt Walker, and Ralph Abernathy kept their spirits up by baiting one another in the way that preachers socialize. When Walker goaded deputies with a chorus of "Come by here, milord, come by here," Shuttlesworth teased him for trying to "get in tune to upset the guard" even though he did not have the "tune" of a self-respecting "shouters' " pastor like him. Walker hoped to put the kibosh on the preachers' proposed hunger strike, arguing that it would be more of a hardship to actually drink the coffee. Shuttlesworth tweaked him, "I know you're skinnier than the rest of us, but you're gonna do without."
Even as more Freedom Riding reinforcements headed toward Montgomery on Saturday, Shuttlesworth surprised everyone by posting his $1,000 bond. He had to end this "glorious experience" in order to preach on Sunday at Revelation Baptist Church in Cincinnati. The urgency of the engagement would soon become woefully clear.
On Monday, May 29, Robert Kennedy petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to draw up federal regulations to convert into national policy the Supreme Court's Boynton mandate barring discrimination against interstate travelers. Jim Farmer had gotten the coveted federal involvement, but ironically the government's petitions siphoned the melodrama from the protests themselves. The Kennedys had worked out an arrangement with Mississippi senator James Eastland (whom they really did consider their great pal in the South) whereby the continuing waves of Freedom Riders would be locked up as soon as they got off the buses in Jackson. Soon, the trickle of riders would be ignored by the news media and thus made invisible to the public.
Extremists on Both Sides
On Tuesday, May 30, it became plain that the Justice Department was attempting to force a truth that the public was not ready to hear. In proposing his anti-Klan injunction, John Doar had decided also to go after the Kluxers' high-level co-conspirators: the elected officials of Birmingham and Montgomery. Though the FBI agents Doar had interviewed for his brief neglected to divulge Bull Connor's fifteen-minute deal with the Klan, Judge Johnson agreed to name the commissioner and his police chief, Jamie Moore, in his restraining order, as well as Montgomery commissioner L. B. Sullivan and his police chief. The government's charge that Sullivan "deliberately failed to take measures to insure the safety of the students and to prevent unlawful acts and violence upon their persons" must have bemused the lawyers for the New York Times.
In Judge Johnson's court that Tuesday, defending himself against the injunction, Commissioner Bull Connor mugged for the gallery, principally for Shuttlesworth, who had made a special trip to the capital to see his nemesis squirm. Connor's advocate, Jim Simpson, assumed his famous courtroom indignation and hammered a single assertion: The only reason the Birmingham police were not at the Trailways station was that they thought the freedom bus was coming into the Greyhound station. If Gary Thomas Rowe still needed any proof that the FBI was willing to tolerate the complicity between local law enforcement and the Klan, it was provided by the appearance of Special Agent in Charge Thomas Jenkins as a witness in Connor's defense. In confirming on the stand Simpson's contention that nothing was said about a Trailways bus, Jenkins may have been technically correct. But in light of Rowe's reports, it appears that the FBI was content to ignore the larger truth of what Connor had done.
Judge Johnson removed Connor from his injunction against the Klan. And even he seemed uncomfortable with treating civil rights activists as citizens due the protections of the Constitution rather than provocateurs looking for trouble. In response to a motion from L. B. Sullivan's lawyer, he issued a last-minute second temporary restraining order, against Shuttlesworth, Martin Luther King, Wyatt Walker, and Ralph Abernathy, enjoining them from "sponsoring, financing, assisting or encouraging" any Freedom Rides. The most liberal judge in Alabama had fallen for that oft-invoked fallacy of "extremists on both sides."
In yet another front-page editorial, Vincent Townsend, the man who had first publicly linked Connor and the Klansmen at the bus station, praised Johnson for saving Birmingham from "intense embarrassment." Townsend's and Sid Smyer's civic epiphanies were beginning to look like fleeting aberrations. Connor had never seemed more in charge. Even Howard K. Smith had been humbled. In his regular Sunday radio commentary, on May 21, he had taunted the President of the United States to clear up the "confusion in the Southern mind" over where the responsibility lay for the Birmingham violence and amazingly, given his "pink" vulnerability demanded, "Do we really deserve to win the cold war?" The no-holds-barred radio piece gave the New York Times TV critic Jack Gould a pretext ("Smith at his best") to criticize the networks' increasingly namby-pamby policy of "fairness" and "objectivity," which seemed to accord segregationists equal time with integrationists. But CBS News's response was to suspend Smith from his job as Washington bureau chief.
That Tuesday of Connor's exoneration by Judge Johnson was the day of the mayoral runoff election between Tom King and Art Hanes. It was Connor's richest historical moment. He had gotten Mayor Jimmy Morgan's machine to do his mayoral candidate's gutter work, even using Townsend's surrogate son, Tom Lankford, to take the "black hand" photograph. On Mother's Day, Connor had handed Art Hanes a foolproof "racial incident." While Tom King deplored the bus station violence, Hanes insisted that a King victory would mean the fall of Birmingham as a "segregation stronghold." And he was right.
In the days after the Trailways beatings, King's campaign went straight to hell. When the News tried to refute the propaganda that King was a "captive of the Negro bloc," Hanes retorted that the editors were stooges of the paper's owner, Samuel Isaac (read: Jew) Newhouse. King extended his blackened hand to voters, only to have it rejected.
It was almost a relief when the May 30 election finally put King out of his misery. The surprisingly small margin of his loss 21,133 to 17,385 would be a poignant reminder of how close he and the Young Turks had come to pulling off their coup and rescuing Birmingham from its fate. The mastermind of King's campaign, Chuck Morgan, went incommunicado for a week, some said to take the bourbon cure.
Fred Shuttlesworth had found himself finally at the center of a real civil rights extravaganza. The Freedom Rides had pulled together all the various branches of the Movement (even the NAACP had begun to pitch in on the legal front). But ultimately what they had made Shuttlesworth realize was that in its four years of existence SCLC had failed to find an identity. The Freedom Rides were CORE's baby, reared to maturity by SNCC which was now on a collision course with SCLC over money, strategy, philosophy, and credit.
