Africa and America in The Sixties...
THE YEAR 1963 started out with some good news for Africa especially for the people of Congo.
But it also had some bad news.
The Congo was still in chaos; repression intensified in South Africa as the security forces
cracked down on anti-apartheid opponents arresting most of their leaders; and a government was overthrown in Togo, West Africa,
setting a precedent with dire consequences for the continent.
On January 13, 1963, President Sylvanus Olympio of Togo was assassinated in a military coup.
It was the first military coup in post-colonial Africa and was to have profound implications for the rest of the continent
in the following decades.
Olympio was assassinated at the gates of the American embassy in the nation's capital, Lome,
by a group of Togolese soldiers led by a 25-year-old sergeant, Etienne Eyadema, who later changed his name to Gnassingbe Eyadema.
Eyadema claimed credit for firing the shot that killed Olympio. The president tried to seek
refuge at the American embassy when soldiers followed him through the streets of the capital but embassy officials refused
to open the gate and let him in.
Olympio's brother-in-law Nicholas Grunitzky became president, but was ousted by Eyadema in
a second military coup in 1967 on the fourth anniversary of the first military takeover.
By then, he had capped his military career in a meteoric rise - through self-promotion - from
sergeant to lieutenant-colonel in less than three years, and to full general less than two years later.
He died in February 2005 after 38 years in power and earned the dubious distinction as the
longest-ruling African dictator in the history of post-colonial Africa. No other leader had been in power that long. And no
other African soldier had gained notoriety before him as a coup maker.
Patrice Lumumba was, of course, the first African leader to be forcibly removed from office
in 1960 and was assassinated in January 1961. But his ouster was not a typical military coup; it was part of a larger plot
by the West to dismember the Congo which turned the heart of Africa into a battleground between two ideological camps, East
Olympio's assassination drew a sharp response from President Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika.
Other African leaders also questioned the legitimacy of such assumption of power by unconstitutional means. And the government
of Tanganyika wrote the UN secretary-general, stating:
“After the brutal murder of President Olympio, the problem of recognition of a successor
government has arisen. We urge no recognition of a successor government until satisfied first that the government did not
take part in Olympio's murder or second that there is a popularly elected government.”
Unfortunately, African leaders made a mistake when they legitimized military coups by recognizing
the new government of Togo which came into power by illegitimate means.
Had they taken a firm stand against that right from the beginning when the first military coup
took place in Togo back in 1963, the continent may have been spared the agony it went through for decades when military coups
became a ritual of African politics. In many countries, assumption of power by unconstitutional means became the norm rather
than the exception.
But there was also some good news just two days after Olympio was assassinated, although his
assassination continued to haunt Africa and many people were still in mourning.
On January 15th the secession of Katanga came to an end. It was a victory not only for the people
of Congo but for the rest of Africa.
Had Katanga succeeded in separating from the rest of the Congo, it would have set a bad precedent
for other countries on the continent. There was a danger that some groups and regions in a number of countries would also
try to secede and establish their own independent states.
Therefore Katanga's re-integration into the Congo, after the secessionists capitulated to UN
forces, was a victory for all African countries which were determined to maintain their territorial integrity. Many of them
were already threatened by ethno-regional rivalries as they still are today. And they were young, fragile nations whose survival
depended on the willingness of the members of different ethnic groups to live and work together as one people constituting
viable political entities also known as countries.
Not long after Katanga was reunited with the rest of the Congo, Africa witnessed another major
step towards unity.
From May 23 - 25, 1963, African heads of state and government met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,
and formed the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to promote cooperation among African countries in different areas and work
towards towards continental unity. And one of the cardinal principles enshrined in the OAU was the acceptance and maintenance
of the national boundaries inherited at independence.
The resolution to maintain the territorial borders established by the colonial rulers was introduced
by Julius Nyerere, the president of what was then Tanganyika, who feared that any attempt to redraw the boundaries would plunge
the continent into chaos. As he stated in "Reflections," one of his last speeches - it was an impromptu speech - at an international
conference at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on December 15, 1997:
“The OAU was founded in 1963. In 1964 we went to Cairo to hold, in a sense, our first
summit after the inaugural summit. I was responsible for moving that resolution that Africa must accept the borders, which
we inherited from colonialism; accept them as they are. That resolution was passed by the organisation (OAU) with two reservations:
one from Morocco, another from Somalia.
Let me say why I moved that resolution. In 1960, just before this country became independent,
I think I was then chief minister; I received a delegation of Masai elders from Kenya, led by an American missionary. And
they came to persuade me to let the Masai invoke something called the Anglo-Masai Agreement so that that section of the Masai
in Kenya should become part of Tanganyika; so that when Tanganyika becomes independent, it includes part of Masai, from Kenya.
I suspected the American missionary was responsible for that idea. I don’t remember that
I was particularly polite to him. Kenyatta was then in detention, and here somebody comes to me, that we should break up Kenya
and make part of Kenya part of Tanganyika. But why shouldn’t Kenyatta demand that the Masai part of Tanganyika should
become Masai of Kenya? It’s the same logic. That was in 1960.
In 1961 we became independent. In 1962, early 1962, I resigned as prime minister
and then a few weeks later I received Dr. Banda. Mungu
amuweke mahali pema
(May God rest his soul in peace). I received Dr. Banda. We had just, FRELIMO had just been established here and we were now
in the process of starting the armed struggle.
So Banda comes to me with a big old book, with lots and lots of maps in it,
and tells me, 'Mwalimu, what is this, what is Mozambique? There is no such thing as Mozambique.' I said, 'What do you mean
there is no such thing as Mozambique?' So he showed me this map, and he said: 'That part is part of Nyasaland (Malawi was
still Nyasaland at that time). That part is part of Southern Rhodesia, that part is Swaziland, and this part, which is the
northern part, Makonde part, that is your part.'
So Banda disposed of Mozambique just like that. I ridiculed the idea, and Banda never liked
anybody to ridicule his ideas. So he left and went to Lisbon to talk to Salazar about this wonderful idea. I don’t know
what Salazar told him. That was ‘62.
In ‘63 we go to Addis Ababa for the inauguration of the OAU, and Ethiopia
and Somalia are at war over the Ogaden. We had to send a special delegation to bring the president of Somalia to attend that
inaugural summit, because the two countries were at war.
Why? Because Somalia wanted the Ogaden, a whole province of Ethiopia, saying, “That
is part of Somalia.” And Ethiopia was quietly, the Emperor quietly saying to us that “the whole of Somalia is
part of Ethiopia.”
So those three, the delegation of the Masai, led by the American missionary; Banda’s
old book of maps; and the Ogaden, caused me to move that resolution, in Cairo in 1964. And I say, the resolution was accepted,
two countries with reservations, and one was Somalia because Somalia wanted the Ogaden; Somalia wanted northern Kenya; Somalia
As Nyerere stated, Morocco was the other country which - together with Somalia - voted against
his resolution on retaining the borders inherited at independence in order to avoid disintegration of African countries and
conflicts over inter-territorial borders. And he was vindicated by history.
Morocco did not like the resolution because it had expansionist ambitions. Twelve years later,
after the 1964 OAU summit, Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara. And the people of Western Sahara are
still fighting for their right to self-determination after being forcibly incorporated into Morocco by King Hassan.
In 1964, Somalia declared war on Ethiopia in an attempt to reclaim the Ogaden ceded by the
British to the Ethiopian emperor. And in 1977, the two countries fought the bloodiest war in which both sides suffered heavy
casualties. But Ethiopia emerged victorious and almost wiped out the entire Somali army of more than 30,000 troops. Somalia
also lost most of its army tanks and other weapons and conceded defeat.
Earlier in the sixties, Somalia also clashed with Kenya over the northeastern district of Kenya
- then known as the Northern Frontier District - which, like the Ogaden in Ethiopia, is inhabited mostly by Somalis. Somalia
claimed both in an attempt to establish a Greater Somalia.
Had both Morocco and Somalia voted for the resolution introduced by Nyerere at the OAU summit
in Cairo in 1964 asking African countries to retain the boundaries inherited at independence instead of trying to change them
or redraw the map of Africa, all those conflicts could have been avoided. And when the OAU was founded in 1963, one of its
main objectives was exactly that: avoid or help resolve such conflicts such.
So, the mere fact that African leaders agreed on the imperative need for such an organization
to foster cooperation, facilitate efforts towards regional and continental unity, help resolve conflicts and support the liberation
struggle against white minority rule, was by itself a major achievement in 1963; as was the re-integration of Katanga into
Congo earlier in the same year, bringing an end to a secessionist movement which posed the greatest threat to the survival
of one of Africa's biggest and potentially richest countries.
The Organization of African Unity (OAU) itself went on to play a major role in the course of
events during the post-colonial period more than any other single institution in Africa and thus change destiny of the continent.
The most important role it played was in supporting the liberation struggle against white minority
rule in southern Africa and in the Portuguese colony of Guinea, later renamed Guinea-Bissau, in West Africa. The liberation
movements waged the armed struggle, complemented by diplomatic offensives, under the auspices of the OAU Liberation Committee
and with the help of the independent African countries in varying degrees of commitment. Some did more than others.
All this changed the course of African history in the post-colonial era especially in the countries
still under white minority rule. The OAU facilitated the armed struggle and speeded up the decolonization process.
Had it not been for the role played by the OAU and the independent African countries, the countries
still under white minority rule in southern Africa would not have won their freedom when they did. The struggle would have
taken much longer, and it would have been much harder for the people in those territories if they had to fight on their own
without the coordinated help they got from other African countries.
Decolonization was hardest, most complicated and took the longest in the countries of southern
Africa. And it required a concerted effort on a continental scale to bear fruit. Independent African countries waged a coordinated
campaign on all fronts to support the liberation movements.
It is a pivotal role which was one of the most important, and most positive, developments on
the continent in the post-colonial period.
African countries may not have been able to play that role had they not worked together to
create the Organization of African Unity in 1963. The OAU also had a direct impact on the civil rights struggle in the United
American blacks drew inspiration from this organization and from the successful independence
struggle on the African continent as they waged their campaign to achieve racial equality. And Malcolm X formed the Organization
of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) in the United States patterned after the OAU. As he said in one of his speeches, the OAAU drew
inspiration from the "mother organization" in Africa. He formed the OAAU after attending the OAU conference in Cairo in July
The establishment of the OAU also coincided with the publication of Nkrumah's
book, Africa Must Unite, in May 1963. Nkrumah deliberately made
arrangements to have his book released around the same time African leaders were meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to establish
the OAU. It was a challenge and an inspiration to encourage African leaders to seriously consider forming a continental government
before it was too late, as he passionately argued in his book and in his other speeches and writings through the years. And
he was vindicated by history.
But his approach towards African unity, demanding immediate continental unification,
without first laying the foundation for it, may have
However, his Pan-African ideals were noble, inspiring and worthy of serious consideration,
and his book published in 1963 urging African countries to unite stimulated and fueled discussion and debate on this important
subject for decades to come. Nkrumah became the most controversial and most talked-about leader on the continent during his
time. Even today, more than 30 years after death - he died of cancer in a hospital in Bucharest, Romania, on April 27, 1972
- his Pan-African ambitions to liberate and unite the continent continue to ignite debate.
