Bull Connor

Last updated
Bull Connor
Bull Connor (1960).jpg
President of the Alabama Public Service Commission
In office
January 18, 1965 January 17, 1972
Preceded byJack Owen
Succeeded byKenneth Hammond
Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety
In office
Preceded byRobert Lindbergh
Succeeded byPosition abolished
In office
Preceded byW. O. Downs
Succeeded byRobert Lindbergh
Member of the Alabama House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Theophilus Eugene Connor

(1897-07-11)July 11, 1897
Selma, Alabama, U.S.
DiedMarch 10, 1973(1973-03-10) (aged 75)
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
Political party Democratic, States' Rights Democratic
Spouse(s)Beara [1]

Theophilus Eugene Connor (July 11, 1897  March 10, 1973), known as Bull Connor, was an American politician who served as an elected Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama, for more than two decades. He strongly opposed activities of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Under the city commission government, Connor had responsibility for administrative oversight of the Birmingham Fire Department and the Birmingham Police Department, which also had their own chiefs.

Birmingham, Alabama Most populous city in Alabama, United States

Birmingham is a city in the north central region of the U.S. state of Alabama. With an estimated 2018 population of 209,880, it is the most populous city in Alabama. Birmingham is the seat of Jefferson County, Alabama's most populous and fifth largest county. As of 2018, the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of 1,151,801, making it the most populous in Alabama and 49th-most populous in the United States. Birmingham serves as an important regional hub and is associated with the Deep South, Piedmont, and Appalachian regions of the nation.

Alabama State of the United States of America

Alabama is a state in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama is the 30th largest by area and the 24th-most populous of the U.S. states. With a total of 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of inland waterways, Alabama has among the most of any state.

City commission government is a form of local government in the United States. In a city commission government, voters elect a small commission, typically of five to seven members, on a plurality-at-large voting basis.


Connor enforced legal racial segregation and denied civil rights to black citizens, especially during the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Birmingham campaign of 1963. He became an international symbol of institutional racism. Bull Connor directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against civil rights activists; child protestors were also subject to these attacks. [2] [3] National media broadcast these tactics on television, horrifying much of the country. The outrages served as catalysts for major social and legal change in the Southern United States and contributed to passage by the United States Congress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. [4]

Racial segregation in the United States Historical separation of African Americans from American white society

Racial segregation in the United States, as a general term, refers to the racial segregation of facilities, services, and opportunities such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation in the United States along racial lines. The term mainly refers to the legally or socially enforced separation of African Americans from whites, but is also used in regards to the separation of other ethnic minorities from majority mainstream communities. While mainly referring to the physical separation and provision of separate facilities, it can also refer to other manifestations such as the separation of roles within an institution. Notably, in the United States Armed Forces up until the 1950s, black units were typically separated from white units but were nevertheless still led by white officers.

Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations, and private individuals. They ensure one's entitlement to participate in the civil and political life of the society and state without discrimination or repression.

Southern Christian Leadership Conference African-American civil rights organization

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is an African-American civil rights organization. SCLC, which is closely associated with its first president, Martin Luther King Jr., had a large role in the American civil rights movement.

Early life

Connor was born in 1897 in Selma, Alabama, the son of Molly (Godwin) and Hugh King Connor, a train dispatcher and telegraph operator. [5] He entered politics as a Democrat in 1934 winning a seat in the Alabama House of Representatives. [6] As a legislator, he supported populist measures and pro-union issues for white people. He voted for extending the poll tax, which served as a barrier to voter registration by poor blacks and whites, and against an anti-sedition bill intended to stifle union activity. [7] He did not stand for a second term in 1936, instead running for Commissioner of Public Safety for the City of Birmingham. Concurrently during this period, Connor served as the radio play-by-play broadcaster of the minor league Birmingham Barons baseball club spanning the 1932 through 1936 seasons. [8]

Selma, Alabama City in Alabama, United States

Selma is a city in and the county seat of Dallas County, in the Black Belt region of south central Alabama and extending to the west. Located on the banks of the Alabama River, the city has a population of 20,756 as of the 2010 census. About 80% of the population is African-American.