Shuttlesworth was growing more frustrated at being stuck in Martin Luther King's orbit. He brandished yellowing press clippings. "Ole Bull says the riders only came here because of me and they been coming from New York and all over," he told a mass meeting in mid-June. "Well, all I know is I'm catching hell for being somebody." Yet he wasn't getting enough respect from Atlanta and sent King a letter pointing out that the ACMHR was doing all SCLC's work and getting none of the money.
"My native state would like to disown me," Shuttlesworth told the faithful at the fifth anniversary celebration of the ACMHR in June. But he had decided to save Alabama the trouble: He was accepting the pulpit at Revelation Baptist in Cincinnati. Although he would retain the presidency of the Alabama Christian Movement, the SCLC brass in Atlanta faced the departure of the Wild Man from Birmingham with the same dismay that Lincoln might have felt if William Tecumseh Sherman had resigned his commission in the middle of the first war for emancipation. "You have done a tremendous job in Birmingham," Wyatt Walker wrote Shuttlesworth, enclosing a check to the ACMHR from SCLC, in response to his earlier remonstration, "and I still don't believe the Lord called you to Cincinnati (smile)." Indeed, the only one who seemed to think the move was a good idea was Shuttlesworth's deposed rival, J. L. Ware, who had said to him, "Fred, we've had our differences, but we were never enemies. The Lord may be wanting you to go to Cincinnati. Don't feel like you have to stay here."
Shuttlesworth seemed glum about the decision. A heavy speaking schedule had left him fatigued and short-winded. The detectives at a late-July mass meeting noted with satisfaction that a collection for Shuttlesworth's going-away gift yielded "very little money." But, as Shuttlesworth was fond of saying, God worked in mysterious ways, and perhaps the ACMHR needed to shed its showy foliage if it was ever going to develop a root system that could sustain a mass movement.
Mobilizing Some Strategies
The ACMHR officer most dry-eyed over Shuttlesworth's departure was its secretary, Nelson Smith, whose esteem for J. L. Ware had led some to question his loyalty to his president. Smith's distinction as the only big-church pastor in the inner circle had created tensions within and around him. As the son of a prominent minister from Monroeville, the idealistic young orator known as Fireball wanted to become what he called "a world-renowned preacher." Toward that end he rehearsed constantly, pantomiming at the steering wheel in contempt of traffic safety.
But Smith understood that the Movement needed to be liberated from its preacher mystique. Sometime around the beginning of the school year, not long after Shuttlesworth left, Smith paid a visit to Miles College, where he found some students under the trees, in their idiom, "mobilizing some strategies." The student-body presidency had passed from Jesse Walker, SNCC's first man in Birmingham, to Frank Dukes, one of the instigators of the aborted 1960 prayer vigil at Kelly Ingram Park. Dukes was at thirty-one only a year younger than Martin Luther King, a strapping Korean War veteran who had worked at a Chrysler plant in Detroit before coming home in 1959 and enrolling at Miles on the GI Bill. "This is the place for a man to start," he had decided, reborn in the Movement. "Right here. Right now."
Since Jesse Walker's graduation, the Miles militants had fallen out of the SNCC axis. Isolated in the valley of segregation, they were more philosophers than activists. If they had a spiritual father, it was the World editor, Emory O. Jackson. One of Frank Dukes's co-conspirators under the trees, a Navy veteran named Charles Davis, traced his enlightenment to his boyhood paper route and the NAACP slogan printed on the World's front page: "A voteless people is a hopeless people." Jackson was one of the few members of the black power structure many activist ministers included who escaped the youths' encyclopedic classifications of Uncle Toms. (Tom #1 is opportunistic, may or may not be smart; Tom #2 fears reprisals; Tom #3 "loves white people.") But Jackson was still more gadfly than leader, his satirical style too cranky for mass appeal.
Although the Miles students supported Shuttlesworth's Movement and were willing to show up for protests and go to jail, they didn't attend mass meetings and they didn't pray. "A lot of us remained in the trenches because we didn't embrace all that continuous fellowship in Christ," Davis said. "We just knew that white people didn't have a monopoly on brains."
On the Miles campus, Nelson Smith surprised the young cynics who snickered at the canned flourishes of the clergy and quoted not the Scripture but Shakespeare. His overtures on behalf of the ACMHR "caught our imagination," Charles Davis recalled. By the time he left them in the shade, the Alabama Movement had acquired a militant youth arm and, thanks to a changing of the administrative guard at Miles, a reliable grown-up emissary to white Birmingham as well.
The previous January, the new college president, Lucius Pitts, had been rushed in from Atlanta to succeed W. A. Bell, who had died of a heart attack. A Christian Methodist Episcopal minister and educator, Pitts was such a dynamic combination of spiritual, intellectual, and managerial talent that Martin Luther King and Ella Baker had wooed him, unsuccessfully, in 1957 to become the first executive director of SCLC. He was the inverse of King himself: a man of the masses who could speak to the classes. Tall, well dressed, and handsome, he had a cultivated silvery voice, yet he retained the austere soul of the sharecropper's son who had washed dishes to pay his way through Georgia's Paine College and, despite temporary blindness caused by undiagnosed diabetes, earned a doctorate in theology.
"Miles College has a very fine president now," Ed Gardner, the ACMHR vice president who held down the fort for Shuttlesworth, said at a mass meeting in October. "He is not an intellectual Uncle Tom." Yet despite Pitts's militance, he claimed an asset that had been virtually unimagined among Birmingham's civil rights activists. As his Poitier-esque debut in CBS Reports's "Who Speaks for Bir-mingham?" proved, he could veil his threats in the language of accommodation. "It's a painful thing to be a reading Negro," he had told CBS's producers with a rueful smile, "well, say an educable Negro in the South, with a family, to try to decide how much to tell your child and how you interpret the situation to him, so that he doesn't develop the kind of hatred and fear and conditioning that I have had to strive to try to get rid of."
