In 1963, images of snarling police dogs unleashed against non-violent protesters and of children being sprayed with high-pressure hoses appeared in print and television news around the world. These dramatic scenes of violent police aggression against civil rights protesters from Birmingham, Alabama were vivid examples of segregation and racial injustice in America. The episode sickened many, including President John F. Kennedy, and elevated civil rights from a Southern issue to a pressing national issue.
The confrontation between protesters and police was a product of the direct action campaign known as Project C. Project C—for confrontation—challenged unfair laws that were designed to limit freedoms of African Americans and ensure racial inequality. Leaders from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) along with Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) took up residence at the A.G. Gaston Motel in April through May of 1963 to direct Project C. From the motel, which served as their headquarters and also as an area to stage events and hold press conferences, the movement’s leaders strategized and made critical decision that shaped national events and significantly advanced the cause of the civil rights movement. In addition to the daily work of the campaign that occurred at the motel, several key events of the campaign publicly unfolded at the property.
Public outrage over the events in Birmingham produced political pressure that helped to ensure passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The struggle for equality is illustrated by places like the A.G. Gaston Motel, located throughout Birmingham, where civil rights activists organized, protested, and clashed with segregationists. Also visible throughout the city are African American institutions and businesses that knit together Birmingham’s black community and laid a critical foundation for the fight for civil and political rights.