My Christian Century Interview with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Birmingham
Birmingham, Ala., May 14.
WHEN representatives of the Canadian Broadcasting Co. and I sat down for an interview with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the courtyard of the Gaston motel in the heart of downtown Birmingham's Negro district on May 14, we found him calm, composed and optimistic—qualities which characterize his leadership of the nonviolent resistance movement which has become the most vital force in the struggle to end racial segregation in the United States.
The concessions won by the Negroes — minimal at best — were gradual integration of downtown lunch counters, stepping up of job opportunities, release of prisoners and establishment of a permanent line of communication between Negro and white leaders.
Now Dr. King was ready to assess the effects of the drawn-out campaign.
That was at noon on Saturday. Less than 12 hours later bombs hurled by white men ripped into the Birmingham home of Dr. King's brother, A. D. (like-wise a minister), while others tore a gaping hole in the Gaston Motel.
An hour earlier, members of the Ku Klux Klan of Alabama had held an open meeting in suburban Bessemer. By the light of two burning crosses they had prayed for the demise of Dr. King and "the Kennedys" and called on God to maintain separation of the races.
The bombing episode was like some 20 others in recent years in that those responsible were not apprehended. This time a shocked Negro community — disillusioned at what was apparently a sign that the agreement with the business leaders would be repudiated, weary after weeks of demonstrations, jailings, attendance at nightly mass meetings — mobilized once again.
They sought to discover whether the arch-segregationist position of men like lameduck Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor was ready to reassert itself in new and even more oppressive ways.
I was at the scene of both bombings shortly after they occurred. At the A. D. King home I witnessed a few minor incidents directed at the police: air was let out of the tires of squad cars and a few rocks were thrown.
But Mr. King, who was at home with his family when the bombers struck, was able to calm the crowd of Negroes which gathered.
Outside the Gaston motel, however, conditions became explosive—largely because in the crowd that formed there were what one bystander described as "those drunken winos from Fourth avenue": Negroes who had no relationship to the nonviolent movement but who had been stirred to fever pitch by this latest in-dignity.
The attitude of such Negroes was crystallized in the angry and oft-heard cry "Let's get Bull Connor."