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Young's Film Highlights Civil Rights in Alabama

Margaret Summers | 9/4/2013, 3 p.m.
Andrew Young, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, screened a one-hour documentary film about the Birmingham civil rights ...
Andrew Young

King, the SCLC and Shuttlesworth launched an African-American boycott of segregated businesses. “Three hundred thousand black people wouldn’t buy anything in Birmingham but food and medicine,” said Young in the film. “My job was to convince the white business community to end segregation.” Shuttlesworth initiated what was called “Project C” with the “C” standing for “Confrontation.” African-American adults staged several days of non-violent sit-ins and pray-ins. They were fire hosed, beaten and mauled by police attack dogs. The national news media finally took notice.

Demonstrations waned as African Americans in Birmingham felt pressured by employment and familial responsibilities. Several African Americans met with King, asking him to end the protests. “Martin went to his room, changed from his business suit into his overalls, and offered himself to be arrested,” said Young. King and one of his key SCLC colleagues, Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, demonstrated and were jailed. King wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in response to a newspaper article by Birmingham religious leaders saying that “outsiders” like King should leave.

The protests escalated when the SCLC organized the “Children’s Crusade.” So many African-American teens and children were arrested in a single weekend that Birmingham ran out of jail space. Young said the negative attention on Birmingham forced the city’s white business community to reach an agreement with King and the SCLC. “The ‘Whites Only’ signs [were taken down] immediately,” he said, but school desegregation took longer.

Young’s foundation produces four films per year about civil rights or Africa, making them available to schools and television stations. “I can tell a lot of work went into making this documentary. It’s beautiful,” said Hayward.