This weekend, on the 55th anniversary of one of Birmingham’s most famous civil rights protests, the Children’s Crusade, hundreds of children from Birmingham and the nation will join those who experienced the protest firsthand to march to commemorate the events of 1963.
Dozens of the original “foot soldiers,” will have prominent roles in both events.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute event will feature a recreation of the original marches.
At 10 a.m. Saturday marchers will gather at St. Paul United Methodist Church on 6th Ave North. The church was one of two churches used for the 1963 protests to gather the young marchers and give them instructions before heading into Kelly Ingram Park.
“The Power of Children: Then and Now,” hosted by Jack and Jill Inc. is a three-day event which takes place at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and includes a commemorative march at 2 p.m. on Saturday from Kelly Ingram Park to Railroad Park.
“When you think about the pivotal role that children played, not just in civil rights history but in U.S. history in Birmingham, and it is critically important that our young people know that,” Jack and Jill President Joli Cooper-Nelson told AL.com. “So this weekend is about educating, honoring, remembering, inspiring, and celebrating.”
Jack and Jill is expecting up to 2,000 of its members and their families to participate, with many families traveling from outside Alabama.
“We have determined based on the response we’re getting that this will be the first of many annual commemorations of the children’s march,” Birmingham Civil Rights Institute CEO, Andrea Taylor told AL.com.
“Because I can assure you that five years from now, 10 years from now, 25 years from now, even half a century from now, there will be issues of concern in the moment that young people want to engage with and can be change agents about.”
The original marches were a major turning point in the Civil Rights movement. Thousands of children were trained by movement leaders in the tactics of non-violent protesting.
May 2, 1963 they left the 16th Street Baptist Church in groups, marching throughout the city to peacefully protest segregation, but were not met with a peaceful response.
On the first day of the protest, hundreds of children were arrested. On the second day, Commissioner of Public Safety Bull O’Connor ordered police to threaten the children with police dogs, spray them with powerful water hoses, and hit them with batons.
Pictures and stories of the violent crackdown on peacefully protesting children in Birmingham circulated throughout the nation and the world, and caused a major outcry on their behalf, eventually leading to the desegregation of businesses and marking a significant victory in Birmingham.