The Commerce Journal

Local News

March 1, 2013

When the children marched

Revisiting a forgotten crusade of the civil rights movement

COMMERCE — A very important piece of the 1960’s civil rights movement has been overlooked by many, according to Rosalie Turner, author of the new book “March with Me.”

That piece happened 50 years ago on May 2, 1963, and it is now known as the Children’s March of 1963.

Originally against the march because he was opposed to using young children, Turner said Martin Luther King Jr. reluctantly agreed to have the children march in Birmingham, Ala., to protest the segregation laws in the South.

“King said they could not use kids,” she said. “While King wasn’t afraid to put his life on the line, he didn’t want to put kids at risk.”

While King was in the Birmingham jail, a popular African American disc jockey by the name of Shelley Stewart, used a code phrase over the radio to let the kids know it was time to march.

“Shelley Stewart said there was going to be a party in the park and to not forget to bring tooth brushes,” she said. “Because they knew they would be arrested.”

The march began on the 16th Street Baptist Church and caught the law enforcement off guard.

The police sent the kids, some of them no older than eight, 50 at a time to be arrested.

“They filled all the jail and had to use livestock pens,” she said. “Nine hundred kids were arrested.”

The next day the children marched again. But this time, the police were prepared to use force against them.

“They turned the hoses and the dogs on the kids,” she said, adding that the grizzly images of children almost drowning because of the use of force by the police shocked the nation that evening.

With the 50th anniversary of the march approaching, Turner said the country has improved much since then but still has a long way to go.

One thing is certain though, she said, the children of Birmingham solidified their place in history that day.

“It is probably one of the most important things that happened during the civil rights movement,” she said.

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