Train dispatcher profession

A train dispatcher (US), rail traffic controller (Canada), train controller (Australia) or signalman (UK), is employed by a railroad to direct and facilitate the movement of trains over an assigned territory, which is usually part, or all, of a railroad operating division. The dispatcher is also responsible for cost effective movement of trains and other on-track railroad equipment to optimize physical (trains) and human resource (crews) assets.

Democratic Party (United States) Major political party in the United States

The Democratic Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with its rival, the Republican Party. Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison's Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world's oldest active political party.

Commissioner of Public Safety (1936–1954, 1957–1963)

In 1936, Connor was elected to the office of Commissioner of Public Safety of Birmingham, beginning the first of two stretches that spanned a total of 26 years. His first term ended in 1952, but he was re-elected in 1956, serving to 1963.

In 1938, Connor ran as a candidate for Governor of Alabama. He announced he would be campaigning on a platform of "protecting employment practices, law enforcement, segregation and other problems that have been historically classified as states' rights by the Democratic party". [9]

Law enforcement Enforcement of the law by some members of society

Law enforcement is any system by which some members of society act in an organized manner to enforce the law by discovering, deterring, rehabilitating, or punishing people who violate the rules and norms governing that society. Although the term encompasses entities such as courts and prisons, it is most frequently applied to those who directly engage in patrols or surveillance to dissuade and discover criminal activity, and those who investigate crimes and apprehend offenders, a task typically carried out by the police or another law enforcement organization. Furthermore, although law enforcement may be most concerned with the prevention and punishment of crimes, organizations exist to discourage a wide variety of non-criminal violations of rules and norms, effected through the imposition of less severe consequences.

In American political discourse, states' rights are political powers held for the state governments rather than the federal government according to the United States Constitution, reflecting especially the enumerated powers of Congress and the Tenth Amendment. The enumerated powers that are listed in the Constitution include exclusive federal powers, as well as concurrent powers that are shared with the states, and all of those powers are contrasted with the reserved powers—also called states' rights—that only the states possess.

In 1948, Connor's officers arrested the U.S. Senator from Idaho, Glen H. Taylor. He was the running mate of Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace, former Democratic Vice President. Taylor, who had attempted to speak to the Southern Negro Youth Congress, was arrested for violating Birmingham's racial segregation laws. Connor's effort to enforce the law was sparked by the group's reported communist philosophy, [10] with Connor noting at the time, "There's not enough room in town for Bull and the Commies."[ citation needed ]

United States Senate Upper house of the United States Congress

The United States Senate is the upper chamber of the United States Congress which, along with the United States House of Representatives—the lower chamber—comprises the legislature of the United States. The Senate chamber is located in the north wing of the Capitol Building, in Washington, D.C.

Idaho State of the United States of America

Idaho is a state in the northwestern region of the United States. It borders the state of Montana to the east and northeast, Wyoming to the east, Nevada and Utah to the south, and Washington and Oregon to the west. To the north, it shares a small portion of the Canadian border with the province of British Columbia. With a population of approximately 1.7 million and an area of 83,569 square miles (216,440 km2), Idaho is the 14th largest, the 12th least populous and the 7th least densely populated of the 50 U.S. states. The state's capital and largest city is Boise.

Glen H. Taylor American politician

Glen Hearst Taylor was an American politician, entertainer, businessman, and United States Senator from Idaho.

During the 1948 Democratic National Convention, Connor led the Alabama delegation in a walkout when the national party included a civil rights plank in its platform. [4] The offshoot States' Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats) nominated Strom Thurmond for president at its convention in Birmingham's Municipal Auditorium. [11]

The 1948 Democratic National Convention was held at Philadelphia Convention Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from July 12 to July 14, 1948, and resulted in the nominations of President Harry S. Truman for a full term and Senator Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky for Vice President in the 1948 presidential election. One of the decisive factors in convening both major party conventions in Philadelphia that year was that the Philadelphia area was part of the newly-developing broadcast television market. In 1947, TV stations in New York City, Washington and Philadelphia were connected by a coaxial cable, so in 1948 two of the three new television networks, NBC and CBS, had the ability to telecast along the east coast live gavel to gavel coverage of both conventions. In television's early days, live broadcasts were not routinely recorded, but a few minutes of Kinescope film of the conventions has survived.

