AFL-CIO: Bull Connor, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Labor Movement

Labor News

Reprinted from The AFL-CIO blog Now by Jay Smith on August 1, 2017.

“In the first week of May 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. faced a painful dilemma as he sought to conclude the great Birmingham, Alabama, campaign,” writes Jay Smith for the AFL-CIO’s blog Now. “The labor movement helped solve this dilemma and a great civil rights victory was won. Jerome ‘Buddy’ Cooper, my mentor in the Birmingham union law firm where I worked years later, told me and others of his small but fascinating role in these events. It’s a story of how our labor movement has sometimes lived up to its role in the larger civil and human rights movement.

“Weeks of massive civil rights protest marches had led Alabama Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor to order vicious attacks on African American protesters, including school children, using police dogs and powerful fire hoses. The nation watched with revulsion as these violent attacks on plainly peaceful protesters were televised on the nightly news. As the attacks continued, the persistence, nonviolent discipline and courage of the local protesters, both adults and children, brought the movement to the cusp of achieving its first citywide victory in the fight to eliminate segregated bathrooms, drinking fountains and other public accommodations in the Deep South. King and the movement badly needed a victory in Birmingham after failing to achieve anything through mass marches in Albany, Georgia, the year before. …

AFL-CIO now 8/1

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About Jeffrey Burman 5302 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at

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