In 2000, a survey conducted by the BBC among its African listeners found that
Nkrumah was considered to be the most influential African leader the continent has ever produced. He was voted Africa's "Man
of the Millennium." And probably some of the people who voted for him read or knew about his book Africa Must Unite published in 1963. Tragically, he was overthrown three years later
in a military coup engineered and masterminded by the CIA.
Nkrumah also was one of the African leaders, together with Nyerere and a few others, who enjoyed
a lot of support among many African Americans. Also Nkrumah and Nyerere were some of the leading founders of the Organization
of African Unity (OAU).
And during the civil rights movement, African governments took strong interest in the struggle
for racial equality in the United States and issued a formal statement condemning racial injustice against people of African
descent in other parts of the world but especially in the United States.
The statement was in the form of a resolution linking racial discrimination in the United States
with apartheid in South Africa and was issued by the African heads of state and government who met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,
in May 1963, to form the Organization of African Unity. And it was incorporated into the OAU Charter:
“The Summit Conference of Independent African States meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,
from 22 May to 25 May 1963; having considered all aspects of the questions of apartheid and racial discriminations; unanimously
convinced of the imperious and urgent necessity of co-ordinating and intensifying their efforts to put an end to the South
African Government's criminal policy of apartheid and wipe out racial discrimination in all its forms,...(also) expresses
the deep concern aroused in all African peoples and governments by the measures of racial discrimination taken against communities
of African origin living outside the continent and particularly in the United States of America,...intolerable mal-practices
which are likely seriously to deteriorate relations between the African peoples and governments on the one hand and the people
and Government of the United States of America on the other.”
Only about a month before African leaders adopted this resolution and incorporated it into
the OAU Charter, incidents of racial violence against blacks took place in Birmingham, Alabama, which also came to be known
as "Bombingham" because of the bombings of black homes and churches probably more than anywhere else in the United States.
One of those bombings of a black church claimed the lives of four little black girls in September 1963.
In May 1963, civil rights demonstrators held peaceful protests against racial injustices in
Birmingham and elsewhere across the nation, but especially in the south where segregation was routinely enforced by local
ordinances. The peaceful demonstrations turned violent when Birmingham's safety public commissioner, "Bull" Connor, used police
dogs to attack the peaceful demonstrators.
The police also attacked the demonstrators and beat them up with clubs. The authorities also
used powerful water hoses used by firemen to knock demonstrators off their feet and sent many of them rolling in the streets
like logs of wood or drums of oil. One of the victims who was knocked off her feet by the powerful water hoses and fell to
the ground was a pregnant black woman.
But, in spite of all this brutality and the fact that the demonstrators had done nothing to
provoke the authorities into taking such extreme measures since they were demonstrating peacefully, "Bull" Connor and his
colleagues did not feel that they had done anything wrong and in fact were proud of what they did.
Even before May 1963, Birmingham had been the scene of bombings and other forms of violence
against blacks since World War II. Dozens of bombings of black homes had gone unsolved and black people lived in fear. The
city was a racist stronghold and the home to Eastview Klavern 13, the most violent chapter of the Ku Klux Klan throughout
the entire south and was indeed, as Dr. Martin Luther King and others said, the most segregated city in America.
Dr. King other civil rights leaders who masterminded the 1963 demonstrations felt that the
best way to get meaningful concessions from whites was to have some financial leverage against them. As Wyat Tee Lee who organized
the demonstrations said: "We had been trying to win the hearts of white Southerners, and that was a mistake, a misjudgement.
We realized that you have to hit them in the pocket."
Ironically, they found an ally in the city's public safety commissioner, Eugene "Bull" Connor,"
whose hatred and contempt for blacks provided the civil rights activists with a perfect opportunity to dramatize the plight
of black people and force the federal government to intervene. It gave them the opportunity to show the whole world the kind
of injustices and brutalities that were being perpetrated against blacks. And fortunately, "Bull" Connor didn't mind that
being shown on television and written about in newspapers. He proved to be his own best enemy.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) headed by Dr. Martin Luther King led the
demonstrations from April to May 1963. The SCLC leaders believed that the confrontation with the city authorities would be
so bad that the federal government would have no choice but to intervene on the side of justice.
At first the leaders had problems mobilizing blacks. Many of them were reluctant to participate
because they were afraid of what would happen to them in a city with a reputation for violence against them.
The demonstrations were the work of local civil rights activists but they invited others to
participate, including Ralph Abernathy, King's deputy in the SCLC, and other leading figures. One of the main SCLC leaders
was Fred Shuttleworth, a Baptist minister who, together with Dr. King, Abernathy, Joseph Lowery and others, was among the
founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. He moved from Birmingham to Cincinnati in 1961 but
participated in the 1963 protests in Birmingham.
That is how Dr. Martin Luther King went to Birmingham to lead the peaceful protests: at the
invitation of the local SCLC leaders and others.
An injunction was issued against Dr. King to stop the demonstrations but he
refused and decided to go to jail instead. The city authorities arrested him and put him in jail on April 12th. Abernathy and Shuttleworth were also arrested
on the same day together with Dr. King for marching and leading demonstrations without a permit.
It was when Dr. King was behind bars that he wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham
Jail" on April 16thth.
But the other civil rights activists did not give up simply because the leader
of the demonstrations, Dr. King, was in jail. He was not released until April 20th.
One of the main leaders in the Birmingham protests was James Bevel who mobilized
thousands of school children to participate in the march led by Dr. King.
The police responded by arresting hundreds of school children who poured into the streets each
day and used school buses to confine them. Because it was too many of them to put in jail, the city's Public Safety Commissioner
"Bull" Connor resorted to violence and used police dogs and fire hoses to disperse the crowds.
He did exactly what civil rights activists said he would do: unleash terror against peaceful
demonstrators. Images of vicious police dogs attacking blacks, and of the police themselves using extreme violence against
the people, evoked emotions and angry responses from many people not only in the United States but around the world. As Dr.
King said, the nation was "battling for the minds and the hearts of men in Asia and Africa, and they aren't gonna respect
the United States of America if she deprives men and women of the basic rights of life because of the color of their skin."
King's involvement in the Birmingham crisis was, in fact, the very factor that set things in
motion. He was the driving force behind the demonstrations when, in the spring of 1963 together with the local leaders, he
organized desegregation protests in Birmingham which he called "the most thoroughly segregated city in America."
However, the campaign to desegregate lunch counters, schools and other facilities in Birmingham
was less successful than in some other southern cities. The peaceful protests failed to sway city officials to loosen their
tight grip on the black community, let alone end segregation. Dr. King and his colleagues also refused to give up. Instead,
they mobilized sit-in demonstrations and marches involving thousands of school children which began on Good Friday.
When he was arrested on April 16th along with nearly 1,000 children, the city officials sent
a clear message to the demonstrators and their supporters that white people were not going to back down; nor were the demonstrators.
While in jail serving time for demonstrating in Birmingham, and for leading demonstrations, Dr. King argued in his famous
letter that individuals have the moral duty to disobey unjust laws. But some fellow ministers differed with him. Eight liberal
Alabama clergymen wrote an open letter questioning his tactics and strategies.
They claimed that they supported integration but did not endorse King's approach to solving
problems of racial discrimination. They believed that he should use the courts to pursue his goals instead of leading demonstrations
in the streets because such protests were counterproductive, leading to violence and disrupting law and order.
Dr. King responded to their criticism and concerns, and explained that to value order over
justice was an injustice itself. And to demand patience from the oppressed when the oppressed had been waiting for centuries
to get justice was illogical and unjust.
The letter was written on scraps of paper and smuggled out of jail, and it inspired even more
people to support the civil rights movement. It also made some of the moderate supporters of the civil rights struggle re-evaluate
their positions and their criticism of Dr. King's tactics and strategies. As he stated in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail":
“*AUTHOR'S NOTE: This response to a published statement by eight fellow clergymen from
Alabama (Bishop C. C. J. Carpenter, Bishop Joseph A. Durick, Rabbi Hilton L. Grafman, Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop Holan B.
Harmon, the Reverend George M. Murray. the Reverend Edward V. Ramage and the Reverend Earl Stallings) was composed under somewhat
Begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while I was in jail,
the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly Negro trusty, and concluded on a pad my attorneys
were eventually permitted to leave me. Although the text remains in substance unaltered, I have indulged in the author's prerogative
of polishing it for publication.
Letter from Birmingham Jail
April 16, 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling
my present activities "unwise and untimely."
Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms
that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the
day, and I would have no time for constructive work.
But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely
set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should indicate why I am here In Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the
view which argues against "outsiders coming in."
I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an
organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated
organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff,
educational and financial resources with our affiliates.
Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent
direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise.
So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here
because I have organizational ties here.
But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the
eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns,
and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman
world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the
Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit
idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network
of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can
we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never
be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to
say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you
would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple
with underlying causes.
It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate
that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine
whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham.
There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham
is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes
have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches
in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation.
These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders
sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.
Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community.
In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants --- for example, to remove the stores humiliating
racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement
for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations.
As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise.
A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.
As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment
settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a
means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community.
Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification.
We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?"
"Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?"
We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except
for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the
by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed
Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoralty election was coming up in March, and we
speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene
"Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-off we decided again to postpone action until the day after the
run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues.
Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement
after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed no longer.
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation
a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent
direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate
is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound
rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension."
I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension
which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals
could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal,
we must see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark
depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.
The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it
will inevitably open the door to negotiation.
I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland
been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have
taken .in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?"
The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must
be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert
Boutwell as mayor. will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor,
they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo.
I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance
to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that
we have not made a single civil rights gain without determined legal and nonviolent pressure.
Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges
voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has
reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor;
it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well timed" in the
view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.
For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing
familiarity. This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.' We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that
'justice too long delayed is justice denied.'
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations
of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy
pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.
Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, 'Wait.'
But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters
and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters;
when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst
of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your
six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears
welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority
beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious
bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: 'Daddy, why do white
people treat colored people so mean?'; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night
in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out
by nagging signs reading 'white' and 'colored'; when your first name becomes 'nigger,' your middle name becomes 'boy' (however
old you are) and your last name becomes 'John,' and your wife and mother are never given the respected title 'Mrs.'; when
you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite
knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating
sense of 'nobodiness' then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be
plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a
legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation
in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws.
One may want to ask: 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?' The answer
lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One
has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust
laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all'
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or
unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out
of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted
in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is
All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.
It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use
the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an 'I-it' relationship for an 'I-thou' relationship and
ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically
unsound, it is morally wrong and awful.
Paul Tillich said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression 'of
man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954
decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are
Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that
a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference
made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to
follow itself. This is sameness made legal.
Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as
a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature
of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected?
Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered
voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro
is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been
arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit
for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First
Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.
I hope you are able to ace the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate
evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must
do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience
tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community
over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely
in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law
was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating
pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.
To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.
In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything
the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was 'illegal.' It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany.
Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today
I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate
disobeying that country's antireligious laws.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers.
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the
white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward
freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order'
than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of
justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action';
who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time
and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.'
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding
from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose
of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the
flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary
phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive
and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.
Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely
bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt
with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural
medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience
and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because
they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession
of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth
and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't
this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the
evil act of crucifixion?
We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to
urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence.
Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation
to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: 'All Christians know
that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry.
It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to
Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion
that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it
can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more
effectively than have the people of good will.
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the
bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts
of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this 'hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social
We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now
is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.
Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that
fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stands in
the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as
a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of 'somebodiness' that they have adjusted
to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because
in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses.
The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating
violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and
best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial
discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity,
and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible 'devil.'
I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the 'do-nothingism'
of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent
I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence
became an integral part of our struggle.
If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced,
be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as 'rabble-rousers' and 'outside agitators'
those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes
will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies a development that would inevitably
lead to a frightening racial nightmare.
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests
itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom,
and something without has reminded him that it can be gained.
Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers
of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with
a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.
If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily
understand why public demonstrations are taking place.
The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So
let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides--and try to understand why he
must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this
is not a threat but a fact of history.
So I have not said to my people: 'Get rid of your discontent.' Rather, I have tried to say
that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this
approach is being termed extremist.
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued
to think about the matter, I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.
Was not Jesus an extremist for love: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good
to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.' Was not Amos an extremist for justice:
'Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.' Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian
gospel: 'I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.' Was not Martin Luther an extremist: 'Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise,
so help me God.'
And John Bunyan: 'I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my
conscience.' And Abraham Lincoln: 'This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.' And Thomas Jefferson: 'We hold these
truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ...'
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.
Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of
In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that
all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below
their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.
Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps
I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans
and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by
strong, persistent and determined action.
I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning
of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still too few in quantity, but they are big in quality.
Some---such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle---have written
about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms.
Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy,
roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as 'dirty nigger lovers.' Unlike so many
of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action"
antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.
Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with
the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each
of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this
past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a non-segregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this
state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.
But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed
with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative .critics who can always find. something wrong with the church.
I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its
spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of Rio shall lengthen.
When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama,
a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church and felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of
the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom
movement and misrepresenting its leader era; and too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained
silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.
In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious
leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through
which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have
I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a
desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because
integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother."
In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen
stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid
our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: 'Those are social issues, with which the gospel
has no real concern.' And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes
a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.
I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states.
On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires
pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have
found myself asking: 'What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor
Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for
defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the
dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?'
Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity
of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love.
There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How
could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers.
Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and
through fear of being nonconformists.
There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced
at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded
the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.
Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately
sought to convict the Christians for being 'disturbers of the peace' and 'outside agitators.' But the Christians pressed on,
in the conviction that they were 'a colony of heaven,' called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big
in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought
an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with
an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church,
the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture
the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed
as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment
with the church has turned into outright disgust.
Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic.
Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?
Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope
of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose
from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom.
They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us.
They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have
been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the
faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the
true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.
I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the
church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle
in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood.
We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of
America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny.
Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the
majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our
forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering
gross injustice and shameful humiliation-and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the
inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom
because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.
Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled
me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping 'order' and 'preventing violence.
I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking
their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe
their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women
and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as
they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your
praise of the Birmingham police department.
It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators.
In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system
Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means
we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral
ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.
Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett
in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As
T. S. Eliot has said: 'The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.'
I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime
courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation.
One day the South will recognize its real heroes. There will be the James Merediths, with the
noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes
the life of the pioneer. There will be the old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman
in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and
who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: My feets is tired, but my soul is at
There will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel
and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience'
One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch
counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian
heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in
their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious
time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can
one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?
If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable
impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience
that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.
I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon
make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and
a Christian brother.
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog
of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars
of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.
Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Dr. King's powerful message contained in his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" helped
galvanize the civil rights movement and remains one of the most important historical documents from that turbulent era.
Unfortunately, the situation in Birmingham did not improve even after his arrest
on April 16th. In the following month of May, the streets
of Birmingham turned into a scene of violence when the Birmingham police used dogs and high-pressure water hoses against the
civil rights demonstrators.
City officials led by public safety commissioner "Bull" Connor responded with violence, with
the full backing of Governor George Wallace who, earlier in January in his inaugural speech, vowed to maintain segregation
at any price. Tragically, the price involved the lives of black people and brutalities against them to "keep niggers in their
But the violence backfired. It may have helped the police to control blacks demonstrators in
order to physically abuse them for racist reasons, but it also helped draw attention to the racial injustices black people
suffered. Television cameras focused on the violence - the brutal attacks, with police dogs mauling defenceless marchers,
and much more.- and brought it into the homes of millions of Americans on their television screens.
They saw black men, women and children being attacked, knocked down by water from fire hoses,
beaten by the police and abused in every conceivable way. And they saw the injuries.
The images of such brutality won sympathy for the civil rights movement around the world. They
were not only televised but also published in numerous newspapers and other publications in many countries. It was impossible
to ignore such graphic images and do nothing about it. It was time for the federal government to intervene.
President Kennedy asked the white business community in Birmingham to reach an agreement with
the civil rights activists and on May 10th, they agreed to desegregate lunch counters, bathrooms, drinking fountains and other
public facilities. Kennedy said the turmoil in the city was "a spectacle which was seriously damaging the reputation of both
Birmingham and the country."
Unfortunately, it wasn't much of a victory. The next day, bombs exploded at King's headquarters
and at his brother's home. Racist forces were still at work determined to stop integration and preserve the southern way of
life conceived by whites on the basis of segregation.
Witnesses said the bombs which were left and detonated at the home of Dr. King's
brother and at the A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham between May 11th and May 12th had been placed there by men in police cars. The motel
was owned by Arthur George Gaston, a prominent black businessman in Birmingham who played a major role in the struggle to
integrate the city in 1963.
Blacks also responded with violence. These were mostly poor blacks who had little faith in
nonviolence the Dr. King and others did. Nine blocks of Birmingham were destroyed in the riots. Alabama state troopers and
the city police attacked blacks in the streets, and blacks responded by hurling rocks and bottles at them.
As a demonstration of federal authority, President Kennedy sent several thousand troops to
an Alabama air base. He knew something had to be done. Also America's reputation was at stake. The violence was broadcast
worldwide, not just in the United States, questioning America's credibility as a democratic society.
The demonstrations in Birmingham inspired similar protests elsewhere and in the following weeks
- about two-and-a-half months - 758 racial demonstrations took place in 186 cities across the United States leading to 14,733
President Kennedy saw the problem not only as a legal and constitutional issue but also as
a human rights problem and a moral crisis. The nation had to confront it if it were to remain true to its ideals of liberty
and equality upon which it was supposedly founded as "the land of the free and the home of the brave." America had to be brave
enough to face reality.
The violence in Birmingham was an important milestone in the history of the civil rights movement
and helped push the Kennedy administration to move rapidly in order to respond to the crisis by speeding up the drafting of
a comprehensive civil rights bill. The government was prodded even further by the crisis at the segregated university of Alabama
involving the admission of two black students, prompting Kennedy to announce that major civil rights legislation would be
submitted to Congress to guarantee equal access to public facilities to end segregation in education and to provide federal
protection of the right to vote.
Kennedy's proposed Civil Rights Bill was brought before Congress after June 1963. But it was
not passed before his assassination in November the same year. It was now up to his successor Lyndon Johnson to skillfully
get the bill through Congress many of whose members in both parties were resolutely opposed to racial integration.
Birmingham was one of the toughest cities to desegregate. It was not until July
23, 1963, that the city repealed its segregation laws on drinking fountains, rest rooms and other facilities. And, finally,
on July 30th the city's downtown lunch counters were
In an attempt to persuade Congress to pass Kennedy's proposed legislation, the Congress of
Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and other groups organized the famous March on
Washington on August 28, 1963. Civil rights leaders and activists A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin played a critical
role in making the march a success.
Other key figures included the head of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young who was the
leader of the Urban League. The student group, SNCC, also played an important role in helping organize the march, although
a speech by John Lewis, leader of SNCC, was censored by the other march organizers for being too radical before he delivered
Also prominent at the march was author James Baldwin whose book, The Fire Next Time, published in 1962 foresaw the coming of the riots which erupted
later in the sixties in many cities across America, especially from 1965 to 1968, starting with the Watts rebellion in Los
Angeles in 1965. Earlier in 1963 was the violence in Birmingham triggered by the church bombing in which four black girls
were killed just two weeks after the March on Washington.
It was originally intended as a march for jobs, as conceived by A. Philip Randolph, but he,
Dr. King and the other civil rights leaders - all together known as the Big Six - decided to focus on civil rights. They were
Philip Randolph, James Farmer of CORE, Dr. King of SCLC, NAACP chief Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young of the Urban League, and John
Lewis of SNCC. Bayard Rustin was chosen to be the coordinator of the march.
More than 200,000 people of all races marched peacefully to the Lincoln Memorial and gathered
at the Washington Monument to demand equal justice for all citizens under the law. At the end of the march, Dr. Martin Luther
King gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. Some estimates said up to 500,000 people participated in the march.
The march and Dr. King's speech were preceded by Kennedy's speech about two
months earlier on June 11th in which he clearly stated that black people in the United States did not have the same rights as whites practically
in all areas of life.
As events continued to unfold, from the crisis in Birmingham to the confrontation at the University
of Alabama in the same state; and as black people continued to endure racial injustices throughout the south and even in other
parts of the country, another tragedy struck the nation in the same year. It was the assassination of Medgar Evers, a prominent
civil rights in Mississippi.
He was assassinated on June 12, 1963, a month that had seen a lot of action that year including
Governor Wallace's last stand against racial integration at the University of Alabama. It was a year of tragedies including
the murder of other civil rights workers in the south, the bombing of black homes and churches, and of the assassination of
President Kennedy a few months later.
Medgar Evers was the field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement
of Coloured People (NAACP) in Mississippi and he was assassinated on June 12th in Jackson, the state capital, soon after he arrived at his home and got
out of his car one night. He had been doing some work for the NAACP and his killer was waiting for him in the bush near his
The man who shot him was Byron De La Beckwith, an outspoken racist who was spared prison twice
after white juries refused to convict him. The trial ended up in a hung jury both times. It was not until 30 years later that
he was convicted and sent to prison for life, as an old man nd after escaping punishment all those years. But things had changed
through the years and the other law enforcement authorities in Mississippi were determined to see that justice was done. But
it was justice too late.
Medgar Evers was 37 years old when he was gunned down and was one of the most active civil
rights leaders in the nation and in one of its most violent states where the life of a black person meant absolutely nothing;
no more than it did in apartheid South Africa.
He was killed during a period when the people in the civil irghts movement were facing some
of their most violent opponents who were determined to maintain, at any cost, the southern way of life based on segregation
and racial inequality. Segregationist forces terrorized blacks throughout the south and were even emboldened in their actions
because the local authorities including law enforcement officials did nothing to stop the violence.
