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The March

TUESDAY, MAY 7, 1963

Organizers dubbed Tuesday “Operation Confusion.” Their goal was to shut down central Birmingham. Early that morning, youth leaders routed students from their homes and schools and dispatched them to Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Fewer than 14,000 black students — out of 34,000 enrolled in Birmingham city schools — were present for roll call. Many of those who had checked in had then checked out, bringing the absentee rate to well over 20,000.

At noon, a group of fourteen youngsters emerged from the church and circled Kelly Ingram Park. They returned to the church and another group sprang out, like a relay team. At the same time, around six hundred black youths converged on the white downtown. Some created confusion by approaching lunch counters, threatening to sit-in, and then leaving. Others touched the stores’ merchandise, outraging white sales clerks.

Blacks called May 7 “Jubilee Day.” Arrests were no longer an option for the police because city, county, and even surrounding counties’ jails were full. Juvenile authorities began calling parents and asking them to come pick up their children; a judge waived the bail bond for many.

After an hour, the young people returned to Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where they were greeted by 1,400 compatriots.

A policeman asked a Movement leader to encourage the students to leave. That idea backfired. The students obliged the policeman by pouring into the park and then swarming back toward the white downtown. Their numbers were doubled when about two thousand spectators joined the stampede. Traffic was blocked. White workers out for lunch retreated to their offices. White shoppers fled. Downtown was at a standstill.

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