March to Government
Location: From Kelly Ingram Park (16th Street North and 6th Avenue to City Hall (20th and Park Place)/35203
The March to City Government took place during April and May, 1963. Marchers organized at churches citywide where Blacks held mass meetings to rally, pray and strategize. Often they then convened at St. Paul United Methodist Church or Sixteenth Baptist Church, and walked along 6th Avenue North, from 16th Street North to 19th Street North, as this route was considered to be the main connector to City Hall.The Birmingham Campaign (dubbed “Project C, with C for “Confrontation”) started on April 3, 1963. The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth decided to lead a march to City Hall, the first one on April 6. Thus Government Square became a central target to protest:
- Jim Crow segregation laws that were part of the City Code, but were unconstitutional
- Discriminatory voting rights practices
- The denial of a city permit to demonstrate for their civil rights
Many sites on the March to Government Route went from Kelly Ingram Park to Woodrow Wilson Park (now called Linn Park) at Government Square to the seats of municipal power –Birmingham City Hall and the Jefferson County Courthouse. The area is also the site of the Municipal-Boutwell Auditorium and the Birmingham Public Library (now called the Linn-Henley Research Center). The March to Government also took protestors to the Greyhound bus terminal, another important civil rights destination, across the street from City Hall. Ironically, it was against the law for Blacks to enter city parks that were not specifically set aside for them.
Additionally, City Hall was the headquarters of Birmingham’s Public Safety Commissioner, Eugene “Bull” Connor, the arch-segregationist who for 26 years held power over the city’s police force that often intimidated and brutalized Black citizens, especially those who dared challenge city segregation laws. The most memorable dates in the March to Government occurred during the Lenten season and Holy Week in April, 1963. That time includes the series of marches to City Hall that occurred on Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
In a letter published April 12 in The Birmingham News, 62 Black leaders pleaded with city officials to appoint a bi-racial committee to look objectively at the concerns that sparked the marches. “The current struggle in our community is an expression of the uttered or unexpressed deep yearnings of the heart of every Negro in this community . . . to say to our friends and neighbors of whatever race and creed, ‘Let us live together in human dignity as American citizens and Sons of God’.”
The Good Friday March
April 12, 1963
The Rev. Fred Lee Shuttlesworth, led the first march to City Hall, where he went to pray and protest the city’s refusal to give protestors a permit to parade. Here, he marches to City Hall with the Revs. Ralph David Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr., in defiance of a court order to stop further demonstrations. Police stop marchers and arrest them and others. From his cell during Easter week, King writes his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to White clergymen who wrote a letter in local newspapers critical of him and the campaign.