In fact, in many cases, southern leaders and law enforcement officials worked with the Ku Klux
Klan and other racist groups such as the White Citizens' Council and were even members of those groups themselves; and not
simply some people who just worked in collusion with the racists. They were racist themselves and in some cases even leaders
of the groups terrorizing blacks.
The opponents of racial equality even unleashed terror against black children.
All blacks were prime target - no one was spared. Whites civil rights workers were also targeted. Those were violent times.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, writing during the same period, stated in his book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? published in 1967:
“In Mississippi the murder of civil rights workers is still a popular pastime. In that
state more than 40 Negroes and whites have either been lynched or murdered over the last three years, and not a single man
has been punished for these crimes.
More than 50 Negro churches have been burned or bombed in Mississippi in the last two years,
yet the bombers still walk the streets surrounded by the halo of adoration. This is white power in its most brutal, cold-blooded
and vicious form.”
And that was the state in which Medgar Evers was killed. It was also his home state.
But the rest of the south, especially the deep south, was almost just as bad. For example,
if you went to Alabama, black people in that state would have told you that their state was no better or safer than Mississippi.
And you would have heard the same story in many parts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana all of which, together with
Mississippi, constitute what is known as the deep south.
So it went on and on. Black people knew that they were not safe anywhere in the south as long
as nothing was done to protect them.
But Mississippi embodied some of the worst elements of white power. And it was these forces
that Medgar Evers had to contend with as the state field secretary of the NAACP mobilizing blacks so that they could work
together to fight for their rights white people always took for granted simply because they were white.
Born on July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi, he helped pave the way for black
students when he applied to the University of Mississippi Law School in February 1954, the same year the US Supreme Court
ruled in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education that segregation of public schools - upheld by the "separate-but-equal" doctrine
- was unconstitutional.
He was denied admission and became involved with the NAACP in an effort to desegregate the
school; a campaign which helped James Meredith when be became the first black to enroll as a student at the University of
Mississippi in October 1962. He played a prominent role in helping Meredith secure admission into the school when he was the
head of the NAACP in Mississippi and sought federal help to integrate the school.
His attempt to desegregate Mississippi's oldest public university attracted the attention of
the NAACP officials at the national office who appointed him the first field secretary of the NAACP in the state of Mississippi
in December 1954.
Medgar Evers was also involved in other campaigns against segregation in Mississippi, including
a boycott of white merchants who discriminated against blacks. His boycott of merchants in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early
sixties attracted national attention.
He also conducted public investigations into the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, a black
boy who wa lynched in Mississippi in August 1955, a case which attracted worldwide attention. Emmett Till's mother insisted
at the funeral in Chicago, where Emmett came from, that her son's casket should remain open so that people could see "what
they did to my boy."
Because of his efforts fighting racism, Evers became a prime target of racists throughout the
state of Mississippi and beyond. On May 28, 1963, a molotov cocktail was thrown into the carpot of his house and, juist five
days before he was killed, he was almost run down by a car after he came out of the NAACP office in Jackson, the state capital.
During the same period, civil rights activists were very active and demonstrations
against racism gained a lot of momentum in Jackson in the first week of June 1963, just a few days before President Kennedy
gave his famous speech on civil rights on June 11th. Medgar Evers himself was given some time by a local television station for a
short speech in which he outlined the goals of the civil rights struggle in Jackson. After the speech, threats on his life
Around 12.40 a.m. on June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers returned home after attending a meeting on
integration where he talked with NAACP lawyers on what needed to be done. As soon as he got out of his car carrying NAACP
T-shirts emblazoned with "Jim Crow Must Go," he was shot in the back. The bullet ricocheted into his house. He staggered about
30 feet before collapsing and died 50 minutes later at a local hospital. He was killed just hours after President Kennedy
addressed the nation in a televised speech on civil rights.
On June 23, 1963, Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens'
Council, was arrested for Evers' murder. His first trial was in 1964. During the course of his trial, he was visited by the
former governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, who tried to stop James Meredith from enrolling as a student at the University
of Mississippi. He was also visited by former Army Major-General Edwin A. Walker, another well-known racist and prominent
advocate of white supremacy.
An FBI informant reported that De La Beckwith bragged at a meeting of the Ku
Klux Klan in 1965 that "killing that nigger gave me no more inner discomfort than our wives endure when they give birth to
our children"; quoted by Jonathan Birnbaum and Clarence Taylor, editors, Civil Rights Since 1787: A Reader on the Black Struggle (p.355).
Medgar Evers was buried in Arlington National Cemetery on June 19, 1963. After his killer was
acquitted twice, many people eulogized him and kept his case alive. Among them were prominent musicians including African-American
singer Nina Simone who wrote and sang "Mississippi Goddamn" as a response to the assassination of Medgar Evers, and the bombing
of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama, in September 1963, in which four little black girls were killed by the Ku Klux Klan.
A prominent figure in the civil rights movement, her other songs include "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free."
Medgar Evers was also eulogized by many other people including Bob Dylan, another active participant
in the civil rights movement, who wrote the song "Only a Pawn in their Game" about Evers and his killer and the killers' supporters.
The violence in the south against blacks continued. Not long after Medgar Evers was gunned
down, another tragedy struck in the neighbouring state of Alabama. It was the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in
Birmingham in the early hours of Sunday on September 15, 1963. Even some moderate black leaders not known for militant rhetoric
used very strong language after the church bombing. As the NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins said in a message he sent
to President Kennedy, unless unless the Federal Government offered more than "picayune and piecemeal aid against this type
of bestiality" blacks would "employ such methods as our desperation may dictate in defense of the lives of our people."
According to a UPI (United Press International) report from Birmingham after the bombing entitled
"Six Dead After Church Bombing":
“A bomb...blasted a crowded Negro church today, killing four girls in their Sunday school
classes and triggering outbreaks of violence that left two more persons dead in the streets....
Two Negro youths were killed in outbreaks of shooting seven hours after the 16th Street Baptist
Church was bombed, and a third was wounded. As darkness closed over the city hours later, shots crackled sporadically in the
Negro sections. Stones smashed into cars driven by whites....
Reinforced police units patrolled the city and 500 battle-dressed National Guardsmen stood
by at an armory. City police shot a 16-year-old Negro to death when he refused to heed their commands to halt after they caught
him stoning cars. A 13-year-old Negro boy was shot and killed as he rode his bicycle in a suburban area north of the city....
Downtown streets were deserted after dark and police urged white and Negro parents to keep
their children off the streets.
Thousands of hysterical Negroes poured into the area around the church this morning and police
fought for two hours, firing rifles into the air to control them. When the crowd broke up, scattered shootings and stonings
erupted through the city during the afternoon and tonight.
The Negro youth killed by police was Johnny Robinson, 16. They said he fled down an alley when
they caught him stoning cars. They shot him when he refused to halt.
The 13-year-old boy killed outside the city was Virgil Ware. He was shot at about the same
time as Robinson.
Shortly after the bombing police broke up a rally of white students protesting the desegregation
of three Birmingham schools last week. A motorcade of militant adult segregationists apparently en route to the student rally
King arrived in the city tonight and went into a conference with Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a
leader in the civil rights fight in Birmingham....
Dozens of persons were injured when the bomb went off in the church, which held 400 Negroes
at the time, including 80 children. It was Young Day at the church.
A few hours later, police picked up two white men, questioned them about the bombing and released
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wired President Kennedy from Atlanta that he was going to Birmingham
to plead with Negroes to 'remain non-violent.' But he said that unless 'immediate Federal steps are taken' there will be 'in
Birmingham and Alabama the worst racial holocaust this Nation has ever seen.'
Dozens of survivors, their faces dripping blood from the glass that flew out of the church's
stained glass windows, staggered around the building in a cloud of white dust raised by the explosion.
The blast crushed two nearby cars like toys and blew out windows blocks away.
Negroes stoned cars in other sections of Birmingham and police exchanged shots with a Negro
firing wild shotgun blasts two blocks from the church. It took officers two hours to disperse the screaming, surging crowd
of 2,000 Negroes who ran to the church at the sound of the blast.
At least 20 persons were hurt badly enough by the blast to be treated at hospitals. Many more,
cut and bruised by flying debris, were treated privately....
President Kennedy, yachting off Newport, R.I., was notified by radio-telephone and Attorney
General Robert F. Kennedy ordered his chief civil rights troubleshooter, Burke Marshall, to Birmingham. At least 25 FBI agents,
including bomb experts from Washington, were being rushed in.
City Police Inspector W.J. Haley said as many as 15 sticks of dynamite must have been used.
'We have talked to witnesses who say they saw a car drive by and then speed away just before the bomb hit,' he said....
The only stained glass window in the church that remained in its frame showed Christ leading
a group of little children. The face of Christ was blown out.
After the police dispersed the hysterical crowds, workmen with pickaxes went into the wrecked
basement of the church. Parts of brightly painted children's furniture were strewn about in one Sunday School room, and blood
stained the floors. Chunks of concrete the size of footballs littered the basement.
The bomb apparently went off in an unoccupied basement room and blew down the wall, sending
stone and debris flying like shrapnel into a room where children were assembling for closing prayers following Sunday School.
Bibles and song books lay shredded and scattered through the church.
In the main sanctuary upstairs, which holds about 500 persons, the pulpit and Bible were covered
with pieces of stained glass.
One of the dead girls was decapitated. The coroner's office identified the dead as Denise McNair,
11; Carol Robertson, 14; Cynthia Wesley, 14, and Addie Mae Collins, 10.
As the crowd came outside watched the victims being carried out, one youth broke away and tried
to touch one of the blanket-covered forms.
'This is my sister,' he cried. 'My God, she's dead.' Police took the hysterical boy away.
Mamie Grier, superintendent of the Sunday School, said when the bomb went off 'people began
screaming, almost stampeding' to get outside. The wounded walked around in a daze, she said....
It was the fourth bombing in four weeks in Birmingham, and the third since the current school
desegregation crisis came to a boil Sept. 4....
Dr. King wired Wallace that 'the blood of four little children ... is on your hands. Your irresponsible
and misguided actions have created in Birmingham and Alabama the atmosphere that has induced continued violence and now murder.'”
The bombing only solidified the city's reputation as "Bombingham." As a local
newspaper, Birmingham World, stated in a commentary on September 18,
1963, three days after the bombing, Birmingham was "the world's chief city of unsolved racial bombings." It went on to say:
“Lethal dynamite has made Sunday, September 15, 1963, a Day of Sorrow and Shame in Birmingham....
Four or more who were attending Sunday School at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on the
day of Sorrow and Shame were killed.
Their bodies were stacked up on top of each other like bales of hay from the crumbling ruins
left by the dynamiting. They were girls. They were children. They were members of the the Negro group. They were victims of
cruel madness, the vile bigotry and the deadly hate of unknown persons.”
The church bombing and killing of four black girls shocked many people of all races. And it
galvanized the civil rights movement probably than many acts of racially motivated violence in the sixties for a number of
reasons including the fact that the victims were children.
It also took place in a city which already had a bad reputation for violence against blacks
and earned the nickname "Bombingham." The protests and violence in Birmingham were one of the main reasons President Kennedy
proposed a civil rights bill in the same year.
