A police officer takes away protest signs on May 3, 1963. Moments later firemen hosed demonstrators.
(Ed Jones/The Birmingham News)
Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”
I think we were the pivotal point that caused some changes to take place in society. I think the nation was so outraged by how children were being treated . . .
Janice Kelsey, Participant in the Children’s Crusade, May 2nd, 1963.
In the spring of 1963, leaders of the Civil Rights Movement feared they were losing momentum in the Birmingham, Alabama campaign. White officials, led by the infamous Bull Connor, wielded the full power of a police state to deny black citizens basic civil and human rights. Violence was their tool of intimidation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and others had been beaten and jailed for their efforts, but the mass movement needed to awaken the nation’s conscience failed to materialize. African American adults feared house bombings, threats against their families and losing their jobs if they joined the protests. White religious leaders chastised King for stirring up trouble. The press was losing interest in Birmingham, as was much of the country.
But among young African Americans, the passion for justice was growing. Hundreds of teenagers and elementary-aged children began showing up at mass meetings. Fearing for their safety, King was initially reluctant to allow young people to participate in the resistance, but then realized he could not stop them.
On Thursday, May 2nd, 1963, more than a thousand children and teenagers defied a court injunction prohibiting them to march on the streets of Birmingham. Police arrested them all. The next day a thousand more took to the streets. Police met them with fire hoses set at pressures strong enough to tear flesh. When water did not deter them, the police used billy clubs and dogs. Still the young kept coming. “Don’t worry about your children,” King told frantic parents gathered in a mass meeting. “They are suffering for what they believe, and they are suffering to make this nation a better nation.”
If you don’t know the story of the Children’s Crusade of 1963, now is a good time to learn. For we are witnessing a similar rising up of young people. Student leaders around the country are stepping in where adults have failed, compelling our elected leaders to address the issue of gun violence. What began as a call from survivors of Stoneman Douglas High School shooting has become a national movement.
We can ensure that they do not march alone.
To date, there are 63 marches organizing around the country for March 24th, with thousands planning to come Washington, D.C. The Diocese of Washington is preparing to join the marchers and welcome them with the best of our hospitality. We’re looking for churches where marchers can sleep, find respite during the day and food for the journey. More than a dozen churches are leading the way. We’re also organizing EDOW youth and all who wish to walk in solidarity with them to take part on this historic march. With our ecumenical and interfaith partners we are planning a pre-march vigil on Friday evening March 23. We’ll have more information soon.
We are not alone in this work. The country’s conscience has been awakened and people from all sectors, many faiths, and every point on the political spectrum are responding. You can learn more about the Episcopal Church’s national efforts on the Bishops United Against Gun Violence Facebook page.
If you are interested in being part of EDOW’s ministry of solidarity and hospitality, please let us know. Plans are still fluid, but we will keep you informed each step of the way.
It’s a privilege and great responsibility to be present and awake at pivotal moments like these. I give thanks for the young people who are leading the way.
Learn more on opportunities and information related to March for Our Lives.