1969 March 10

Civil Rights Demonstrations Upheld: “Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham”


The case of Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham involved a demonstration led by civil rights leader Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth in the famous 1963 civil rights campaign in Birmingham, Alabama. Shuttlesworth led a march of 52 African-Americans and was arrested and convicted of violating a city ordinance that prohibited parading without a permit. The Supreme Court reversed the conviction on this day, in part because a permit had been denied not to control traffic but to censor ideas. Although the decision came six years after the Birmingham demonstrations, and five years after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the ruling set an important precedent regarding demonstrations.

The Court: “Even when the use of its public streets and sidewalks is involved, therefore, a municipality may not empower its licensing officials to roam essentially at will, dispensing or withholding permission to speak, assemble, picket, or parade, according to their own opinions regarding the potential effect of the activity in question on the ‘welfare,’ ‘decency,’ or ‘morals’ of the community.”

Read: Diane McWhorter, Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution (2001)

Watch the 1963 Birmingham demonstrations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9kT1yO4MGg

For more on the 1963 Birmingham civil rights campaign, go to: April 3, 1963; April 16, 1963 (Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”; May 3, 1963 (the infamous use of police dogs and fire hoses against demonstrators).

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