Birmingham, Alabama became the focal point of the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. The Birmingham Campaign, led by the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was formed in reaction to the deep-seeded segregation laws and insufferable attitudes towards the African American population in the city.
The Birmingham Campaign focused on a single goal — the desegregation of Birmingham’s downtown merchants, which made it more successful than similar campaigns in other southern cities. Although the SCLC activists practiced nonviolent protest, they were met with the brutality of the local police department under the leadership of Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor.
Shortly after his arrest on April 16, 1963, Dr. King wrote his famous publication Letter from Birmingham Jail, which defended the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism and furthermore emphasized Americans’ moral responsibility to break unjust laws. The letter became a staple and key text in the Civil Rights Movement as it represented the ethos of the nonviolent cause.
Although legalized racism has vanquished, the efforts to create inclusive communities and institutions in the United States are not yet complete. Many of the major companies across the country still exclude women and people of color in their boardroom and senior executive ranks despite significant growth in purchasing power among these segments of the population. These companies are reaping the economic benefits from a growingly diverse customer base yet their efforts to reflect these changing demographics lag behind.
The Birmingham Initiative seeks to raise awareness about these exclusionary corporate practices and inspire communities to be agents of change as we strive for increased diversity commitment by corporations.