Dixiecrat political party

The States' Rights Democratic Party was a short-lived segregationist political party in the United States. It originated in 1948 as a breakaway faction of the Democratic Party determined to protect states' rights to legislate racial segregation from what its members regarded as an oppressive federal government.

Strom Thurmond Governor of South Carolina, United States Senator

James Strom Thurmond Sr. was an American politician who served for 48 years as a United States Senator from South Carolina. He ran for president in 1948 as the States Rights Democratic Party candidate, receiving 2.4% of the popular vote and 39 electoral votes. Thurmond represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1954 until 2003, at first as a Southern Democrat and, after 1964, as a Republican.

Connor's second run for governor fell flat in 1954. He was the center of controversy that year by pushing through a city ordinance in Birmingham that outlawed "communism." [12]

Civil Rights Era

Before returning to office in 1956, Connor quickly resumed his brutal approach to dealing with perceived threats to the social order. His forces raided a meeting at the house of African-American activist, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, where three Montgomery ministers were attending. He feared that the Montgomery Bus Boycott that was under way would spread to Birmingham, in an effort to integrate city buses. He had the ministers arrested on charges of vagrancy, which did not allow a prisoner bail, nor any visitors during the first three days of their incarceration. A federal investigation followed, but Connor refused to cooperate.

Shuttlesworth had led civil rights activities despite being threatened with violence. His church was bombed twice. He, his wife, and a white minister were attacked by a racist mob after attempting to use "white" restrooms at the local bus station, which had segregated facilities.

In 1960, Connor was elected Democratic National Committeeman for Alabama, soon after filing a civil lawsuit against The New York Times for $1.5 million. He objected to what he claimed was their insinuation that he had promoted racial hatred. He dropped his claim for damages to $400,000; the case dragged on for six years until Connor lost a $40,000 judgment on appeal. [13]

Freedom Riders

In the spring of 1961, integrated teams of civil rights activists mounted what they called "Freedom Rides" to highlight the illegal imposition of racial segregation on interstate buses, whose operations came under federal law and the constitution. They had teams on Greyhound and Trailways buses to travel through southern capitals, with the final stop intended as New Orleans. The teams encountered increasing hostility and violence as they made their way deeper into the South.

On May 2, 1961, Connor had won a landslide election for his sixth term as Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham. As Commissioner, he had administrative authority over the police and fire departments, schools, public health service, and libraries, all of which were segregated by state law. [14] Tom King, a candidate running for mayor of Birmingham, met with Connor on May 8, 1961, to pay his respects. In addition, he asked him to refrain from announcing support for the other leading mayoral candidate, Art Hanes, so that King's chances would be greater. At the end of the meeting, Connor noted that he was expecting the Freedom Riders to reach Birmingham the following Sunday, Mother's Day. He stated, "We'll be ready for them, too," and King responded, "I bet you will, Commissioner," as he walked out. [15]

The Freedom Riders arrived in Birmingham on May 14, 1961. After their stop in Anniston, Alabama, the Greyhound bus was attacked and they were offered no police protection. After they left the town, they were forced to stop by a violent mob that firebombed and burned the bus, but no activists were fatally hurt. A new Greyhound bus was put into service and departed for Birmingham. The activists on the earlier Trailways bus had been accosted by KKK members who got on the bus in Atlanta and beat up the activists, pushing them all to the back of the bus.

As the Trailways bus reached the terminal in Birmingham, a large mob of white Klansmen and news reporters was waiting for them. The Riders were viciously attacked soon after they got off the bus and attempted to get service at the all-white lunch counter. Some were taken to the loading dock area, away from reporters, but some reporters were also beaten with metal bars, pipes, and bats and one's camera was destroyed. After fifteen minutes, the police finally arrived, but by then most Klansmen had left. [16] [17]

Connor had purposely let the Klansmen beat the Riders for fifteen minutes with no police interference. He publicly blamed the violence on many factors, saying that "No policemen were in sight as the buses arrived, because they were visiting their mothers on Mother's Day". [18] He insisted that the violence came from out-of-town meddlers and that police had rushed to the scene "as quickly as possible." [19] The violence was covered by national media.