The bombing was carried out by some members of the Ku Klux Klan and was intended to instill
fear among blacks because of their support and involvement in the civil rights movement. Instead, it accomplished exactly
The people were enraged by the bombing and got even more inspired to pursue their goal without
fear in spite of constant threats by the Ku Klux Klan and other racists against blacks and their supporters.
One of the reasons the 16th Street Baptist Church had been picked as a target was its role
in the struggle for racial equality. It had been a rallying point for many civil rights activities, an activist role which
angered the Ku Klux Klan and other racist groups and individuals. It was used as a meeting-place for civil rights leaders
such as Dr. Martin Luther King and his deputy in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Ralph Abernathy, and
Tensions became high when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Congress
on Racial Equality (CORE) became involved in a campaign in Birmingham to register blacks to vote.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, September 15, 1963, a white man was seen getting out
of a white and turquoise Chevrolet car and placing a box under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. It was a
box of dynamite.
Two Ku Klux Klan members, Bobby Frank Cherry and Robert Edward Chambliss who was also known
as Dynamite Bob, were involved. The box had 19 sticks of dynamite. They planted the sticks early before the church was filled
with worshipers in order to have maximum impact and damage once the church was full and the dynamite was set off.
At 10.22 a.m., the bombs exploded as 80 children walked into the basement assembly room for
closing prayers. Ironically, the bombs exploded just after the girls had a sermon entitled, "The Love that Forgives." It was
the church's Youth Day.
Four girls were killed: Carol Denise McNair, 11; Cynthia Wesley, 14; Carole Robertson, 14;
and Addie Mae Collins, 14. And 23 were injured in the blast. Carol Denise McNair was a friend and classmate of Condoleeza
Rice who years later, in 2005, became US Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.
Concerned that the families of the victims would blame him for exposing children to danger,
Dr. King returned to Birmingham and presided over the funeral of the bombing victims, who were also the civil rights movement's
On September 18, 1963, he delivered the following eulogy at the 16th Street Baptist Church
funeral service for the victims of the bombing:
“This afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute of respect
to these beautiful children of God. They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they
were privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well.
Now the curtain falls; they move through the exit; the drama of their earthly life comes to
a close. They are now committed back to that eternity from which they came.
These children-unoffending, innocent, and beautiful-were the victims of one of the most vicious
and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.
And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human
dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death.
They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained
silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician [Audience:] (Yeah) who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled
meat of racism.
They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with
the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats (Yeah) and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing
northern Republicans. (Speak) They have something to say to every Negro
(Yeah) who has passively accepted the evil system
of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice.
They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution.
They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy
which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization
of the American dream.
And so my friends, they did not die in vain. (Yeah) God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. (Oh yes) And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive.
The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force (Yeah) that will bring new light to this dark city. (Yeah).
The holy Scripture says, 'A little child shall lead them' (Oh yeah) The death of these little children may lead our whole Southland (Yeah) from the low road of man's inhumanity to man to the high road of peace and
brotherhood. (Yeah, Yes) These tragic deaths may lead our nation
to substitute an aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color.
The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham
(Yeah) to transform the negative extremes of
a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. Indeed this tragic event may cause the white South to come to terms
with its conscience. (Yeah)
And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite
of the darkness of this hour (Yeah Well), we must not despair. (Yeah, Well) We must not become bitter (Yeah, That’s right), nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not
lose faith in our white brothers. (Yeah,
we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.
May I now say a word to you, the members of the bereaved families? It is almost impossible
to say anything that can console you at this difficult hour and remove the deep clouds of disappointment which are floating
in your mental skies. But I hope you can find a little consolation from the universality of this experience.
Death comes to every individual. There is an amazing democracy about death. It is not aristocracy
for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people. Kings die and beggars die; rich men and poor men die; old people
die and young people die. Death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty. Death is the irreducible common denominator
of all men.
I hope you can find some consolation from Christianity's affirmation that death is not the
end. Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance.
Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life
eternal. Let this daring faith, this great invincible surmise, be your sustaining power during these trying days.
Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel.
It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its
moments of flood. (Yeah, Yes) Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons,
life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. (Yeah) And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him (Yeah, Well), and that God is able (Yeah, Yes) to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into
sunlit paths of inner peace.
And so today, you do not walk alone. You gave to this world wonderful children.
[moans] They didn’t live long lives, but
they lived meaningful lives. (Well) Their lives were distressingly small in
quantity, but glowingly large in quality. (Yeah) And no greater tribute can be paid to
you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children, than where they died and what they were doing when they
They did not die in the dives and dens of Birmingham (Yeah, Well), nor did they die discussing and listening to filthy jokes. (Yeah) They died
between the sacred walls of the church of God (Yeah,
they were discussing the eternal meaning (Yes) of love.
This stands out as a beautiful, beautiful thing for all generations. (Yes) Shakespeare had Horatio to say some beautiful words as he stood over the dead
body of Hamlet. And today, as I stand over the remains of these beautiful, darling girls, I paraphrase the words of Shakespeare:
(Yeah, Well): Good night, sweet princesses. Good night,
those who symbolize a new day. (Yeah, Yes) And may the flight of angels (That’s right) take thee to thy eternal rest.
God bless you.”
The bombing led to violence across Birmingham as many people reacted with anger to the church
bombing and the killing of the four black girls. By the end of the day, two more your blacks were killed. One was 16-year-old
Johnnie Robinson who was shot and killed by the police after allegedly throwing stones at cars with whites inside; and the
other one was 13-year-old Virgil Ware who was killed by two whites riding a motor scooter.
Civil rights leaders blamed Alabama Governor George Wallace for the bombing
and for creating a climate of hate which led to the tragedy. Only a week before the bombing, he told The New York Times that to stop integration in Alabama needed a "few first-class funerals."
A witness identified Robert Edward Chambliss as the man who placed the bomb under the steps
of the 16th Street Baptist Church. He was arrested and charged with murder and possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite
without a permit. On 8th October, 1963, Chambliss was found not guilty of murder and received a hundred-dollar fine and a
six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.
Years later, it was learnt that the FBI had compiled evidence against the bombers but the evidence
was not given to the prosecutors because FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, himself a well-known racist, did not want to do so.
On November 18, 1977, about 14 years after the bombing, Chambliss was convicted for the murders.
He was then 73 years old and was sentenced to life in prison. He died in an Alabama prison on October 29, 1985, still professing
his innocence in spite of all the evidence against him.
On May 17, 2000, the FBI announced that the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing was carried
out by the Ku Klux Klan splinter group, the Cahaba Boys.
It was alleged that four men, Robert Edward Chambliss, Herman Frank Cash, Thomas
E. Blanton, Jr., and Bobby Frank Cherry were responsible for the crime. Cash was already dead when the FBI announced that.
He died on February 7, 1994. But Blanton and Cherry were arrested on May 17, 2000, for murder in the bombing incident.
On April 10, 2001, the judge presiding over the trial delayed Cherry's trial, citing the defendant's
medical problems, but he refused to dismiss charges against either man. On May 1, 2001, Blanton was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Cherry also faced a life sentence. He was sentenced to life imprisonment a year later on May
22, 2002. He was 71. And in spite of overwhelming evidence against him, he always maintained his "innocence" and denied any
involvement in the bombing. Some members of his family told investigators that he had boasted of having taken part in the
bombing. He died in 2004.
It was justice served but also justice denied. The culprits lived as free men for many years
after the bombing before they were sent to prison.
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing remains one of the saddest chapters in the entire history
of the civil rights movement. The four black girls who were killed were eulogized in many ways by many people through the
years. Equally remembered were the other 22 victims who were injured in the blast.
Books and songs have been written about the tragedy, and documentaries have also chronicled
the event. One of the songs was "Birmingham Sunday" composed by Richard Farina and sung by Joan Baez.
And in 1977, a documentary about the bombing, "4 Little Girls," directed by Spike Lee, was
nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Many southern white politicians were resolutely opposed to racial integration and equality
with blacks whom they considered to be inferior to whites and fit only for menial tasks and manual labour working for white
people, and cleaning up white homes. Among them were governors such as John Patterson and George Wallace of Alabama; Ross
Barnett of Mississippi, and Lester Maddox of Georgia; and US senators James O. Eastland of Mississippi; Strom Thurmond of
South Carolina, and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, and many other southern leaders who were enemies of black people in the
sixties and even before then.
But probably more than any other politician during his time, Governor George Wallace of Alabama
stirred up the deepest emotions in millions of whites in the south - not just in Alabama - with his populist message and demagogic
style as a leader who was an uncompromising segregationist in defence of the southern way of life defined by racial segregation.
He was blunt, and he was crude. As he stated in a speech in 1962 in which he made it clear
that racial integration was unacceptable: "As your governor, I shall resist any illegal federal court order, even to the point
of standing at the schoolhouse door in person, if necessary."
And that's exactly what he did at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa, the university's main
campus, in order to stop black students from enrolling at that school.
Earlier in the same year in his inaugural speech on January 14, 1963, in the state capital
Montgomery as the newly elected governor of Alabama, Wallace had this to say:
“It is very appropriate that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of
the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us time
and again down through history. Let us rise to the call for freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the
tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South.
In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust
and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
And he gave forceful expression to those words when he stood in the doorway at the University
of Alabama on June 11, 1963, in an attempt to keep the school segregated and maintain the southern way of life.
It was a lifestyle cherished by millions of whites, and for which many of them were even prepared
to die. It is a lifestyle for which they were also prepared to kill.
Attempts to integrate the university posed one of the biggest challenges to that lifestyle,
not only in the state of Alabama but throughout the entire south. It was also one of the most significant events in the history
of the civil rights movement.
Like the University of Mississippi where the battle on integration had been fought just a few
months earlier in October 1962, the University of Alabama was seen by white segregationists not just as another school even
if exclusively white; it was a venerable institution which symbolized southern gentility, epitomized the best, and embodied
southern values whites cherished so much as members of "the master race."
Therefore integration of the school was seen as an attack on their very being and existence,
their heart and soul, the best of which was best expressed and preserved by maintaining segregation.
Two black students were going to be the first blacks to attend the University of Alabama. And
when they arrived at the school, Governor George Wallace was already there, waiting for them in the doorway, to make sure
that they don't get in. He was not going to allow them to go past him.
The two black students were Vivian Malone and James Hood. And Governor Wallace was standing
at the door of Foster Auditorium on the Tuscaloosa campus, ready for a confrontation, reminiscent of what he said after he
lost the first time he ran for governor in 1957 when his opponent, John Patterson beat him. He implied Patterson played the
race card better than he did, prompting him to utter these remarks the following year: "I was out-niggered, and I will never
be out-niggered again."
The stage was set for another battle on the campus of the University of Alabama on June 11,
1963. And Governor Wallace knew he was breaking the law. The US Supreme Court had already ruled against segregation and any
attempt, by anybody, to oppose federally-mandated integration was an invitation for federal intervention to enforce the law.
And that's exactly what happened at the University of Alabama, as it did earlier at the University of Mississippi.
