Saturday, February 10, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt ten)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

King felt the pressure building in Black communities and recognized that his pacifist strategy left many frustrated. He sent a telegram to Robert Kennedy, the U.S. attorney general, declaring that it was unclear how much longer protesters would remain restrained in the face of “repeated mayhem and attempted murder.” The telegram arrived in Washington as King prepared to confront segregation in Birmingham, a city considered by many to be the nation’s most determinedly and viciously segregated. Some called it “Bombingham.”

Birmingham had a population of 340,000, about 40 percent Black. For Blacks and whites alike, the city lagged. Only about a third of the adult population had completed high school, and less than 7 percent of adults held college degrees. The median family income for residents of the city was $ 1,200 less than the national average. Black families had it even worse. They earned about half as much as white families. Black people were far less likely than white people to have completed high school or college. Lawmakers went to great lengths to make sure no cracks appeared in the wall of segregation. For example, if a restaurant wished to serve Black and white customers, the owner needed to build “a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher” and maintain separate entrances from the street, a requirement so costly and impractical as to make it almost impossible to satisfy. Less than 10 percent of eligible Black voters had managed to register, which allowed segregationists to retain control of city government. If the government failed to maintain segregation, the KKK could be counted on to serve as a last line of defense. When upwardly mobile Black families moved into the middle-class neighborhood of College Hills, they were met with so many bombs that the neighborhood came to be called Dynamite Hill. In 1956, three white men attacked the popular Black singer Nat King Cole in the middle of a concert at the Birmingham Municipal Auditorium. The following year, a Black handyman named Judge Aaron was abducted by white men and castrated. Aaron’s abductors poured turpentine on the wound as they further tortured their victim. In 1962, when a federal court ordered Birmingham to integrate its recreational facilities, the city instead opted to close its parks, playgrounds, pools, and golf courses. If the courts ever ordered the integration of schools, officials said, they would close those, too.

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