He said:

As I have said on numerous occasions, we are not going to stand for this in Birmingham. And if necessary we will fill the jail full and we don't care whose toes we step on. I am saying now to these meddlers from out of our city the best thing for them to do is stay out if they don't want to get slapped in jail. Our people of Birmingham are a peaceful people and we never have any trouble here unless some people come into our city looking for trouble. And I've never seen anyone yet look for trouble who wasn't able to find it. [19]

In 1962, Connor ordered the closing of 60 Birmingham parks rather than follow a federal court order to desegregate public facilities.

In November 1962, Birmingham voters changed the city's form of government. Rather than an at-large election of three commissioners, who had specific oversight of certain city departments, there would be a mayor-council form of government. Members of the city council were to be elected from nine single-member districts. Blacks were still largely disenfranchised. The city had changed its government in response to the extremely negative perception of the city. It had been derisively nicknamed "Bombingham" by outsiders for numerous attacks on civil rights activists and blacks moving into new areas of the city. For instance, in 1961 when the president of the city's Chamber of Commerce was visiting Japan, he saw a newspaper photo of a bus engulfed in flames, which occurred during the Freedom Rides. Bull Connor arranged for opponents to have time to attack civil rights activists when their bus reached Birmingham.

Endorsed by Governor George C. Wallace, Connor attempted to run for mayor, but lost on April 2, 1963. Connor and his fellow commissioners filed suit to block the change in power, but on May 23, 1963, the Supreme Court of Alabama ruled against them. Connor ended his 23-year tenure in the post. Citing a general law, he had argued that the change could not take effect until the October 1 following the date of the election, but the Supreme Court of Alabama held that the general law was preempted by a special law applicable to only the City of Birmingham. [14]

Birmingham campaign

Local civil rights activists had been unable to negotiate much change with the city or business leaders, in their efforts to gain integration of facilities and hiring of blacks by local businesses. They invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his team to help mount a more concerted campaign. The day after the April election, he and local civil rights leaders began "Project 'C'" (for "confrontation") in Birmingham against the business community. They used economic boycotts and demonstrations to seek integration of stores and job opportunities. Throughout April 1963 Martin Luther King led smaller demonstrations, which resulted in his arrest along with many others. [20]

King wanted to have massive arrests to highlight the brutal police tactics used by Connor and his subordinates. (By extension, the campaign was intended to demonstrate the general suppression by other Southern police officials as well). After King was arrested and jailed, he wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail, which became noted as an expression of moral argument for civil rights activism. The goal of the campaign was to gain mass arrests of non-violent protesters and overwhelm the judicial and penal systems. It would also demonstrate to national media and local residents the strong desire of African Americans to exercise their constitutional rights as citizens.

Children's Crusade

In the final phase of Project C, James Bevel, SCLC's Director of Direct Action, introduced a revolutionary and controversial new tactic to use young people in the demonstrations. Most adults were working and could not afford to keep losing time at work. On May 2, 1963, the first youths and students walked out of the 16th Street Baptist Church and attempted to march to Birmingham's City Hall to talk to the Mayor. By the end of the day, 959 children, ranging from ages 6–18, had been arrested.

The next day, even more students joined the marches. Connor ordered the use of fire hoses and attack dogs against them. This did not stop the demonstrators, but generated bad publicity for Connor through the news media. The use of fire hoses continued and by May 7, Connor and the police department had jailed more than 3,000 demonstrators. [20]

The blacks' economic boycott of businesses that refused to hire them and downtown stores that kept segregated facilities helped gain negotiation by the city's business leaders. The SCLC and the Senior Citizens Committee, who represented a majority of Birmingham businesses, came to an agreement. On May 10, they agreed on desegregation of lunch counters, restrooms, fitting rooms and drinking fountains at department stores, the upgrading in position and hiring of blacks, cooperation with SCLC legal representatives in releasing all jailed persons, and the establishment of formal communication between black and whites through the Senior Citizens Committee. [21] [22]

Later life and death

On June 3, 1964, Connor resumed a place in government when he was elected as President of the Alabama Public Service Commission. He suffered a stroke on December 7, 1966, and he used a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He was present on February 16, 1968, when the Haleyville, Alabama police station made the first use of 9-1-1 as an emergency telephone number in the United States. Months later, Connor won another term, but he was defeated in 1972.

