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Before the March

GOVERNMENT

In March 1963, Movement activists were plotting strategies to seize the rights that blacks had been denied. Although most whites paid no attention, some white merchants, concerned that segregated stores and police brutality were bad for business, were meeting behind the scenes, orchestrating a change in city government in order to oust Connor. Most blacks knew little about those plans.

Birmingham was run by a board of three commissioners, all of them committed to enforcing the Segregation Ordinances. Some businessmen, concerned about Birmingham's international reputation, became convinced that the three men had to be replaced. The commissioners had been elected to serve until 1965, but these relatively moderate community leaders didn’t want to wait. The best strategy seemed to be to replace the entire form of government with a larger one that would be more responsive to Birmingham as a whole. It would consist of a mayor and a nine-member council.

Three men ran for mayor: Bull Connor; Albert Boutwell, rumored to be more moderate than Connor; and Thomas King, a liberal. The three split the vote and a runoff election between Connor and Boutwell was scheduled for April 2, 1963. Boutwell won. But Connor and the other two commissioners refused to leave office. So, for the next thirty-seven days, Birmingham had two city governments, each of which sued the other for control.

Segregation | Government | Project C