Birmingham blacks finally had the Good Colored Person to complete the equation of intimidation that until now had boasted only the "Bad Nigger," Fred Shuttlesworth. He would be featured in the coming SCLC newsletter as "the most courageous man on the civil rights scene in the South," though he no longer lived in the South. There was a faction in CORE trying to recruit him to replace Jim Farmer.
Since assuming the martyr's cross of a federal injunction, Bobby Shelton had gained control of the Ku Klux Klan in the South. Earlier in the summer, the honchos of what remained of Eldon Edwards's Atlanta-based United Klans sundered since his death in 1960 had agreed to fold Shelton's Alabama Knights into their organization, perhaps not realizing that Shelton was a knight on a Trojan horse. At a powwow of the South's leading Klansmen at Indian Springs, Georgia, in July, Shelton was elected the Imperial Wizard of the new United Klans by acclamation. He began touring the South, proclaiming a "new, modern, jet-age Klan."
The headquarters of the United Klans were moved to Shelton's hometown of Tuscaloosa, and its flagship klavern, Eastview 13, now became the most important club in the entire Invisible Empire. Tommy Rowe's grandiosity grew accordingly. He considered himself not a mere informant ("a bad word to me") but "absolutely" an undercover agent for the FBI. And that made the FBI the guardian angel of a Klan that, having otherwise lost its establishment support, might have slipped into oblivion.
Unable to surmount the bad faith of both the FBI and southern justice, the Justice Department saw its seemingly open-and-shut cases against Cecil Lamar Lewallyn and Ken Adams for the Anniston bus burning wash out that fall. (Local FBI agents wrote a memo depicting John Doar, the government's lawyer, as a pest.) The courtroom chapter of the Freedom Rides effectively closed in Alabama at the end of November with the trial of the last remaining defendant in the Birmingham beatings, Herschel Acker of Rome, Georgia, the tooth-baring assailant dead center in Tommy Langston's picture. Although Acker's victim, George Webb, identified him in court, the jury acquitted Acker of assault with intent to murder after thirty-one minutes. Howard Thurston Edwards, the pipe wielder next to Acker, was tried three times. All the trials ended in hung juries; the victim had failed to identify Edwards in a lineup after he restyled his pompadour.
No members of Eastview were tried for the beatings they had orchestrated. Despite the crimes he committed in the line of duty on Mother's Day, Gary Thomas Rowe received a $125 bonus. Within a month, his handler, Barry Kemp, left the bureau.
The Democrats on the federal bench like to slough the racial cases off on their junior Republican colleague, Hobart Grooms. October had been a busy month for the judge, his busiest since the winter of 195556, when he had presided regretfully over the ordeal of Autherine Lucy (and had futilely encouraged her to keep pressing her claim). He had set up shop in Anniston at the end of the month to oversee the hung jury mistrial of the accused bus bomber, Cecil Lamar Lewallyn, nearly jailing the NSRP's Dr. Edward Fields for contempt after he called up and harassed members of the jury panel. (In the trick-or-treat spirit of the season, a man wearing a mask showed up in the middle of the night at the door of a juror's motel room.) But before that trial, Grooms had heard the final arguments of a case that would traumatically force the white establishment to speak for Birmingham.
Fred Shuttlesworth's lawsuit to desegregate the city's sixty-seven public parks (as well as its eight swimming pools, the public golf courses, and the Kiddieland amusement park) had been going on for two years another encounter with segregation that might have been scripted by the Marx Brothers. (The best legal argument the city had advanced was that the zoo was only "semi-segregated," with racially separate concession stands and toilets.) Judge Grooms considered himself "a good conservative, but not so conservative that I can't see what the law is." As of January 15, 1962, he decreed, the city parks of Birmingham would be open to Negroes.
Whether the Negroes would be able to get past the police was a different matter. Bull Connor announced that he would simply close the parks.
When Sid Smyer formed his "study group" on race relations in the wake of the Freedom Rides, he surely did not guess that he would be supporting what amounted to a referendum on segregation only five months later. He must have assumed that Birmingham's crises of "image" would continue to be brought on by "outsiders" the New York Times, Howard K. Smith, Freedom Riders requiring the business leaders' rear-guard attention. But the closing of the public parks was the unilateral act of the man they had tolerated in city hall for twenty years, covering over their doubts by calling his counselor, Jim Simpson, a Great Man. This turn of events forced the Chamber of Commerce to take a positive, controversial stand: To fight to keep the parks open was also a fight to integrate them.
The open-parks campaign represented the coming of age of the lonely bourgeois southern white liberal, struggling for a voice since the New Orleans novelist George Washington Cable coined the term "silent South" in 1885 to describe the region's enlightened minority of "quality" if not "quantity." This was the group that the Southern Conference for Human Welfare had hoped to tap, underestimating the ability of the opposition to red-bait liberalism into the fringes. The dilemma of the decent progressive urbanite in Alabama was that "liberalism" had been cornered by the likes of Bibb Graves and the Ku Klux Klan or Big Jim Folsom. In the absence of any common ground with these morally flexible "rednecks," the intelligent, cultured, "honest" citizens of Birmingham had almost been forced into the camp of Jim Simpson. And so it was that James Head, the businessman who was going to lead this new challenge to segregation, was not only one of the establishment's most remarkable renegades, but was also the client and dear friend of Simpson.
Head was the co-sponsor of Smyer's study group, and as president of the Chamber of Commerce's activist arm, the Committee of 100 (chartered to bring new industry into Birmingham), he was a power in the power structure. It had been with a rueful amusement that Head had listened to Smyer's by-golly promises to take charge of race relations, for he understood the long history (of Smyer's making) that would have to be reversed. Head was an unreconstructed New Dealer, his rather prosaic business life as owner of the city's largest stationery and office supply company belying his identity as what he facetiously called "a radical disturber of the peace." He was currently in trouble with his peers for inviting Ralph McGill, the liberal Atlanta Constitution's editor who was synonymous with the rival town's progressivism, to speak at the Rotary Club the Wednesday after Freedom Rider Sunday. Meanwhile, the Rotarians were saying they were happy to do something about the race problem as long as it entailed no concession of any sort to the Negroes.
