The story of the mistreatment of African Americans is well known and doesn’t need to be repeated here. Campaigning for change, thousands of youngsters exploited the obstinate bigotry of a white supremacist and gave new impetus to the civil rights movement.
The system of segregation in Birmingham, Alabama was enforced by the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor (right). Digital History notes that, “Calling Birmingham ‘the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States,’ the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. announced in early 1963 that he would lead demonstrations in the city until demands for fair hiring practices and desegregation were met.”
“You can never whip these birds if you don’t keep you and them separate. I found that out in Birmingham. You’ve got to keep your white and black separate.”
Project “C” Is Born
Dan Rather, the long-time CBS News correspondent, was involved in covering the civil rights movement in the U.S. south in 1962 and ’63. In his 2012 book, Rather Outspoken, he notes that the campaign for equality became stalled in 1963: “… they could march and chant and sing until hell froze over, but it wouldn’t make a dent unless they elicited an extreme response from the segregationists and the press was there to witness it, report it and show it on the air.”
So, the movement leaders launched Project “C” – for Confrontation. This was aimed at provoking authorities into so outrageous a reaction that it would rouse Americans out of their quiet acceptance of discrimination against black people.
The activists needed someone, in the words of Mr. Rather, so filled with racial hatred and so dumb “that he didn’t care what the pictures looked like.” They found such a person in Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor.