Boycotts drive desegregation
Threatt recalls marches in Birmingham, but remembers that marchers tended to stay within the borders of African American parts of town and that white Birmingham reacted only when boycotts started to take an economic toll. Economic pressure to desegregate eventually beat out social pressure to maintain segregation.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Glennon Threatt, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0023. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
A lot of people misunderstand why we got
desegregation in Birmingham. It wasn't so much
because of the protests and stuff like that, it was really because of
the boycotts. The white businesses couldn't stand not having black
customers. The way Birmingham is, not so much so now because the
downtown area has expanded, but where most of the protests were going on
at Sixteenth Street Church and Kelly Ingram Park was several blocks away
from the white part of downtown. There was a black part of downtown
called Fourth Avenue, which is where we shopped. There was only one
professional building, the Masonic Temple Building, which is where the
black doctors and dentists and lawyers and stuff had their offices all
in one building. There were two black movie theatres, The Carver and The
Famous, and they were all within a block of each other. So, most of the
black businesses were centralized in sort of a four block area. Then you
got to the white part of town. The protests didn't spill over into that
area because if they did folks would have gone to jail. So they let you
march and stuff like that in Kelly Ingram Park for a while until the
children started getting involved. That was when they started using fire
hoses and dogs and that kind of stuff. It was really when black people
stopped shopping at white owned stores that the citizen's council got
involved, because they were taking a very, very serious economic hit.
Many of the five and dime stores, a large part of their business was
black folk. When black people stopped shopping there, it was just like
in the bus boycott in Montgomery when black people stopped riding the
buses, the buses started going broke. So it was really to some degree
for economic reasons that businesses decided to integrate, not because
they thought it was the right thing to do. . .because it had always been
the right thing to do.
- KIMBERLY HILL:
It just was the pressing thing to do.
- GLENNON THREATT:
Well, and then also again there was a lot of pressure placed on white
businesses not to integrate. If you let black people try on clothes then
it would get out and you would be ostracized by members of the white
community or white people would stop shopping at your store. So there
was a lot of social pressure from the white community to force other
whites to be racist.