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On May 2, 1963 nearly a thousand elementary, middle and high school and college students in Birmingham, Alabama participated in The Children’s Crusade. SCLC staff member James Bevel proposed recruiting local students, arguing that while many adults may be reluctant to participate in demonstrations, for fear of losing their jobs, their children had less to lose. King initially had reservations, but after deliberation he agreed, On May 2, more than a thousand black students skipped their classes and gathered at Sixth Street Baptist Church. As they approached police lines, hundreds were arrested and carried off to jail.
When hundreds more youth gathered the next day, commissioner Bull Connor directed the police and fire departments to use force to halt the demonstration. Images of children being blasted by high-pressure fire hoses, clubbed by police officers, and attacked by police dogs appeared on television and in newspapers and triggered outrage throughout the world. The Birmingham campaign ended on May 10 when the SCLC and local officials reached an agreement in which the city promised to desegregate downtown stores and release all protestors from jail if the SCLC would end the boycotts and demonstrations. While he faced criticism for exposing children to violence—most notably from Malcolm X, who said that “real men don’t put their children on the firing line”— King maintained that the demonstrations allowed children to develop “a sense of their own stake in freedom”
Black Mail Readers: Would you have allowed your children to participate in march? Why or Why Not?
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