Bruce L. Davidson, “Woman being held by two policemen,” 1963
The 1963 campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, generated national publicity and federal action because of the violent response by local authorities and the decision by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to recruit children for demonstrations. The “Children’s Crusade” added a new dynamic to the struggle in Birmingham and was a major factor in the success of the campaign.
Aware that support for protests in Birmingham was waning during April 1963, King and the SCLC looked for ways to jumpstart the campaign. When the arrest and jailing of King did little to attract more protestors, 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, hoping for the action to “subpoena the conscience of the nation to the judgment seat of morality.”