Click here to download full report: ACMHR1966.pdf (8.68 mb)
Go Slow / People in Motion
“Go slow” a figurative phrase capturing resistance to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. In 1963, Nina Simone sang “Mississippi Goddam” and conveyed the frustrations associated with this phrase. Through powerful lyrics about “hound dogs on my trail, [and] school children sitting in jail” she conjures potent resistance that was solidifying in response to African-Americans’ growing demands for civil rights. By asserting that “me and my people are just about due” Ms. Simone alludes to the perpetuity of the call from those who “keep on saying go slow.” As she enumerates the goals of the Movement—desegregation, mass participation, unification, and equality—a repeating chorus line of “too slow” can be heard in the background, calling into question the prudence of the advice–“Go slow.”
In 1966, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) evoked these same connotations in a booklet entitled “People in Motion” documenting their tenth anniversary. This title, “People in Motion” effectively underscored the magnitude of ACMHR’s achievements through ten years of defying the advice to “go slow.” A group of African American Ministers created the ACMHR in 1956 after Alabama officials outlawed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from operating in the state. ACMHR continued the struggle to eliminate African-Americans’ status as second-class citizens. Through a multitude of civil disobedience acts—court cases, petitions, protests, economic boycotts, sit-ins, registering voters—ACMHR advanced civil rights in Birmingham for African-Americans. Their booklet provides a comprehensive overview of the activities and successes of ACMHR during the crucial period of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham (1956-1966).
The booklet concludes by stating that the Movement, in 1966, stood at a “crossroads” summarizing progress as follows:
When one considers the original demands of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights when it formed in 1956, a remarkable number of them have been at least partially achieved. The buses are desegregated, and so are the parks with the shameful exception of the closed swimming pools. School segregation has been broken, even though integration is still token.* Public eating places are integrated if one can afford to eat in them; Negro police have been hired, although in token numbers. At least a few Negroes are working in jobs never open to them before; the bars to Negro voter registration have been torn down.
And, all important, white police cannot with impunity terrorize and brutalize Negroes on the streets and in their homes as they once could and did in Birmingham.
But no one here feels the struggle is over or that the perfect society has arrived. The integration that exists is still token, for the great masses of black people jobs are still non-existent or at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.
Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, the President of ACMHR, donated a copy of this booklet to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Archives. Flip through the report to gain some understanding of the injustices of segregation and the sacrifices—including potential loss of employment, arrest, physical abuse and death—that it took to bring about change. Then consider this question:
Since 1966, have we continued to challenge advice to “go slow”?
* Between 1963 and 1966 more than 250 Black students were attending formerly all-white schools.