Head lived in a good Mountain Brook neighborhood, but perhaps because a hard-luck childhood following his father's early death had given him a sympathy for the underdog, the over-the-mountain air had not gone to his head. "Plowing a rock garden" was how he described his liberal efforts. His favorite cause, public education, had been a pet peeve among rich southerners since the slave states passed laws against Negro literacy after Nat Turner, taught to read by his parents, led Virginia slaves to massacre white people in 1831. (The feeling was also that "when you educate a Negro, you spoil a good field hand.") Head's friend Vincent Townsend repeatedly rejected his suggestions for worthy journalistic campaigns, saying, "Head, you're too idealistic. You've got to be realistic." His biggest achievement so far had been to get Ace Carter fired from his radio station after broadcasting the attack on the National Conference of Christians and Jews, whose Alabama chapter Head had helped found in 1928 to counter the anti-Catholic prejudice against the presidential candidacy of Al Smith. ("You're the known Communists I've been talking about," Carter had told Head and his delegation of prominent citizens when they confronted him.)
Until 1961, Head "passed" among the Big Mules. He was personally attractive robust, congenial, confident and he golfed with Republicans (the Dixiecrats' newest designation) at the Birmingham Country Club. He had humored Townsend by joining his mission to CBS's Frank Stanton; Head had barely contained himself from cheering when Stanton asked, in reference to the city's Negroes, "Why don't you take the other half of the population and educate them so they won't be such a drag on you all?" But the dovetailing fiascos of the Freedom Rides and "Who Speaks for Birmingham?" made Head realize that, even as an image-maker, Townsend was about as effective as the city fathers of Dayton, Tennessee, who had encouraged a schoolmaster named John Scopes to get himself arrested for teaching Darwin back in the twenties, thinking the publicity would be a magnet for new business.
At any rate, Townsend seemed to have made his point with CBS. Howard K. Smith, who had continued to do his Sunday radio "analyses" after being removed as Washington bureau chief, had in October broadcast another barbed comment about Kennedy's leadership. In November, Smith was gone from the network. "Birmingham reaped a small amount of revenge when C.B.S. relieved that Communist sympathizer, Howard K. Smith, from his lucrative job," an Alabamian wrote Bull Connor. Jim Simpson decided to take advantage of CBS's vote of no confidence in Smith and muzzle the country's network of record as well as its newspaper of record. In early December, he would file libel suits against CBS seeking $1.5 million on behalf of Connor and the two other commissioners.
At this stage in his radical's progress, Jim Head was still trying to finesse the race situation by explaining to his friends, "I'm a businessman. I'm only going to talk about the economic wrongs of segregation." And so he decided to mount an assault against segregation based purely on the New South doctrine of business progressivism, which held that what was good for business was automatically good for the community. Atlanta was a case in point. Its mayor, William "Never do anything wrong that they can take a picture of" Hartsfield, was basically a rubber stamp for Coca-Cola chairman Robert Woodruff, commander of the largest personal fortune in all the South, and Woodruff had decided that Atlanta would integrate its schools and its lunch counters that autumn, explaining, "Coca-Cola cannot operate from a city that is reviled." "The City Too Busy to Hate" was such a hit that the national news media did not notice that the restrooms in city hall still had "White" and "Colored" signs.
But Birmingham was a coke, not Coke, town, and as Chuck Morgan was fond of saying, no one was going to wake up one day and say, "Gee, Marge, I don't like what U.S. Steel did yesterday; I think I'll boycott steel." Moreover, segregation had been crucial to the industrialists' profits. It would not be easy to enlist the city's top businessmen to speak up in favor of open, integrated parks. Because Head was too controversial to front the effort, he turned to the only Big Mule he knew who might be able to pull it off: a lawyer, a scholar, and a gentleman on top of his privileged position in the heavy-manufacturing hierarchy.
As one of the most brilliant lawyers in the city, Bernard Monaghan had in 1956 transformed the Birmingham Slag Company a homely business that ground out road construction materials from the hard ebony by-product of steelmaking into one of the nation's biggest producers of crushed aggregate. Now running Vulcan Materials, Monaghan was an anomalous industrialist in a number of ways. Although he felt the regional pressure to define himself as a conservative, he was troubled that the label was usually a euphemism for bigot. At Harvard Law, his mentor, Felix Frankfurter, had reassured him that there was no shame in being a conservative, and afterward at Oxford, Monaghan had disapproved of the socialist high jinks of his fellow southern Rhodes scholar, Howard K. Smith. Despite three Irish Catholic grandparents, Monaghan had been propelled into Mountain Brook Club society thanks to his to-the-manner-born aplomb, and his refusal to accept a job as Justice Hugo Black's first clerk hadn't hurt; Monaghan was certain that Black had been one of the robed Klansmen who marched around his parochial school.
In early November, after Connor announced he would close the parks, Monaghan and Head drafted a statement, titled "Some Facts to Face," that laid out the "business progressivism" case for keeping the parks open. The trick would be in getting Birmingham's power structure to sign what was essentially a declaration of the end of segregation. The most important Big Mule signature belonged to Art Wiebel, U.S. Steel's man in Birmingham.
Wiebel exercised stern veto power over the business community's civic agenda, flexing his muscles through his purchasing department. One of his lieutenants might inform, say, a salesman for TCI's ball bearings supplier that the Corporation was displeased with a position taken by his boss on some issue that would threaten Steel's tax rate. Dutifully, TCI's suppliers, as well as banks holding its deposits, toed the line. But Monaghan's Vulcan Materials was in an unusual position. TCI was not its biggest customer. On the contrary, Vulcan bought Wiebel's slag, rendering its sales force immune from TCI's blackmail.
