Eugene “Bull” Connor Writes Correspondence on the Race Question
With racial tensions rising in Birmingham, there was only one thing to do: ensure the separation of the races. This was what Eugene “Bull” Connor, Birmingham’s Commissioner of Public Safety during the 1940s, saw as the only option to ensure public peace. This separation of the races included the segregation of Birmingham’s streetcars. In a letter dated June 29, 1944 to Mr. C. L. Harris of Birmingham’s Merchant Association, Connor assures him of the city’s efforts to quell the rising black “violence” on Birmingham’s streetcars. He informs Mr. Harris that he had already taken the action two or three years ago to install segregation boards on street cars operating in the city. Though, he conceded that his actions had been in vain in some parts of the city.
The racial violence Connor was referring to was the rising tide of resistance to segregation on streetcars in Birmingham. On many occasions, before “his” segregation boards had gone up, blacks had fought with conductors over having to give up their seats or move to the back of cars. The Merchant Association was concerned that these acts of resistance or “violence” might cause people to shy away from the rail lines altogether. In an effort to calm the movement, Connor had signs clearly marking the racial separation put on all Birmingham streetcars. This did little to assure blacks of their right to an “equal” experience on streetcars as more often than not the signs would be moved to make room for more white passengers as the expense of black riders. Because of this and other forms of blatant inequity, blacks continued to resist segregation, sometimes violently, until Birmingham’s streetcars were shut down in 1946.
These instances of resistance to racial segregation had little impact of the contemporary attitudes about racial segregation as a whole, but nevertheless that they occurred at all was a miracle. According to historian August Meier although the failure of any racial equality movement during the 1940s was inevitable, the resistance instilled in African American communities a sense of unity that carried over to the bus boycotts that helped end segregation altogether. Despite repeated attempts, like those of Connor, to quell black resistance to the humiliation of segregation it was clear then, as it is was in the 1950s, that blacks were never going to accept a system of separate but equal that was inherently biased towards whites.
- August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, "The Boycott Movement Against Jim Crow Streetcars in the South, 1900-1906," The Journal of American History 55, no. 4 (March 1, 1969): 756-775.
- Bull Connon, Correspondence between Eugene “Bull” Connor and Mr. C. L. Harris, Box 10.13, Cooper Green Papers, Archives, Birmingham Public Library.