Blowin’ in the Wind – 1963 flyer a sign of those times
(Note: The Birmingham History Center will open an exhibit in April examining the city’s most turbulent year. Artifact donated in 2008 by Steve Gilmer.)
Art Hanes was a former mayor and the featured speaker in this 1963 flyer– one of many fluttering around a month before the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing capped a year of demonstrations to integrate the city’s parks, lunch counters, department stores, churches and schools.
Hanes, a respected lawyer, had been Bull Connor’s candidate to run in the 1961 election to keep Birmingham the foremost segregation stronghold in the nation. That election would be the last for commissioners Hanes, Connor, and Jabo Waggoner (Sr.), as moderates–concerned about the national embarrassment and economic effect of the commission’s retrenchment over desegregation–pushed through a new mayor-council form of government.
In the spring of 1963, the two governments briefly operated in tandem before the Alabama Supreme Court finally ratified the validity of the new council.
It had been a turbulent three years: 1961 saw Connor-orchestrated mob attacks on Freedom Rider buses outside Anniston and in Birmingham. In 1962, Hanes, as commission president, closed city parks in defiance of a federal court order to integrate them. Student-led business boycotts, including the notable Easter shopping boycott–harmed downtown retailers, and Hanes retaliated by cutting funds to a city food program.
The state Supreme Court’s ruling against the old commission in 1963 happened in the wake of protests, marches, sit-ins, and boycotts organized by Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. City leaders had responded with arrests and injunctions and, repeatedly, fire hoses to gain control of protesters. After an uneasy truce, and with federal troops and monitors looking on, the SCLC on May 8 accepted a negotiated accord to begin desegregation and bring down “colored” and “whites only” signs on drinking fountains and restrooms.
But the violence continued into the summer, led by the Klan and Klan-backed groups, such as the United Americans for Conservative Government. The deposed Hanes and others spoke at UACG rallies like this at armories and other platforms across the area.
Several of UACG’s members — Robert Chambliss, Bobby Frank Cherry, and Thomas Blanton, Jr.–were eventually convicted in the bombing and murder of four girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963.
Art Hanes, who had returned to his legal career, led Chambliss’s failed defense in the 1977 trial.