He suffered another stroke on February 26, 1973, which left him unconscious. He died a few weeks later, in March of that year. [23] Survivors included his widow, Beara, a daughter and a brother, Edward King Connor.[ citation needed ]


Connor's brutality and tolerance for violence against civil rights activists contributed to KKK and other violence against blacks in the city of Birmingham. On a Sunday in September 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing destroyed much of the church that had been the center of the civil rights campaign, causing the death of four African-American girls. The city and movement leaders had just reached a negotiated agreement on integration of facilities and jobs.

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Joseph Charles Jones is a civil rights leader, attorney, co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and former chairperson of the SNCC's direct action committee. Jones was born in Chester, South Carolina. He led and participated in several sit-in movements during the 1960s. He served as chair of SNCC's direct action committee. In 1961 Jones joined the Freedom Riders driving from Atlanta, Georgia, to Birmingham, Alabama; he was later arrested in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1966, Jones organized an activist organization called the Action Coordinating Committee to End Segregation in the Suburbs or ACCESS. He is a graduate of Howard University Law School (1966). Jones passed the North Carolina State Bar in 1976. As of 2011 he was serving as the chairperson for the Biddleville/Smallwood/Five Points Neighborhood Association.


  1. "Eugene "Bull" Connor - Encyclopedia of Alabama". Encyclopedia of Alabama.
  2. "Eyes on the Prize", including video of Connor, PBS
  3. "Connor's Tank Returns to Birmingham" Archived 2013-01-11 at Archive.today , NBC 13
  4. 1 2 Baggett, James L. (October 12, 2009). "Eugene "Bull" Connor". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved February 18, 2011.
  5. , Encyclopedia of Alabama
  6. Kestenbaum, Lawrence. "The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Connor". politicalgraveyard.com.
  7. Baggett, James L. "Eugene 'Bull' Connor." Encyclopedia of Alabama.
  8. Brands, Edgar G., "Broadcasts of Game Blanket America",The Sporting News (St. Louis, Mo.), April 23, 1936, p. 2
  9. https://books.google.com/books?id=AC12CwAAQBAJ&pg=PT36&lpg=PT36&dq=There%27s+not+enough+room+in+town+for+Bull+and+the+Commies&source=bl&ots=Apbr9ERDZI&sig=UugFNBLjYRkyEfW6Dun6V1sxOW0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjonK-Iq7feAhVR-6wKHe9ABa8Q6AEwE3oECAgQAQ#v=onepage&q=There's%20not%20enough%20room%20in%20town%20for%20Bull%20and%20the%20Commies&f=false
  10. "How 'Communism' Brought Racial Equality To The South".
  11. J. Barton Starr, "Birmingham and the 'Dixiecrat' Convention of 1948," Alabama Historical Quarterly 1970 32(1–2): 23–50
  12. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=
  13. https://www.nytimes.com/1973/03/11/archives/eugene-bull-connor-dies-at-75-police-head-fought-integration-less.html
  14. 1 2 Baggett, James. "Eugene "Bull" Connor". Encyclopedia of Alabama. March 9, 2007. April 7, 2011.< http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-1091>
  15. Nunnelley, William. Bull Connor. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1991, p. 93.
  16. Arsenault, Raymond. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 154.
  17. Terry Gross, "Get On the Bus: The Freedom Riders of 1961", 12 January 2006; accessed 10 January 2017
  18. Dierenfield, Bruce. The Civil Rights Movement. Great Britain: Pearson Education Limited, 2004.
  19. 1 2 Nunnelley, William. Bull Connor. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1991, p. 154.
  20. 1 2 "Segregation at All Costs: Bull Connor and the Civil Rights Movement", YouTube, 8 Apr 2011
  21. Nunnelley, William. Bull Connor. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1991, p. 157.
  22. https://www.nytimes.com/1973/03/11/archives/eugene-bull-connor-dies-at-75-police-head-fought-integration-less.html
  23. "Eugene 'Bull' Connor Dies at 75", Associated Press, March 11, 1973

Further reading