Alabama USA – Civil Rights In 1961 – Past Daily Reference Room

There was a time this just didn't happen.

Consider this: there was a time, not that long ago, where this just didn’t happen. (Photo: Bruce Davidson-Magnum Photos)

. . . or click on the link here for Audio Player – Alabama USA – May 29, 1961 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection

While most people are observing Martin Luther King’s Birthday, a lot of people have no idea why. Call it the deep, murky past – call it selective amnesia – call it denial. Whatever the reason, many people have very little idea what the Civil Rights Movement was all about during the time Dr. King rose to prominence. But Martin Luther King was part of a movement; one element in a struggle for civil rights that took many lives and is, for the most part, still going on today.

In 1961 the simple act of eating at a lunch counter or taking a bus was an ordeal for Blacks, particularly in the South. Segregation, although officially outlawed in schools, was a huge bone of contention with most Whites. The same was true with voting – with just about every social interaction with the White community prohibited, it was a very strange atmosphere, but it was an atmosphere that prevailed in America practically since its inception.

And so the struggle came to a head in the 1950s. One of the most prominent leaders in the movement was Dr. Martin Luther King. But he was one of several who put their lives on the line in order to gain human rights and dignity.

In 1961, the situation throughout the South became increasingly violent as protests and sit-ins took place, and resistance to integration became more pronounced. The peaceful protests turned violent and the violence turned deadly. Busses carrying Freedom Riders, a group of students and activists, both Black and White, were attacked and set ablaze. The murder of Civil Rights workers sparked outrage throughout the rest of the country and prompted action by the Federal government to send in troops to restore order and to enforce Civil rights laws.

The struggle didn’t end over night – it didn’t end with one speech and one vast march; not by a long shot. It was a struggle that has  lasted for decades, and in many cases, continues to this day.

But in 1961 emotions were at fever pitch and it prompted many media outlets to focus a sharp eye on the goings-on down South.

Here is a Special Report, done by NBC News and broadcast on May 29, 1961 – called Alabama: USA, it was presented at the height of the protests and the violence that ensued.

Further proof we’re celebrating a man at the forefront of a struggle, who gave his life to that struggle. A struggle that continues to this day. I’m not so sure it would as appropriate to say “Happy Martin Luther King Birthday” as much as – “remember why you’re taking the day off and why there’s still work ahead”.

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