Americans regularly march to demonstrate their support for all sorts of causes, some conservative and some progressive. Our right to do so is not something to take for granted. Many of the civil rights that apply to all citizens today result from a decades-long struggle for Black civil rights that continues even now. We highlight here just one example: Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham (1969).
Some community governments obstructed the Black civil rights movement by requiring permits to march (allegedly to ensure public safety on the sidewalks and roads). In 1963, a Black minister and civil rights leader named Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth wanted to lead a small civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama. He applied for a permit, but a government official told him that neither he nor any other civil rights organizers would be granted a permit under any circumstances. He marched anyway. He was arrested and sentenced to 90 days imprisonment at hard labor plus 48 more days at hard labor. He fought back through the courts, and ultimately his case went to the Supreme Court. The Court reversed the Reverend’s conviction. It ruled that the Birmingham law was applied in a discriminatory manner meant to repress freedom of speech. Since then, permits may be required, but they cannot be used to discriminate against anyone a government finds objectionable.
Shuttlesworth v Birmingham (1969) case is central to your right to march and demonstrate. Unfortunately, there have been several erosions since then. You can read about some of those here.
Want to know more? Check out these links:
- Remembering Reverend Shuttlesworth
- Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham (1969)
Image: Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Kingkongphoto and http://www.celebrity-photos.com.