This Day In History: May 2

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On May 2, 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, more than 1,000 Black school children march through the city in a demonstration against segregation. The goal of the non-violent demonstration, which became known as the "Children’s Crusade" and "Children’s March," was to provoke the city’s civic and business leaders to agree to desegregate.

Martin Luther King Jr., among the civil rights leaders who organized the protest, said: “We are definitely starting a stepped-up campaign to lay our grievances before the conscience of the community.”

Police arrested nearly 800 demonstrators, including a 6-year-old girl, mostly for parading without a permit. Teachers shouted encouragement to hymn-singing students as police made arrests. School buses took those arrested to jail.

“Several thousand curious white persons and Negroes watched from behind hastily set up police lines,” the Associated Press reported. “Firemen laid out high-pressure hoses in a two-block area as one large group of Negroes surged downtown. The hoses were not brought into play.”

The next day, the children marched again. But the Birmingham police response sparked national outrage. On orders from Commissioner “Bull” Conner, law enforcement officers doused peaceful demonstrators with water hoses and turned loose yapping dogs.

In Washington, U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy said the “continued refusal to grant equal rights and opportunities to Negroes makes increasing turmoil inevitable.”

After meeting with civil rights leaders, Birmingham leaders eventually agreed to desegregate businesses and free all those who were jailed during the demonstrations. 

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