Foot Soldiers:Forgotten Images from the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement

When I was researching photographs for my new book, Birmingham Foot Soldiers: Voices from the Civil Rights Movement, I discovered something remarkable, and graphically, very striking, in the archives of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Taken by the Birmingham Police when the department was under the ironfisted command of notorious Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor, the black-and-white images show Birmingham Civil Rights protesters gathering, picketing, engaging in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, marching, and organizing. The critical mass of these activities took place in 1963, when Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King Jr. were pushing hard to end official segregation in Birmingham.

These are candid photos, taken at various times for the duration of the protests, showing young activists perhaps unaware of the history they were making. Look at their expressions – overjoyed to participate, apprehensive, and at other instances placid and unselfconscious, even as they looked into the lens of a photographer gathering data that might be used to put them in jail – or worse. Many members of the BPD in those days were actually associated with the Ku Klux Klan.

Fascinating as they are, most of these images, preserved in photos of contact sheets – rows of film like slides — didn’t make the book. Still, when you look at the cover of Birmingham Foot Soldiers, it seems within the realm of possibility that the sequential black-and-white pictures may have inspired the graphic designer.

Still, I wanted to show you just some of what I found in the archives of the BCRI, which contain a substantial and significant collection of artifacts from the civil rights period. These rarely-seen images are shared with their permission.ImageImageImage

Tales of the hundreds of unsung foot soldiers who made the Birmingham Movement what it became — an unprecedented campaign that helped shape American history  — are the subject of my book. The stories are told through the words — and pictures — of some who lived through it. These surveillance photos shed additional light on the faces of those who risked their necks for a cause.

Birmingham Foot Soldiers: Voices from the Civil Rights Movement comes out May 20, 2014. For more information about the BCRI and the educational programs they offer, visit By the way, I’ll be having a book signing there June 7, 2014. You heard it here first.




Author: nickpattersonfreelance

I'm a professional reporter, writer, editor, teacher, storyteller. A former travel and features editor for Southern Living, I started Velleity because people keep offering me travel stuff and you may as well benefit from it.

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