Monaghan took time out from his executive schedule to drive out to TCI's corporate headquarters in Fairfield "Fort Wiebel." After skimming "Some Facts to Face," Wiebel said, "Barney, you didn't need to come all the way out here. You could have just read me the statement over the phone and signed my name to it." But knowing that Wiebel would hardly be receptive to pitches for keeping the city attractive to outside industry, Monaghan knew he needed to put him on the spot in person. And he continued to take time away from the office to pay personal calls on the power structure so that each man could see, without having to ask, that Wiebel had signed.
On November 12, 1961, "Some Facts to Face" was published in a News ad over the signatures of the 189 most powerful men in Birmingham. It was doubtful that any of them had set foot in a city park since joining the country club, but presently every civic organization in town sent emissaries to the commission chambers to read pro-parks "whereases" and "be it resolved's." It was an amazing referendum on Our Way of Life.
The city commission's response to it was to close the parks, effective January 1, 1962.
Jim Head recognized the flaw in the moderates' blueprint for change, which had inspired this, the second uprising of reformers in six months. In both the Young Turks' campaign to elect Tom King mayor and the open-parks movement, the progressives had concentrated on business concerns without addressing the "Negro question." The defect in the businessmen's familiar pledge of "We're taking care of this thing ourselves" was the same as in segregation itself: white men "taking care" of race relations.
Now it was the Big Mules' turn to realize, as the Populists had briefly understood seventy years earlier, that if there was to be progress, Negroes would have to be included in the process. But how? Even Head's front man, the sophisticated Barney Monaghan, could not bring himself to sit down across a table from a black man. It seemed as if the only way to avoid charges of being soft on race was to turn race relations over to someone who was not soft on race. Head's thoughts settled on the "most typical" southerner, "one hundred and ten percent segregationist." He was his business neighbor on First Avenue, a Big Mule legislator, Dixiecrat organizer, integrated-baseball battler, chief lay Methodist segregationist, and now president of the Chamber of Commerce. He was also Head's co-sponsor of the "biracial" study group that had not yet invited any actual Negroes to study with it.
On December 1, 1961, prodded by Head, Sid Smyer called a biracial meeting to discuss the parks closing. Reassured by Smyer's sterling segregationist credentials, white men who had never been within a $20 cab ride of controversy sat down at a table with black men: Lew Jeffers, president of Hayes Aircraft and former boss of Art Hanes; the president of Royal Crown Cola; the insurance magnate Frank Samford, proprietor of Birmingham's Statue of Liberty; William Pritchard, the lawyer who had promoted segregated chicken farming on "Who Speaks for Birmingham?" TCI's Art Wiebel came in person rather than by proxy. The lineup forty-five in all, black and white bore a remarkable resemblance to an "Interracial Committee" of prominent whites and Negroes that had operated for several years in the early 1950s under the auspices of "charity" (the Red Cross and the Community Chest). The committee its boldest action had been a campaign to hire Negro police had been hounded out of existence in the spring of 1956 (along with the NAACP) by the man who was now reconstituting it, Sid Smyer.
Smyer had invited Mayor Art Hanes to attend, on the strength of his campaign promise "to sit down and talk to any group." By now, even the politically last-to-know Mountain Brook crowd was aware of the invisible hand behind Hanes's mayoralty. Soon after his election, he had told a group of prominent businessmen who urged him to prevent unfortunate incidents such as the Trailways trouble: "Well, before I can promise you anything, I've got to check with Bull." At the swearing-in ceremony in November, during the part where they vowed to uphold the United States Constitution, Hanes, forty-four years old, and Connor, sixty-two, had put their left hands behind their backs and crossed their fingers, like fourth-graders neutralizing a fib.
Upon being asked to Smyer's biracial meeting, Hanes told the press: "Don't worry about the Negroes. I'm not going to meet with 'em. I'm not a summertime soldier, I don't give up when the enemy shows up." The country clubbers' onetime darling had become the sort of embarrassment that got Birmingham, again, into Time magazine, whose reporter showed up one rainy December night at an open meeting on the parks closing. "I don't think any of you want a nigger mayor or a nigger police chief," Hanes addressed his constituents. "But I tell you, that's what'll happen if we play dead on this park integration."
The Colored Guests
The chasm between blacks and whites in Birmingham had never seemed wider, even as the city's ruling white men were breaking their first racial taboo to sit down with Negroes, almost man to man. The controversy that was making integrationists of segregation's former custodians had barely registered in the black community. The imminent closing of the parks was "a minor problem," a black spokesman told the Wall Street Journal, compared to the whites-only lunch counters and the police department. "We will not miss what we have never had," ACMHR vice president Ed Gardner pointed out. When Fred Shuttlesworth and the Movement's security chief, the barber James Armstrong, had showed up at the all-white public golf course in the fall of 1959 to set up the constitutional test to integrate the parks, they had had to borrow golf clubs and were happy to have been arrested before revealing their ignorance of how to swing them.
Shuttlesworth's attitude toward the white country clubbers trying to save parks they wouldn't deign to use was condescension: "They just don't all of a sudden love us, but let's pretend that they do and maybe it will come to be." The World editor, Emory O. Jackson, actively resented them. In a foul humor, he reported to Sid Smyer's integrated meeting on December 21, in the study of the Episcopal bishop at the Church of the Advent downtown (which had been the Interracial Committee's old haven). There were thirty-eight men at this one, including the Reverends J. L. Ware and Herb Oliver, and, on the white side, News publisher Clarence Hanson, Birmingham-Southern College's liberal president Henry King Stanford, and Jim Head, who felt that the only thing that could be said for Smyer's previous meetings on the parks issue was that they took place at all, and under Chamber of Commerce auspices.
