A 1963 Brawl In Alabama Is How We Got Our Civil Rights. (Montgomery Riverfront)

Addison Sarter
7 min readAug 9, 2023

Although it was a beautiful thing to see our people fighting back in Alabama the other day, we need to retire the slogan “We are not our ancestors.” As we know this implies that they simply accepted oppression and didn’t fight back.

Many people think the Civil Rights Act was passed due to the non violence preached by Dr. King. In actuality, the doctrine of fighting back advocated by Malcolm X, is what got us our civil rights.

60 years ago, on May 11, 1963, Black people in Alabama, decided that they were done turning the other cheek, so they rebelled and brawled. The were tired of living under the genocidal system known as American Apartheid (Jim Crow) which was so egregious, that Nazi Germany used the American Apartheid system (Jim Crow)as one of their models, on how to treat Jewish people.

Black people were fed up. They were tired of the terrorism that white people inflicted upon them. They were tired of the lynchings and the bombings. In Birmingham, Alabama, White people were bombing black neighborhoods so much, it became known as “Bombingham.”

On the night of May 11, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama the KKK bombed the residences of Black civil rights leaders. John F Kennedy didn’t budge. It wasn’t until Black people abandoned Dr. King’s doctrine of non-violence and started fighting back, did JFK intervene by sending federal troops in to Birmingham.

According to the New York Times “About 2,500 persons joined the crowds that attacked the police and firemen, wrecked scores of police and private automobiles and burned six small stores and a two-story apartment house. Aside from the authorities, only a relative handful of whites became involved.”

Three Black men even stabbed a police officer in the ribs during this riot.

Black people rioting in Birmingham of 1963 and the threat that Malcolm X posed to America is what forced JFK to propose the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As we know, JFK would be assassinated in November of 1963, making Lyndon B Johnson president. Lyndon B Johnson would eventually pass the Civil Rights Act that JFK proposed. Although JFK and Lyndon B Johnson worked on the legislation , it was Malcolm X who inspired JFK and Lyndon B Johnson to pass the legislation.

Malcolm X commented on the 1963 riot: “President Kennedy did not send troops to Alabama when dogs were biting black babies. He waited three weeks until the situation exploded. He then sent troops after the Negroes had demonstrated their ability to defend themselves. In his talk with Alabama editors Kennedy did not urge that Negroes be treated right because it is the right thing to do. Instead, he said that if the Negroes aren’t well treated the Muslims would become a threat. He urged a change not because it is right but because the world is watching this country. Kennedy is wrong because his motivation is wrong.”

In his 1963 Message To The Grassroots Speech, Malcolm X spoke on the rebellion in Alabama again:

“Right at that time Birmingham had exploded, and the Negroes in Birmingham — — remember, they also exploded. They began to stab the crackers in the back and bust them up ‘side their head — — yes, they did. That’s when Kennedy sent in the troops, down in Birmingham. So, and right after that, Kennedy got on the television and said “this is a moral issue.”

In his book , The Bystander: John F. Kennedy And the Struggle for Black Equality, The author Nicholas Bryant, confirmed Malcolm X’s assessment of JFK below: “It was the black-on-white violence of May 11 — not the publication of the startling photograph a week earlier — that represented the real watershed in Kennedy’s thinking, and the turning point in administration policy. Kennedy had grown used to segregationist attacks against civil rights protesters. But he — along with his brother and other administration officials — was far more troubled by black mobs running amok.”

The “startling photograph” Bryant mentioned above are the images of Black children being bitten by police dogs and hosed down.

JFK spoke about the riots and said “the people who’ve gotten out of hand are not the white people, but the Negroes by and large”

Imagine that. Birmingham was known as “Bombingham” due to white people constantly bombing the homes and churches of Black people, but when Black people retaliated, we “got out of hand.” Between 1947–1965, 50 bombings against the Black community occurred in Birmingham. To be fair, not all of those bombings occurred during JFK’s presidency.

It becomes clear that JFK fits the descriptions of the white moderates that Dr. King mentioned when he said :

“ I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice.”- Dr. King

John F Kennedy’s lack of care for the Black community and his fear of Malcolm X’s influence can be seen in this declassified recording of a Whitehouse meeting from May 12, 1963. It is between him and his brother Robert Kennedy.

Robert Kennedy: “ Negro Reverend Walker … he said that the Negroes, when dark comes tonight, they’re going to start going after the policemen — headhunting — trying to shoot to kill policemen. He says it’s completely out of hand … you could trigger off a good deal of violence around the country now, with Negroes saying they’ve been abused for all these years and they’re going to follow the ideas of the Black Muslims now … If they feel on the other hand that the federal government is their friend, that it’s intervening for them, that it’s going to work for them, then it will head some of that off. I think that’s the strongest argument for doing something”

John F Kennedy: “First we have to have law and order, so the Negro’s not running all over the city … If the [local Birmingham desegregation] agreement blows up, the other remedy we have under that condition is to send legislation up to congress this week as our response … As a means of providing relief we have to have legislation”

Less than a month later, on June 12, 1963 JFK gave a televised speech to America, announcing that he was going to send a civil rights bill to Congress. A week later, on June 19th he sent the bill to Congress.

Black people rebelling in 1963 and the threat that Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam posed to America’s racist apartheid system, is what forced JFK to propose the Civil Rights Act. As we know, JFK would be assassinated in November of 1963, making Lyndon B Johnson president. Lyndon B Johnson would eventually pass the Civil Rights Act. Although JFK and Lyndon B Johnson put the Civil Rights Act together it was Malcolm X who inspired JFK and Lyndon B Johnson to do it.

This is crucial, because for most of our lives we have been indoctrinated with the belief that Black people gained civil rights by being non-violent while getting beat up by white people and then JFK and the government, woke up to their senses, and felt bad, and decided to pass a civil rights law. No.

Black people started fight back and John F Kennedy got scared that Black people were going to start following Malcolm X’s doctrine and proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Also it is extremely ironic that Malcolm X didn’t believe in voting at that time but was able to create more systematic change than Black people who did vote. As we know, Malcolm X would later influence the creation of the most revolutionary Black organization ever, “The Black Panther Party.”

Also JFK didn’t need to be creative when proposing the Civil Rights Act. He simply wrote a legislation about what Black people had been marching and dying for and demanding for decades. Lyndon B Johnson was not an ally either. He was apart of the assassination of Dr. King.

It is worth nothing that this wasn’t the first time Black Americans began fighting back. Black Americans rebelled during slavery. The American Education system never taught us about the Gullah Wars in which enslaved Black people waged a full scale militarized war against the American government for over one HUNDRED years, as well as other rebellions such as the one led by Nat Turner. Black people even rebelled during Jim Crow(Robert Williams and the Deacons of Defense) Lastly we all know about the Black Panther Party.

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