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After the March


Shortly after 8:00 p.m. on May 11, 1963, a caller asked the switchboard operator at the Gaston Motel if Martin Luther King Jr. was staying in Room 30, his usual room when he was in Birmingham. Five minutes later, another caller asked her if she had a casket for King.

At 10:45, a uniformed policeman got out of a squad car and placed a package by the front steps of A. D. King’s parsonage. As he drove off, the policeman tossed a second object toward the house. It exploded, creating a small sinkhole in the sidewalk. Hearing the noise, a crowd gathered. Ten minutes later, the original package also exploded, even more powerfully. The first explosion had been designed to draw onlookers, the second to injure them, as well as A. D. King and his family. Amazingly, the entire family escaped unharmed.

Just before midnight, a third explosion occurred, this time at the Gaston Motel, hitting the room directly beneath Room 30. Movement strategists had been meeting in Room 30 for thirty-eight straight days until that Saturday night. Fortunately, no one was badly hurt.

Blacks retaliated with unleashed frustration and fury. People poured into the motel’s parking lot, surrounding streets, and Kelly Ingram Park.

Soon, more than 2,500 had surged into the black downtown. Marauders smashed car windows and looted stores—some owned by whites and others by blacks. When sparks from a burning car set nearby buildings aflame, the mob prevented fire trucks driven by whites from reaching the site. A city block of apartment houses and businesses blazed. Six hundred state troopers rushed to Kelly Ingram Park.

By dawn, the riots had petered out. Fifty people, some seriously wounded, had been taken to the hospital. Downtown Birmingham was in shambles.

Over that weekend, demonstrations to support civil rights in Birmingham were held in dozens of cities from Washington, DC, New York City, and Boston to San Francisco.

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