Before this one, Head had gone to the chambers of Judge Hobart Grooms, a friend of his and a fellow Big Baptist in a town dominated by Methodists. Grooms had agreed to grant a sixty-day stay, similar to the plan approved by the federal court in Memphis, during which the parks could remain open on a segregated basis. Smyer's opening speech at the December 21 meeting solicited the black men's opinion of the plan.
The "colored guests," as Herb Oliver viewed them, spoke noncommittally of the need to "go forward," until the Reverend C. E. Thomas, bishop of the C.M.E. Church (and a former Interracial Committee member), offered some sharp words about the newspapers' coverage of racial matters. After feebly defending the News, Clarence Hanson left the meeting early with another white "host" to play golf. Emory Jackson took the opportunity to huff out, in protest of the meeting's being declared off the record which did not prevent him from announcing to his World readers that the Big Boys, as he called his black establishment peers, were "selling them down the river."
Miles College's talented new president, Lucius Pitts, recognized the territorial Jackson's rants for what they were: a gauntlet thrown down at him to justify his presumption to speak for Birmingham's blacks. The parks meetings had been Pitts's first venture as a "Negro leader" willing to do business with white folks. He responded to Jackson's challenge by nudging the Movement into its next stage.
Until recently, the word "demonstrations" had an anachronistic Old Left ring. Demonstrations had been the pride of the Communists in the thirties and the last refuge of the fifties' anti-nuke pacifists, but they had not been mustered by the modern civil rights movement until the spring of 1960, when the militant youths of Nashville led a mass march downtown that froze white onlookers into a glacier of fear and awe. Confronted softly at the end of the demonstration by Diane Nash, the moderate mayor, Ben West, admitted that it was not "morally right for someone to sell 'em merchandise and refuse 'em service," and he had desegregated his city's lunch counters.
In the past couple of months, demonstrations had joined the canon of modern liberation art. In Albany, a pecan and cotton center in southwest Georgia ("the tenth fastest booming city in the U.S.A.") that the locals called Al-BIN-ee, a scrappy SNCC field secretary named Charles Sherrod, veteran of sit-ins and Freedom Rides, had ignited the broadest-based community campaign since the Montgomery bus boycott five years earlier. A hotheaded twenty-two-year-old Baptist minister who had grown up on a squalid street in Petersburg, Virginia, Sherrod had staged the first Albany sit-in at the Trailways white waiting room on November 1, the day that the new Interstate Commerce Commission ruling desegregating bus and train facilities in response to Robert Kennedy's petition went into effect. Soon after, in spectacular defiance of legendary black factionalism (as well as of the "massah" tradition bred by the nearby hunting retreats "plantations" of industrialists such as Coca-Cola's Robert Woodruff), the entire local black community, from the NAACP, to the Federation of Women's Clubs, to the ministerial alliances, banded together as the Albany Movement. Its goal was to stamp out segregation not simply seating on buses or at lunch counters but, for the first time, the entire system.
The Albany Movement had gone demonstration crazy since spontaneously enacting, in late November, the first major demonstration after Nashville. There had been so many arrests that the Movement for the first time had a real shot at the Gandhian goal of filling the jails. Albany became a new civil rights mecca. SNCC was sending pilgrims there, and on the weekend of December 16 came "de Lawd" himself. Martin Luther King was arrested along with Ralph Abernathy, who had just moved to Atlanta to take over a church there at King's urging. Abernathy bailed out the night of his arrest in order to be back at his church in time to introduce his Men's Day speaker, Fred Shuttlesworth, but King vowed to spend Christmas in jail.
Albany now had a world-class martyr, and the news coverage to match. The campaign seemed to be soaring into history, as the Movement's long-awaited follow-up to the Montgomery bus boycott. But after less than two days in jail, King changed his mind and bailed out. The Albany Movement went into a tailspin of sectarian recrimination, with SNCC furious at SCLC's Wyatt Walker for trying to take command of their fight, in his crisp field marshal fashion. The news media, which hadn't really had the vocabulary to cover a sustained grassroots protest, now played the story not as one of black against white, but of black against black: "Rivalries Beset Integration Campaign," read the New York Times headline. Albany was "one of the most stunning defeats" of King's career, according to the New York Herald Tribune, "a devastating loss of face."
Somehow the story always came back to King, but strategic miscues had also hampered the Albany campaign. The protesters had aimed their demands at city hall, essentially asking elected officials to commit political suicide by abolishing segregation. In Birmingham, where Bull Connor was jailing the Greyhound station manager for desegregating his cafe in compliance with the ICC ruling, the Movement was realizing that it was time to stop fighting city hall. The activists had decided to take advantage of their new "friendship" with the city fathers since the parks misfortune and apply pressure to white men who were motivated not by politics per se but (as their embarrassment over the Freedom Rides had proved) by the economic consequences of "bad" politics.
By December, the new Miles College contingent of the Movement President Lucius Pitts as well as Frank Dukes and his classmates was ready to move beyond politics and take on the real power, as Bob Zellner had discovered the previous month. He had arrived in Birmingham hoping that his grandfather, an unregenerate local Klan racist who had disowned Bob's "nigger-loving" father, wouldn't find out he was there. Zellner had become SNCC's first white field secretary not long after the Freedom Rides capped off his education at Huntingdon College. The person who had recruited him was Anne Braden, of the Southern Conference Educational Fund, which had close ties to the student movement. It was SCEF that paid Zellner his modest salary, to carry on the old Southern Conference mandate as the SNCC staff member designated to proselytize white students. So far, however, Zellner had been busy bonding with his black comrades. On the steps of the courthouse in McComb, Mississippi, where SNCC was conducting a voter registration campaign, he had recently been choked by white men, gouged in the eyes, and kicked in the face, and then, still clutching his Bible, hauled off to jail. That baptism had made him a SNCC legend by the time he showed up in Birmingham and headed for Miles College to see if he could be of assistance.
