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During the March

DOUBLE D-DAY / MAY 3, 1963

Almost two thousand kids played hooky on Friday, May 3. Most of them congregated at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where they were given their marching orders. The instructions were especially important that day because firemen with trucks and hoses had joined the policemen opposite the church.

A group of twenty or so students was to head west as decoys; their goal was to confuse the police and lure them from their posts. Sixty more students would take advantage of the gap in the police lineup and march eastward toward city hall.

For nearly an hour, everything proceeded according to plan. The westbound decoys surged around a policeman who tried vainly to halt them. The main group marched as far as the informal boundary between the black and white downtowns, where they were confronted by a blockade of squad cars and fire engines.

But Bull Connor was already running out of cells—just as organizers had intended.

He and Police Captain Glenn V. Evans stepped in front of the group that was approaching Seventeenth Street and Fifth Avenue North. Several firemen hefted a massive hose equipped with the usual fogger nozzle and pointed it at the marchers.

“Disperse or you’re going to get wet,” Evans warned.
The marchers did not disperse.
“Let ’em have it!” Connor ordered.

The surge of water shocked most of the marchers into retreating. Several, though, faced the hoses and kept singing. “Free-ee-ee-dom. Free-ee-ee-dom.”

The firemen joined two hose ends to one nozzle mounted on a sturdy tripod, so they could blast water through monitor guns at twice the force. They fixed their sights on the group marching up Eighteenth Street.

Some students thought they might die. Screaming and shouting, the children didn’t know which way to run as the firemen swept the hoses back and forth across the park. A few marchers huddled in doorways or behind trees. Others were hurled against rough brick buildings. Dozens wrapped their arms around each others’ shoulders to hold themselves up, though they soon crashed to the pavement.

Connor bolted the doors to Sixteenth Street Baptist Church from the outside, locking the five hundred to one thousand remaining marchers inside. Then he called for the K-9 unit.

Eight surging, snarling German shepherds—each on a short leash clenched by a policeman—tore across the park toward the protesters. Hundreds of terrorized bystanders screamed and fled.

Two hours after the march began, organizers ordered everyone to go home.

Movement organizers got more than they bargained for that day. An additional five to eight hundred children were jailed, but also a number were injured, and many more, terrified.

When video of children being hosed and charged by growling dogs appeared on the news that night, America started to pay attention to how Birmingham treated its Negro population.

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