As Governor Wallace remained defiant of federal authority, while invoking state rights as if
they superseded federal law, President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard and order its units to the university
campus to clear the doorway and enable the two black students to walk in. Wallace then stepped aside and returned to Montgomery,
the state capital, allowing the students to enter.
But he did not move away from the door without a fight. He had a confrontation with US Deputy
Attorney-General Nicholas Katzenbach and other federal officials who had been sent to the school to ask him to get out of
the way or risk being arrested.
The confrontation at the University of Alabama was just one of the tragic events that year
in the struggle for civil rights. It was in the same year, and in the same state of Alabama, that civil rights marchers were
attacked and turned away by fire hoses and police dogs unleashed by "Bull" Connor, the hardline segregationist public safety
commissioner of the city of Birmingham, when civil rights demonstration were held in that city. And the year had, of course,
begun with a vow from George Wallace to keep Alabama segregated when he uttered those infamous words: "Segregation now, segregation
tomorrow, segregation forever."
There was no better opportunity for him to show the people of Alabama, and of the entire nation,
that he meant what he said than what happened on the Tuscaloosa campus of the University of Alabama on that day, June 11,
1963. The fact that a federal judge had issued an order for Vivian Malone and James Hood to be admitted to the University
of Alabama meant absolutely nothing to him.
When US Deputy Attorney-General Katzenbach arrived on campus, Wallace was already standing
at the door of Foster Auditorium. State troopers surrounded the building. Then Katzenbach, flanked by federal marshals, told
Wallace he simply wanted him to obey a federal court order to let in the two black students and enroll in the school. As governor
he had an obligation to fulfill his constitutional duty.
Wallace was not impressed by that and invoked state rights to which his state of Alabama and
all the other states were entitled to manage their own affairs without federal interference. And that included running public
schools, colleges and universities.
As Wallace remained defiant, Katzenbach called President Kennedy. That was when the president
federalized the Alabama National Guard to help enforce federal law. It was only after President Kennedy had taken this step
that Wallace agreed to leave the doorway and allow the students to register. The crisis was peacefully resolved.
Vivian Malone - later Mrs.Vivian Malone Jones - graduated from the University of Alabama with
a B.A. in business management, the first black to graduate from the school. After getting her degree, she joined the civil
rights division of the US Department of Justice. In 1996, she retired as director of civil rights and urban affairs and director
of environmental justice for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She died of stroke complications in October 2005
in Atlanta, Georgia. She was 63. Her husband, a doctor, died in 2004.
James Hood left the University of Alabama after only two months in 1963. But he returned more
than 30 years later in 1995 and earned a Ph.D. in philosophy in May 1997.
The confrontation at the University of Alabama went down in history as one of the major battles
between the forces of integration and segregation. But unlike the scene at the University of Mississippi the year before,
not a single shot was fired, and not one person was injured on the day Vivian Malone and James Hood were admitted into the
school, a bastion of white supremacy. And their admission into the school was one of the biggest victories for the civil rights
But it was also a major victory for George Wallace. The confrontation at the University of
Alabama, especially the firm stand the governor took in an attempt to block the two black students from registering at the
school thrust him into the spotlight. Cameras were focused on him, countless articles were written about him, and he became
a celebrity and a hero to millions of whites across the nation - and not just in the south - who were opposed to racial integration.
Probably more than anything else in terms of personal victory, the crisis made Wallace a national
political figure, a status that enabled him to run for president of the United States four times. He rose from relative obscurity,
as a governor of one of the poorest states in the union, to national prominence almost in a single day, an achievement that
takes years in the case of many other politicians.
It was a combination of luck and timing - and demagoguery - that helped propel him to the top.
His rise to national prominence also helped change the American political landscape. He paved the way for the rise of the
conservative movement which went on to sweep across the nation and dominate national politics for decades.
It reached its peak during the presidency of Ronald Reagan who owed much of his victory to
the politics of race preached by George Wallace and earlier by another conservative, Barry Goldwater, who was on the far right
and was one of Reagan's ideological mentors. Goldwater espoused racial doctrines that were no less inimical than Wallace's
and even those of Reagan who was adept at using coded language about race but with the same devastating impact on racial equality
and race relations Goldwater and Wallace had.
Thus, the politics of the sixties became the politics of the seventies, eighties and nineties,
with the conservative movement on the rise. Wallace had played such a big role in the rise of the conservative movement that
he became a serious contender for president in 1972 until he was abruptly cut short by an attempt on his life when he was
shot several times at a campaign stop in Maryland..
But he will never be forgotten as one of the founders of the modern conservative movement in
the United States. And that is one of his most important legacies to the nation, even if he may not have foreseen that in
Yet, Wallace's politics of race in the sixties also helped President Kennedy, only in a different
way. While Wallace played the race card to burnish his image and consolidate his position among millions of whites who were
opposed to racial integration, it gave President Kennedy the opportunity to show that he could face southern segregationists
on their territory and use federal might to enforce the law they didn't like.
It was a victory for him and for the federal government; it also made him an ally of the civil
rights movement. As he stated in one of the most important speeches of his presidency, televised nationwide and delivered
from the Oval Office on June 11, 1963, the same day George Wallace took the last stand against racial integration at the University
“Good evening, my fellow citizens:
This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama
National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States
District Court of the Northern District of Alabama.
That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened
to have been born Negro. That they were admitted peacefully on the campus is due in good measure to the conduct of the students
of the University of Alabama, who met their responsibilities in a constructive way.
I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience
about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on
the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are
Today, we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who
wish to be free. And when Americans are sent to Vietnam or West Berlin, we do not ask for whites only.
It oughta be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution
they select without having to be backed up by troops. It oughta to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive
equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being
forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it oughta be possible for American citizens of any color to register
and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal. It oughta to be possible, in short, for every American
to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color.
In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated,
as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case.
The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the State in which he is
born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day,
one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance
of becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is 7 years shorter,
and the prospects of earning only half as much.
This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every
city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety.
Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless
of party or politics.
This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in
the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted
primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.
The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal
opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated.
If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public,
if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent
him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have
the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and
One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their
heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from
social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its
citizens are free.
We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home,
but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is the land of the free except for the
Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master
race except with respect to Negroes?
Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and
elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or State or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore
them. The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand.
Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and
We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be met by repressive
police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk.
It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.
It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this a problem of one section of the country
or another, or deplore the facts that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution,
that change, peaceful and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting shame, as well as violence. Those who act
boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality.
Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has
not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law. The Federal judiciary has
upheld that proposition in a series of forthright cases. The Executive Branch has adopted that proposition in the conduct
of its affairs, including the employment of Federal personnel, the use of Federal facilities, and the sale of federally financed
But there are other necessary measures which only the Congress can provide, and they must be
provided at this session. The old code of equity law under which we live commands for every wrong a remedy, but in too many
communities, in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on Negro citizens and there are no remedies at law. Unless
the Congress acts, their only remedy is the street.
I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to
be served in facilities which are open to the public -- hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.
This seems to me to be an elementary right. Its denial is an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1963 should have to endure,
but many do.
I have recently met with scores of business leaders urging them to take voluntary action to
end this discrimination, and I have been encouraged by their response, and in the last two weeks over 75 cities have seen
progress made in desegregating these kinds of facilities. But many are unwilling to act alone, and for this reason, nationwide
legislation is needed if we are to move this problem from the streets to the courts.
I'm also asking the Congress to authorize the Federal Government to participate more fully
in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education. We have succeeded in persuading many districts to desegregate
voluntarily. Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence. Today, a Negro is attending a State-supported institution in every
one of our 50 States, but the pace is very slow.
Too many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court's
decision nine years ago will enter segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never be restored.
The lack of an adequate education denies the Negro a chance to get a decent job.
The orderly implementation of the Supreme Court decision, therefore, cannot be left solely
to those who may not have the economic resources to carry the legal action or who may be subject to harassment.
Other features will be also requested, including greater protection for the right to vote.
But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community
across our country.
In this respect I wanna pay tribute to those citizens North and South who've been working in
their communities to make life better for all. They are acting not out of sense of legal duty but out of a sense of human
decency. Like our soldiers and sailors in all parts of the world they are meeting freedom's challenge on the firing line,
and I salute them for their honor and their courage.
My fellow Americans, this is a problem which faces us all -- in every city of the North as
well as the South. Today, there are Negroes unemployed, two or three times as many compared to whites, inadequate education,
moving into the large cities, unable to find work, young people particularly out of work without hope, denied equal rights,
denied the opportunity to eat at a restaurant or a lunch counter or go to a movie theater, denied the right to a decent education,
denied almost today the right to attend a State university even though qualified.
It seems to me that these are matters which concern us all, not merely Presidents or Congressmen
or Governors, but every citizen of the United States.
This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and all the people who came
here had an equal chance to develop their talents. We cannot say to ten percent of the population that you can't have that
right; that your children cannot have the chance to develop whatever talents they have; that the only way that they are going
to get their rights is to go in the street and demonstrate. I think we owe them and we owe ourselves a better country than
Therefore, I'm asking for your help in making it easier for us to move ahead and to provide
the kind of equality of treatment which we would want ourselves; to give a chance for every child to be educated to the limit
of his talents.
As I've said before, not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or equal motivation,
but they should have the equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of
We have a right to expect that the Negro community will be responsible, will uphold the law,
but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the Constitution will be color blind, as Justice Harlan said
at the turn of the century.
This is what we're talking about and this is a matter which concerns this country and what
it stands for, and in meeting it I ask the support of all our citizens.
Thank you very much.”
Eight days later, on June 19th, President Kennedy sent to Congress his proposed Civil Rights
Bill and whose formulation was spurred by the events of 1963 in the struggle for racial equality.
It was a year of violence in Alabama and elsewhere in the south. But it was also a year of
hope and of a powerful message from the apostle of non-violence who was also the leading figure in the civil rights movement,
Dr. Martin Luther King.
About two weeks before the 16th Baptist Church was bombed in Birmingham, Dr. Martin Luther
King presided over one of the most important events in American history: the March on Washington.
I remember listening to US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan from New York on "Donahue Show"
in the eighties, a television programme beamed nationwide. He was talking to the host Phil Donahue and to the audience about
Dr. King, explaining why he was one of the people who wanted him honoured with a national holiday.
He said Dr. King led the only other revolution the United States had ever had in its entire
history. The first one was the American revolution for independence which ended British control and led to the establishment
of the United States as an independent nation.
And the second one was the Civil rights revolution led by Dr. King. Dr. Moynihan also said
Dr. King was unique in another respect in the sense that the revolution he led was a peaceful revolution, unlike other revolutions,
and it fundamentally transformed America. And that is why he deserved to be honoured with a national holiday along with other
great American leaders such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
So, this is the leader who stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, in
the nation's capital, when he led the March on Washington and delivered his famous speech, "I Have A Dream."
Just before he started speaking, he got the sad news that Dr. W.E.B. DuBois,
a pioneer in the civil right struggle in the United States since the early 1900s, died in Accra, Ghana, the day before, on
August 27th. He was 95 and died not long before he became
a citizen of Ghana in the same year. In 1961, President Kwame Nkrumah invited Dr. DuBois to Ghana to be the leader of a team
of scholars who were to compile the Encyclopedia
which had been DuBois' dream. Unfortunately, it was never realized.
