Diane McWhorter: Good and Evil in Birminghamtags: Martin Luther King, NYT, civil rights, MLK Day, MLK, Diane McWhorter, Birmingham
FIFTY years ago, Birmingham, Ala., provided the enduring iconography of the civil rights era, testing the mettle of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so dramatically that he was awarded the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
During his protest there in May 1963, the biblical spectacle of black children facing down Public Safety Commissioner Eugene (Bull) Connor’s fire hoses and police dogs set the stage for King’s Sermon on the Mount some four months later at the Lincoln Memorial. And the civil rights movement’s “Year of Birmingham” passed into history as an epic narrative of good versus evil.
Our understanding of the “good” has expanded beyond the lone-dreamer theory to embrace other activists, like King’s partner in Birmingham, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Yet the evil segregationist archetype is fixed in the popular mind as the villainous housewife of “The Help” or the cretinous mob of “Django Unchained” — nobody we’d ever know, or certainly ever be....
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