Though they received him politely, Frank Dukes and his classmates were eager to avoid any appearance of being "agitated by outsiders." Zellner respected their concerns and unofficially helped Dukes and his lieutenants draft a statement, "This We Believe," whose dignified wording hardly disguised its radical intent: "We do not intend to wait complacently for those rights which are legally and morally ours to be meted out to us one at a time." Forming an Anti-Injustice Committee, the students began conducting a quiet investigation of local department stores. For a "school project," Dukes got figures from the unsuspecting Chamber of Commerce. The stores, he learned, operated on a 12 to 15 percent profit margin. "Negro dollars" made up 25 percent of the gross, or $4 million in an average week. This meant that cutting black business by half could tip the balance into the red. They began discussing a boycott that would paralyze the city's retail trade.
By chance, Sid Smyer's historic biracial meetings had suddenly put the Miles College president, Lucius Pitts, in a position to get his students' message across. Pitts was a crafty man. During the parks "talks," he had been reasonable without being subservient. He was the type of black man who made whites liberals like Head, conservatives like Smyer feel comfortable. And Pitts had plans for their budding "friendship." He knew that intimations of a department store boycott alone would fall under the "empty threat" category of what J. L. Ware called "little nigger causes." For a boycott to succeed, there would also have to be demonstrations a presence of Negroes to offset their boycotting absence to trigger a white person's worst nightmare of rampaging black people. This would incite a secondary boycott by white customers wanting to stay away from potential violence.
Fred Shuttlesworth had never proposed demonstrations for his town because he knew he had neither the troops nor the support of the middle class. And in truth, Pitts was hardly counting on actual demonstrations; the white folks merely had to think that they were going to happen. He began "tipping off" his new white acquaintances that he was trying to maintain order but didn't know how long he was going to be able to keep the Shuttlesworth crowd off the streets massive demonstrations, you know.
"Niggers at the Krystal"
Now that the Klan's old sponsors were joining forces with their former common enemy to phase out segregation, the vigilantes turned desperate to guard their diminishing domain. As if to restore the authority of the DeBardelebens to the enterprise, Troy Ingram had recently returned to the Klan fold; and when he did he was welcomed into the highest Imperial councils. He was the new old face in the usual lineup of bored husbands at the United Klans' November meeting of the North Alabama Province. The Eastview rank and file had grown fidgety, basically having done nothing since the Freedom Rides. Exalted Cyclops Robert Thomas seemed to be losing control of the klavern. Rather than giving or withholding approval for the "missionary work," he would say he didn't want to hear about it one way or the other.
When Klansman Al Peek had left a recent Thursday Eastview meeting to go get a sack of burgers down the street at the Krystal Kitchen, he had gotten so upset at the sight of "niggers at the Krystal" that he had barely been able to spit out the password for the Night Hawk to let him back in. On the first Saturday in December, Eastview's all-stars, including Gene Reeves and Tommy Rowe, teamed up with some rookies to defend the klavern's unofficial mess hall. The Krystal was crowded when they arrived. One of Troy Ingram's new recruits, from the old DeBardeleben precincts, was so hepped up by all the "nigger" talk brainwashed, he later said that when a black customer stood beside him, he cocked his fist and knocked "hell out of him." Another novice, Buddy Galyean, considered "mentally deficient" by one of his ex-employers, hit him with brass knuckles, according to Rowe's report to the FBI, and knocked out his eye. As the veteran Klansmen piled on, two football players from Woodlawn High School and another white man, Rodney Cooper, came to the victim's aid. The senior Klansman in the group, Gene Reeves, who had been one of the select Klansmen on the Freedom Rides detail, wrestled the white defenders out onto the sidewalk. Tommy Rowe swung at anyone handy.
Policemen appeared in the parking lot and arrested a bystander who had been "acting like a bantam rooster," according to Ingram's recruit, "doing a lot of crowing but no fighting." The police department's continuing sympathy with the Klan was perhaps a function of sentimental reflex, now that the stakes of the collaboration had degenerated from the industrial economy of a great workshop town to a ten-cent hamburger.
Cities Are What Men Make Them
On New Year's Day, 1962, the undefeated Crimson Tide beat Arkansas 103, giving Bear Bryant his first national championship. Over the weekend, the Bear's number one fan, Bull Connor, had the parks 1,500 acres, valued at $9 million posted with "No Trespassing" signs and announced that he would sell off the people's property to private investors. After golfers sneaked onto the public links, the holes were plugged with cement.
Smyer's biracial meetings had bogged down, breaking no ground at all. Jim Head took the last-ditch measure of making an appointment to see Connor face-to-face. Then he and Barney Monaghan drafted a "Plea for Courage and Common Sense," quoting from the commissioners' campaign promises to expand the city's playgrounds. Approved by thirty-seven power structure men in January, the statement had 1,260 signatures within the week, including Marjorie McWhorter's, twice.
The moment of truth had come. On Tuesday morning, January 9, five men representing Birmingham's most impressively decent citizenry met at breakfast to caucus about their imminent meeting with Bull Connor. Joining Head and Monaghan were Birmingham-Southern's president, Henry King Stanford; David Cady Wright, the minister at a small, fancy Episcopal congregation; and Mayer Newfield, lawyer and son of the city's late, most beloved rabbi. The Reverend Mr. Wright surprised, if not alarmed, his lay colleagues. "The Chamber of Commerce is always stressing business and the city's 'reputation,' but I think we ought to put it on a spiritual basis," he said. "I'd like to open the meeting on the basis of brotherly love."
At ten o'clock, the five men took their petition into the commission chambers on the third floor of city hall. The three elected leaders of Birmingham sat on a walnut-colored platform, Mayor Hanes in the middle. To his right was Public Works Commissioner James "Jabo" Waggoner, a rubber stamp for Connor, though he kept so strictly to his street sanitation duties that he had been nicknamed the Garbageman. Connor was on the left, squinting down at the delegation.
