How do you explain the world’s continued fascination with the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement? How do you begin to understand a time in history that is as motivating as it is complex? Perhaps by looking at one of the key events that, inarguably, laid the foundation for the force of nature known as “The Movement”.
In a day and age where the social consciousness of young people is most often measured by “Likes”, “Hits” and “Views”, the incredible bravery shown by a group of students in 1961 & 1962 is not only noteworthy, but awe inspiring. As the daughter of one of the students, I am honored to pay homage to the Selective Buying Campaign of 1962, which, in my opinion, showed the incredible feats that can be accomplished when one stops to think, instead of giving in to the primal instinct to react first and think later.
In the Spring of 1962, a group of students from Miles College led by my father, Frank Dukes, who was their 31 year old Student Government Association President, created and launched a Selective Buying Campaign. The campaign was a boycott of Birmingham’s downtown merchants. Question: Why was a boycott necessary? Answer: At the time the campaign began, Blacks in Birmingham were spending $4,000,000.00 a week in downtown stores. Yet, they could not eat in the cafeterias, or try on the clothing or shoes that they purchased. Supporting the students were Miles College President Dr. Lucius H. Pitts, selected faculty, local housewives, and members of Birmingham’s White community. These factions brought about significant desegregation before Dr. King's arrival to the city in 1963. In fact, it is widely held that the success of the Selective Buying Campaign of 1962 was the impetus for the triumph of Dr. M. L. King, Jr.’s climactic demonstrations of 1963.
When asked why the Selective Buying Campaign of 1962 led by my father succeeded, and the seven previous attempts led by the indomitable, courageous Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth failed, my answer is simple—the Selective Buying Campaign of 1962 succeeded, because it contained key components missing in other boycotts, i.e., the rejection of emotionalism, thinking outside of the box and embracing inclusiveness. Women were welcomed and allowed to play leadership roles, the White populace of Birmingham was allowed to participate, and the irrepressible optimism found in such great abundance in the minds of college students was nurtured and allowed to run free. How else could one explain the fact that a campaign created and executed by students from a small, relatively unknown historically black college on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama brought about the desegregation of two major department stores before the coming of King in 1963?
If you want to learn more about the Selective Buying Campaign, I recommend that you watch the documentary ““STAND! Untold Stories from the Civil Rights Movement.” The film chronicles the key events which led to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), selecting Birmingham, Alabama as the site for the now famous 'Project C' (Project Confrontation) in 1963. The film brings to light often overlooked and unknown facts about the system of segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, “STAND!” features the brave men and women who risked all to bring about its demise. “STAND!” dismisses many myths that the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement was all Black, all male, and led by ministers who rallied in 1963 and liberated a city.
How do you grasp a force of nature? With awe…with awe.
For more information on the film, please visit its website:standthedocumentary.com
Donna Dukes is an educator and founder of Maranathan Academy