The March on Washington - which was described as a march for jobs and freedom
- was a part of a long struggle of peaceful protest against injustice and for fundamental change that had been carried on
in the tradition of the civil rights leader who preceded Dr. King, among them Dr. DuBois. And it took place in a year which
was the 300th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation
issued by President Abraham Lincoln in January 1863; and was not quite a celebration of the centennial, considering the fact
that black people were really not free.
But in a way, the march was also in honour of Dr. DuBois and for all what he had done to achieve
racial equality. The participants were asked to observe one minute of silence in his memory and as a way to say good-bye to
this pioneer in the civil rights struggle who was buried thousands of miles away in Accra, Ghana, his new home country after
he renounced American citizenship.
There was some concern that despite the non-violent nature of the civil rights campaign and
its organizers, the march would turn violent. But it did not and was one of the largest peaceful gatherings in the nation's
Initially, President Kennedy did not want the march to take place, citing his concern that
such a huge demonstration would antagonize Congress and ruin chances of getting the Civil Rights Bill passed. As he put it:
“We want success in Congress, not just a big show at the Capitol. Some of these people
are looking for an excuse to be against us; and I don't want to give any of them a chance to say 'Yes, I'm for the bill, but
I am damned if I will vote for it at the point of a gun.'”
Kennedy is quoted in Howard Sitkoff, The Struggle for Black Equality, 1954 - 80, p. 160.
But he could not persuade the organizers to drop the idea and he supported the march, hoping
that it would help the Civil Rights Bill he submitted to Congress earlier in June the same year. Had the march ended in violence,
pending legislation on civil rights would have been undermined.
Most of those who participated in the March on Washington were black. It was estimated that
four out of every five marchers were black Americans who had gone to the nation's capital to claim what was rightfully theirs.
Before Dr. King spoke, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson sang the old classic African-American
spiritual, "I've Been 'Buked and I've Been Scorned." Then it was time for Dr. King to give his speech, "I Have A Dream":
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration
for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the
This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who
had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the
Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the
Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the
Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come
here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic
wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to
which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men - yes, black men as well as white men - would
be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens
of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check
that has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there
are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we've come to cash this check, a check that
will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This
is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make
real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path
of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer
of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen
sixty-three is not an end but a beginning.
Those who hoped that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a
rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.
There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship
rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads
into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and
hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.
We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again
we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust
of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that
their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'When will you be satisfied?'
We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of
police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in
the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.
We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a
larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by
signs stating 'for whites only.' We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York
believes he has nothing for which to vote.
No, no we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters
and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some
of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered
by storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.
You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned
suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia,
go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and
will be changed.
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today my friends - so even though
we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:
'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons
of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat
of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not
be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having
his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification - one day right there in Alabama little black boys and
black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall
be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord
shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will
be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords
of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together,
to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing
with new meaning 'My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the
Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!'
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. And so let freedom ring from
the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the
heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous
slopes of California.
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi - from every mountainside, let
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring - when we let it ring from every village
and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children - black
men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics - will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the
old Negro spiritual: 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'”
With the Civil Rights Bill already in Congress since June, many people hoped that Dr. King's
dream would be realized soon. It was also the dream of all black Americans who were denied racial equality because of what
they were: black. It was also the dream of many whites and other Americans who believed in racial equality.
It was also expected that President Kennedy would sign the bill into law after it was passed
by Congress. And there was an excellent chance that he would. By September and October 1963, the comprehensive civil rights
bill he submitted in June had cleared several hurdles in Congress, including winning the endorsement of House and Senate leaders.
But fate intervened. He was assassinated in Dallas, Texas,on November 22, 1963, almost exactly
three months after the March on Washington whose climax was Dr. King's speech, "I Have A Dream."
Lee Harvey Oswald, who had spent some time in the Soviet Union - he was also married to a Russian
woman and was said to be a communist sympathizer - was arrested for the assassination but was himself killed shortly after
his arrest. He was shot by Jack Ruby (Jacob Rubenstein), a Dallas nightclub owner, while in police custody two days after
When Jackie Kennedy heard that the person who killed her husband had communist ties, she's
quoted to have said: "He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil right...It's - it had to be some silly
President Kennedy had many enemies in the south because of his support for civil rights even
if his support was not as strong as it should have been or as strong as the civil rights leaders wanted it to be. But motives
for his assassination, and exactly who was behind it, remain a subject of controversy more than 40 years after he was killed.
According to polls, most Americans don't believe Lee Harvery Oswald acted alone. They believe
the assassination was a conspiracy. Others don't believe Oswald fired the fatal shot; it required a marksman and Oswald was
not known to be one. Others shots are believed to have come from another direction.
Whatever the case, Kennedy's assassination was one of the most tragic events in American history.
It was also the first assassination of major political leaders in the United States in the sixties, followed by the assassination
of Malcolm X in February 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968, and of Robert Kennedy in June 1968.
President Kennedy's assassination also had a profound impact on the nation's political landscape.
Ironically, it helped to get the Civil Rights Bill passed by Congress the following year even by many congressmen and senators
who were hostile to racial equality. Many of them did so out of sympathy for the assassinated president and felt that was
the best to honour him, since he wanted the bill passed.
Although the bill was passed, there was strong opposition from southern law makers. A total
of 92 out of 103 southern Democrats in Congress voted against the Civil Rights Bill in 1964.
Enactment of this bill into law was one of the most significant events in American history,
guaranteeing equal rights for blacks. It is also one of the most important legacies of the Kennedy administration which introduced
the bill to Congress. But it also proved to be political dynamite.
Successful passage of the Civil Rights Bill - and subsequent civil rights legislation in 1965
and 1968 - led to a political re-alignment that fundamentally changed the nation in the following decades. The south which
had been the battleground for civil rights became solidly Republican.
Many Republican congressmen and senators were opposed to racial equality and tried to block
passage of the Civil Rights Bill. The south also became solidly conservative; it already was, but became even more so. Most
conservatives even in the Democratic party were opposed to racial equality.
After the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many conservatives left the Democratic party and joined the
Republican party. One of the most prominent conservative Democrats who left the party was US Senator Strom Thurmond of South
Carolina, a hardline segregationist. He became one of the most prominent Republican senators in the nation's history as much
as he was when he was a Democrat.
Successful passage of the civil rights legislation in Congress was spearheaded by the liberal
wing of the Democratic party, creating a backlash among many whites. Support of equality for blacks by liberal Democrats led
to an upsurge of support for conservative candidates and policies and was a major factor in the rise of the conservative movement
that swept the nation in the following decades under the leadership of the Republican party.
All that had its roots in the sixties, one of the most important decades in American history
which was dominated by the civil right movement.
It was a decade of tragedies, but also of triumph best symbolized by the achievements of the
civil rights movement when Congress passed the most comprehensive civil rights legislation in the nation's history.
The civil rights movement which lasted from 1954 to 1968 has also been described by some scholars
as the Second Reconstruction, a period especially since World War II when blacks mobilized forces to fight segregation and
other forms of discrimination.
The year 1963 was one of the most important milestones in the era of the Second Reconstruction
in the march towards freedom for black people in the United States.
In Africa, the year 1963 was also a significant one in the history of the continent, especially
with the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in May.
It also ended on a positive note when Kenya won independence from Britain on
a bloody Mau Mau uprising.
And on December 10th the island nation of Zanzibar also won independence from Britain,
just three days before Kenya won hers.
But it was a prescription for disaster. The British handed over power to the Arab minority
who constituted the ruling oligarchy that had ruled the island nation for centuries, excluding the black majority. A month
later, Zanzibar was engulfed in a revolution....
THE ZANZIBAR REVOLUTION was one of the most significant events in the history of post-colonial
It was a victory in the struggle for African liberation; it brought fundamental change in Zanzibar;
and it helped pave the way for the political union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar which was a major political transformation
in the history of the continent.
On January 12, 1964, the Arab rulers of Zanzibar were overthrown in a revolution which went
down in history as one of the bloodiest conflicts up to that time in Africa since the end of colonial rule and involving change
of government by unconstitutional means.
The armed uprising was led by John Okello, a self-styled field marshal originally from Uganda
who had lived in the island nation, on Pemba island, since 1959. He was born in Uganda in 1937 and also lived in Kenya for
a few years.
After he moved to Pemba, he became a policeman and joined the Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP) led
by Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume. He moved from Pemba to Zanzibar in 1963 where he started preparing secretly for a revolution
to end Arab rule.
During the revolution, Okello led a group of about 300 men to seize power from the Arab rulers
and overthrew Sultan Sayyid Jamshid bin Abdullah. Jamshid Abdullah, 35, ascended the throne after his father died. Okello
The people he recruited for the revolution were young men who were also members or supporters
of the Afro-Shirazi Party which resented Arab domination. He had been meeting with some of them secretly for some time to
prepare for the revolution. And they made history the following year.
About four years before I started writing this book in 2006, I got in touch with one of the
people who used to live in Zanzibar and saw what happened on the island when the revolution took place. He said he was not
a Zanzibari or a Tanzanian but an American and had this to say when he wrote "The Zanzibar Revolution":
“On the night of January 12, 1964 a band of some 300 people violently seized the Island
of Unguja. They were led by a little known man named John Okello, who had lived on Pemba, having come to the islands some
years earlier from Uganda.
In Zanzibar he developed a popular following among a core of young, tough men, many of whom
were the Stevedores and Porters who worked the ships coming in and out of Zanzibar Harbor. His group met in secret. He promised
changes to these men, fellows long used to working together, in sometimes dangerous settings, and ready to follow orders of
any "captain" who could pay their fee. Theirs became a rebellion looking for a home.
Political unrest had been increasing on Zanzibar and Pemba since the death of Sultan Khalifa
in 1960. He had reigned in Zanzibar for almost 50 years, since 1911.
After much jockeying for constituencies and coalitions the main political parties had narrowly
split the two general elections of 1961 to the satisfaction of none. The British were leaving, their troops, including a contingent
of Irish Guards, stationed near the golf course at the edge of Stone Town, pulled out in early 1963.
When the new Sultan, Jamshid, hoisted the flag of the independent nation of Zanzibar, on December
10, 1963, he marked the departure of the last British Resident, (Governor) of Zanzibar and the end of the colonial period.
Another election in late 1963 had given a slim majority to a coalition of two political parties,
the ZNP (the Zanzibar Nationalist Party) and the ZPPP ( the Zanzibar and Pemba Peoples Party). The ASP (the Afro-Shirazi Party)
was to be in the minority in a British style parliamentary system with the sultan serving as the reigning but not ruling "monarch".
This nation, a full member of the British Commonwealth and a newly enrolled sovereign member
of the United Nations was destined to last only 33 days.
Political debates raged and street demonstrations were not uncommon in those days.
I remember bicycling to school through crowds chanting the names of political leaders and traveling
in the country past road-blocks manned by British soldiers.