The Reverend Mr. Wright began, "Some of my parishioners are concerned "
Connor cut him off, knowing that most of Wright's congregation was from Mountain Brook. "If they live outside of Birmingham, I don't give a damn what they think. I want names and addresses."
Wright began again, "A number of members of my congregation who live in Birmingham are concerned " Connor again demanded names and addresses. On his third try, Wright said, "I want to put this on the basis of brotherhood. I want to look to God."
"But remember God's commandment to Moses to keep the race lines clear," Connor replied.
Even the seasoned Henry King Stanford, who had discreetly rolled his eyes over breakfast when Wright invoked brotherly love, had not expected such a reception. He had been sparring with Connor since refusing to bow to pressure from both his board of trustees and city hall to expel Tommy Reeves, the ministerial student who had stood up to the Methodist Layman's Union and consorted with the black student sit-ins. (Harrison Salisbury had tipped his hat to Stanford in the New York Times.) "Mr. Connor," he said, "it looks as if you won't let him talk."
Grateful for the bait, Connor turned on him: "Doctor Stanford, you gonna integrate Birmingham-Southern? Because if you are, I want to let everyone in Alabama know so they won't send their kids there."
Jim Head spoke up for the first time. "Look, Bull," he said, "Doctor Stanford is not under a court order, but you are about to be."
"You wastin' yo' time if you think I'm about to let niggers in the parks," Connor replied. "Now, Doctor Stanford, you gon' integrate Birmingham-Southern?"
Barney Monaghan, who under normal circumstances charmingly quoted The Iliad and discussed the fine points of French succession law, sat mute. He had been convinced that Connor could be reasoned with, that his vulgarity was political calculation. He had thought Birmingham was a City of Lawyers.
Connor scowled at the petition of 1,260 good names and said, accurately, "I bet half the people on this list don't even live in Birmingham."
Judging from their shocked faces, Head knew that his distinguished friends were really seeing Connor for the first time. Birmingham had auditioned its most chivalrous leaders, in the most impressive mobilization of moderates ever undertaken in a southern city, yet they might as well have been a group from Cleveland proposing a law that the firstborn of every white family marry a Negro. How had Bull Connor been their political leader for a generation?
The answer, of course, was there for Head and his friends to read on their way out of the commission chambers. Lettered in gold above the doorway was Birmingham's motto: "Cities are what men make them." The long adolescence of the power structure, its belief in omnipotence without responsibility, had come to an end in a single hour on January 9, 1962.
Copyright © 2001 by Diane McWhorter
Meet the Author
Diane McWhorter, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, is a long-time contributor to The New York Times and writes for the Op-Ed page of USA Today. Her articles about race, politics, and culture have appeared in many national publications, including The Washington Post. Carry Me Home is her first book. She lives in New York City.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
In 1963 most of us who had a conscious either were incensed at the vision of police dogs attacking black children, or turned our heads the other way . . . afraid we would have to act on our revulsion. Carry Me Home will not allow us to turn our heads from the horror of racial bigotry and hatred. It is riveting, holding our hearts and minds over the fire of righteousness, daring us to let our God given freedoms be denied to citizens of any color. Brilliantly written!
McWhorter's The People's Historian, September 4, 2002 Reviewer: A reader from Chapel Hill, NC USA Of all the histories of the civil rights era, Diane McWhorter's Carry Me Home is easily the best. She packs more passion and insight into a single sentence than most of her competitors do in entire chapters. The wooden-prosed Garrow comes to mind. For those of us who grew up in the lower South who may be tempted to join the current "reconciliationist" impulse to gloss over how truly bad the "bad old days" were, Carry Me Home is a full immersion baptism in the cold, cold waters of reality, a healthy antidote to our generation's cheap therapeutic dreams of "closure." Her portrait of Fred Shuttlesworth reminds us, in this leadership-challenged age of smarmy black spokesmen like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, of a time when giants roamed the earth. Especially moving were McWhorter's personal reminiscences of her privileged Mountain Brook girlhood and her family's intersection with the dark currents running through Birmingham's racist power elite. If the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce had any sense instead of restoring the statue of Vulcan they'd erect a monument, if not to Shuttlesworth, then to Ms. McWhorter and let it shine as the beacon that the Magic City has long deserved and long been denied. The Pulitzer Prize Committee got it right. Carry Me Home carries us home.
As her uncle said in a Birmingham newspaper, this book is 'creative fiction.' How this won an award for Non-Fiction is unreal. Sadly, this book offers nothing new for those interested in civil rights in Birmingham. Her writings simply duplicates the works of other writers and attempts to add flavor by using a rather trite 'my father is a klansman' first-person narrative. The Manis book on Fred Shuttlesworth ('A Fire You Can't Put Out') is much better. It was also the first to recognize that Shuttlesworth was the unsung hero of the movement. The author also seems to have borrowed extensively from Glenn Eskew's 'But for Birmingham' and other sources.
This book represents a very interesting and provocative view at the civil rights movement in Birmingham. Through this work, I become more interested in the grassroots civil rights movement and sought out more information about this important event in U.S. History. I am sure that this book will continue to stimulate emotion and create an environment in which 1961 in Birmingham will have new meaning.
I have recently finished reading this book and within a few pages was transported to Alabama. I found this to be an highly detailed, and sometimes daunting, historical account of the Civil Rights Revolution. I was particularly touched by McWhorter's struggle for understanding, both personal and historical of this era, and learned much more than I had expected. I am grateful to her for that. McWhorter's account of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing was particularly painful - I was moved to tears by the brutality, inhumanity and profound sadness of the senseless death of those four little girls. Those haunting images will remain with me forever.
McWhorter does a very good job of telling an important story. For a fuller view of the story's real hero, Fred Shuttlesworth, readers should see A Fire You Can't Put Out, by Andrew Manis.
The stuggles of Birmingham Al. vividly brought to life by the authors having spent her life there in a protected family setting. Research and documentation are unusually detailed and well validated. Her interviews with her family members are sensitiveand poingnant.