The various factions debated everything; rights versus privileges, new-comers versus old-established
families, capitalism vs socialism, merchants vs landowners, Zanzibaris vs Pembans, Asians vs Arabs, Swahilis vs Mainlanders,
and all this against the backdrop of the Cold War and the other nationalistic and de-colonial movements abounding in Africa
at that time.
John Okello didn't have answers to these thorny issues, but he did have the insight to realize
that all of these competing interests presented an opportunity for a man of action like himself. After all, a few hundred
determined men might be able to seize the few local centers of communication and the three police barracks.
Once he had those under his control and possessed the weapons stored there, who on the islands
could throw him out? Would the politicians join together to denounce and oppose his illegal actions? Or as he hoped, would
they continue to distrust each other, to suspect that one or another of themselves must have put him up to it? Would not they
want to make a deal with him, quick, before someone else did? On that January night he rolled the dice.
The ASP leaders, though surprised by Okellos' actions, (many were not even on the island at
the time) moved quickly to embrace the rebels.
Hundreds of party followers were whipped into a frenzy by those eager to seize this opportunity
to cut the Gordian knot of democratic debate and go straight to the prize of ruling. They sought to gain the chance to remake
society in accordance with their own ideals. Ideals were a dime a dozen in those days. Humanity was to become a much more
Having seen just how vulnerable a government could be, and not trusting their own mixed record
in open elections, it was clear to some ASP leaders that drastic measures were warranted to secure the survival of what was
now being called 'The Revolution.'
The mobs were unleashed. Law and order disappeared from the streets of Zanzibar. Landowners
and merchants were dragged from their houses and shops, looting and killing spread throughout Stone Town. The city literally
Arabs and Asians, who had supported the other parties in large numbers, were killed indiscriminately.
In a single night uncounted lives were lost and over the next few days thousands more fled the islands with only what they
John Okello established for himself the rank of 'Field Marshal' and, with his mob-battalions,
established a reign of terror on the islands. He broadcast bizarre threats and promises of death to all who might oppose him....
When the dust settled the multi-cultural diversity of the islands was radically altered. A
one-party state was decreed. Still nervous regarding the possibility of resurgent opposition from their now exiled opponents,
the 'revolutionaries' further secured their positions by signing an agreement of confederation with mainland Tanganyika. This
would allow thousands of mainland political allies to intervene in any future struggle.
The police forces on the isles were virtually replaced by mainland police loyal to the party
and an isolationist curtain fell over the isles which was destined to persist for more than 20 years.”
Although the revolution was carried out by only a few hundred people, it had popular support
among the majority of black Africans. Thousands of Arabs were killed and thousands more fled the island nation. Sultan Jamshid
Abdullah first sought refuge in Mombasa, Kenya, but was turned away.
He sailed back and went to Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, where he and his family and others on
the vessel were allowed into the country. He later left Tanganyika and went to live in Britain.
The exact number of the people killed in the Zanzibar revolution has never been officially
acknowledged but estimates put the figure at least in the thousands. Some say about 17,000 people, mostly Arab, were killed.
The successful revolution led to the establishment of Zanzibar as a republic under the leadership
of the Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP). Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume, leader of ASP, became president; Kassim Hanga became prime minister,
and Abdulrahman Mohammed Babu, minister of defence and external affairs. Babu was the leader of Umma, meaning the Party of
the Masses, whose members defected from the Arab-dominated Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP) to whom the British transferred
power on attainment of independence on December 10, 1963.
The People's Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba, as the new nation was officially known, was ruled
by a Revolutionary Council composed of 30 members. It was the new government. Zanzibar became a one-party state and land and
other assets including major means of production were nationalized in pursuit of socialist transformation of the country.
The Zanzibar revolution was hailed as a victory for the oppressed masses who had endured oppression
including slavery under Arab domination for centuries and was supported my many people across Africa and in other parts of
the world, especially in the Third World and socialist countries.
Among African leaders who were the strongest supporters of the revolution were Nyerere and
Nkrumah. Castro also supported the Zanzibar revolution, as did East Germany, the People's Republic of China and the Soviet
One of the leading figures in the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council, Sheikh Thabit
Kombo, stated years later in one of his speeches to the members of the ruling party that besides Nyerere, Nkrumah also helped
finance the Zanzibar revolution. As Andrew Nyerere, President Nyerere's eldest son, stated in his letter in 2004 in response
to a number of questions I asked him when I was working on the second edition of my book about his father, Nyerere and Africa: End of an Era:
“As you look at the history of Mwalimu Nyerere and his contemporaries, you see that they
were like a team who were born at the same time for the purpose of liberating the country from British imperialism.
So we do well to find out the truth about what these men did. We see, for example, that there
is evidence that Kwame Nkrumah financed the Zanzibar Revolution.
In a speech to the Party, Sheikh Thabit Kombo gives an account of it. He explains how during
the election in Zanzibar, there had been great carnage and many Arabs were killed. And Nkrumah had financed this. He says
it was not the fault of the Arabs that the disturbances started. They had masterminded it, and started the trouble.
But it is just modesty to say that the Arabs made no mistakes because this was a government
which was based on slave trading.
So, during this election, there was a lot of trouble and many Arabs were killed, and Thabit
Kombo and Mr. Karume fled to Dar es Salaam. They decided that they should go to Nyerere to discuss this with him, to find
out what was his opinion.
And when they met Nyerere, they discussed this and he told them to go back, and said, 'I will
send you money, I will send you guns.'
They went back and there was a trial. A white judge came from London. And Karume was asked
by the prosecutor, 'Do you know, Mr. Karume, when you started that fracas, 75 Arabs died?' And Mr. Karume made a very memorable
statement. He spoke out in exasperation. He asked, 'Who did you want to die?'
This is a statement which all the oppressed people of the world should remember. It is all
on tape. I made copies of it and sent it to quite a few people.”
Tanganyika under Nyerere provided both financial and material support including security forces
to restore order soon after the revolution. And about three months later, Zanzibar united with Tanganyika to form Tanzania,
the first union of independent states ever formed on the continent and which still exists today more than 40 years later.
One of the most dramatic pictures from that period shows Abdulrahman Mohammed Babu rowing a
canoe from Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, to Zanzibar after the sultan had been overthrown. He later became one of the most prominent
members in the union cabinet and one of the most influential leaders in Africa and in the Third World.
He died in London in 1996 and was given an official burial in spite of the fact that he had
not been a cabinet member since 1972. The government of Tanzania under President Benjamin Mkapa paid for the funeral and to
bring his body back home from London.
He was buried in Zanzibar at a funeral attended by many Tanzanian leaders and others. And he
will always be remembered as one of the main architects of the Zanzibar revolution. It is a revolution that had an impact
beyond Zanzibar and the rest of East Africa. In some fundamental respects, its impact was continental in scope in terms of
ideological influence and political re-alignment of allies.
And as the former Zanzibar resident cited earlier and who was in the island nation during the
revolution stated elsewhere in the "Nine Hour Revolution":
“Zanzibar is well known for it's 'Shortest War in History.' A 19th Century battle that
lasted only about 45 minutes but served to demonstrate for all time the Iron fist beneath the pre-colonial European domination
of East Africa.
What is less well known is the 20th Century record Zanzibar set for similar brevity in the
Zanzibar Revolution of 1964.
In this Revolution a government with over a century of continuity was toppled in less than
a day. Essentially a settler society, with well-defined Arabic, Indian, Swahili, Comorian and indigenous elements, and ruled
by an hereditary sultan, the newly independent nation of Zanzibar vanished in astounding suddenness.
That night was full of suspense and surprise, courage and despair. It began at 3 a.m. on the
day just before a large religious holiday.
The holiday prompted large numbers of people to congregate in and around Stone Town. They set
up tents or just sleep under the palms while awaiting the opening of the festivities in the morning. Among the crowds were
large numbers of young men; some of these men were followers of a minor politician named John Okello.
Just how many men actually followed Okello into revolutionary battle is of some dispute.
It is clear that by the end of that fateful day thousands had joined the revolutionaries but
this was after the results were known.
It's also true that Field Marshal Okello talked of having had 4 'battalions' in the field against
the government forces that night, but how men many were really there when it counted?
Okello reported that the revolution began when he marched in the dead of night on the Ziwani
Police Barracks (and Armory) at the head of the 250 men of his '4th Battalion.' At 3:00 a.m. he ordered his men to cut the
wire surrounding this fortified compound.
That was the first real revolutionary act and it served to 'separate the men from the boys.'
Okello said of his men at the time, 'The enormity of our predicament was suddenly obvious to them: we, armed with pangas,
spears and a few motor car springs were going to face the risk of close combat with men armed with automatic rifles...' All
but 40 men deserted or refused to crawl through the wire.
These 40 men seized the island of Zanzibar and toppled a dynasty that had ruled the islands
through 12 Sultans for over 133 years.
The revolutionaries crawled to within 25 meters of the Barracks building. Inside, asleep were
scores of paramilitary police. However like most sensible people on Zanzibar they slept on the upper floors of the building,
where cooling ocean breeze could ventilate the hot tropical nights. Only two men were awake and on guard duty below.
John Okello and his men rushed at these guards. Automatic fire rang out and three of the 4th
battalion men went down. However one of sentries also fell, downed by an arrow shot by a revolutionary named Albert. By then
Okello had closed on the remaining sentry. It was here that the deciding moment of the revolution occurred. The two crashed
together. The Field Marshall tells us that 'I got hold of the gun, we fought and I managed to hit him in the cheek with the
gun butt.' The firing stopped.
His men were now at the gates of the armory where hundreds of modern weapons and thousands
of rounds of ammunition were locked up. The police above, who were unarmed, (in keeping with standard peacetime practice,
all weapons were locked away 'for safekeeping' when the officers were off duty), attempted to storm down the single exterior
staircase and enter the fray.
However, the 4th Battalion men unleashed a rain of spears, arrows and stones on the stunned
troops and they piled up upon themselves on the narrow staircase. Okello's liberated rifle, which had only three bullets left,
decided the issue with a short burst of fire. The police retreated back upstairs to look for ropes to lower men out of the
It was too late. The doors of the armory gave way and the 4th Battalion rushed in. Soon every
man was armed with a modern automatic rifle. The 'Freedom Fighters' who had started the night armed with sharpened automobile
springs now were the best equipped force on the island. They poured a fuselage of fire into the upstairs rooms and very shortly
the surviving police surrendered.
The sultan's forces made one serious attempt to counter attack the rebels. The 'flying squad'
arrived on the scene about an hour after the defeat of the Ziwani garrison. These 75 or so men had only light duty firearms
and were no match for the now heavily armed Battalion ensconced in the fortified Armory.
The rebels allowed the sultans' paramilitary police to approach and then poured an overwhelming
storm of fire into them. The firing was so intense that the surrounding bush caught fire and the police retreated in despair.
With their new base secure, guns were distributed to the other three battalions (who had encircled
but not yet attacked other key sites). In short order the few other police posts and the communications centres were overrun
and captured. The most serious resistance was offered by the Malindi Police Station, where firing could still be heard in
the late hours of the morning.
However, by noon, the Sultan had fled. The rest is history.”
There are many conflicting reports about what actually happened on that day. ....
Africa and America in The Sixties: A Decade That Changed The Nation and The Destiny of A Continent