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 Levens [1]

Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor (July 11, 1897  March 10, 1973) was an American politician who served as Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama, for more than two decades. He strongly opposed the 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. Connor was a Southern Democrat.


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]

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] Willie Mays remembered listening to him call games: "Pretty good announcer, too, although I think he used to get too excited." [9]

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". [10]

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 caused by the group's reported communist philosophy, [11] with Connor noting at the time, "There's not enough room in town for Bull and the Commies."[ citation needed ]

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. [12]

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." [13]

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.[ citation needed ]

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.[ citation needed ]

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. [14]

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 ride Greyhound and Trailways buses traveling 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. [15] 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. [16]

After a stop in Anniston, Alabama, the Greyhound bus of the Freedom Riders was attacked. They were offered no police protection. After they left 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 placed into service and departed for Birmingham. The activists on the earlier Trailways bus had been accosted by KKK members who boarded the bus in Atlanta and beat up the activists, pushing them all to the back of the bus.

The Freedom Riders arrived in Birmingham on May 14, 1961. As the Trailways bus reached the terminal in Birmingham, a large mob of Klansmen and news reporters was waiting for them. The Riders were viciously attacked soon after they disembarked from the bus and attempted to gain service at the whites-only 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 15 minutes, the police finally arrived, but by then most Klansmen had left. [17] [18]

Connor intentionally let the Klansmen beat the Riders for 15 minutes with no police intervention. 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". [19] He insisted that the violence came from out-of-town meddlers and that police had rushed to the scene "as quickly as possible." [20] 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. [20]

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

In November 1962, in response to the extremely negative perception of the city -- it was derisively nicknamed "Bombingham" by outsiders for the numerous attacks on the homes and churches of black civil rights activists -- 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. 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 had 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. [21] 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. [15]

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, Dr. King and local civil rights leaders began "Project 'C'" (for "confrontation") against the Birmingham business community. They used economic boycotts and demonstrations to seek integration of stores and job opportunities. Throughout April 1963, King led smaller demonstrations, which resulted in his arrest along with many others. [22]

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 a 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 of using young people in the demonstrations. Most adults were working and could not afford to take off. 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, against whom Connor ordered the use of fire hoses and attack dogs. 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 detained more than 3,000 demonstrators. [22]

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 detainees, and the establishment of formal communication between black and whites through the Senior Citizens Committee. [23] [24]

Later life and death

On June 3, 1964, Connor resumed a place in government when he was elected President of the Alabama Public Service Commission. He suffered a stroke on December 7, 1966, and used a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He was present on February 16, 1968, when the Haleyville, Alabama police precinct made the first use of 9-1-1 as an emergency telephone number. Months later, Connor won another term, but 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. [25] 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 Ku Klux Klan and other violence against blacks in the city of Birmingham. On a Sunday in September 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing destroyed a portion of the church basement causing the death of four African-American girls. The church was known as the center of civil rights activities in Birmingham. The city and movement leaders had just reached a negotiated agreement on integration of facilities and jobs. The deaths of the children prompted the Attorney General Robert Kennedy to call Governor George Wallace and threaten to send in federal troops to control violence and bombings in Birmingham.

Related Research Articles

Civil rights movement Social movement in the United States during the 20th century

The civil rights movement in the United States was a decades-long struggle by African Americans to end legalized racial discrimination, disenfranchisement and racial segregation in the United States. The movement has its origins in the Reconstruction era during the late 19th century, although the movement achieved its largest legislative gains in the mid-1960s after years of direct actions and grassroots protests. The social movement's major nonviolent resistance campaigns eventually secured new protections in federal law for the human rights of all Americans.

Letter from Birmingham Jail Open letter written by Martin Luther King, Jr

The Letter from Birmingham Jail, also known as the Letter from Birmingham City Jail and The Negro Is Your Brother, is an open letter written on April 16, 1963, by Martin Luther King Jr. It says that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws and to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts. Responding to being referred to as an "outsider", King writes: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Southern Christian Leadership Conference African-American civil rights organization

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

Fred Shuttlesworth Civil rights activist

Frederick Lee "Fred" Shuttlesworth was a U.S. civil rights activist who led the fight against segregation and other forms of racism as a minister in Birmingham, Alabama. He was a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, initiated and was instrumental in the 1963 Birmingham Campaign, and continued to work against racism and for alleviation of the problems of the homeless in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he took up a pastorate in 1961. He returned to Birmingham after his retirement in 2007. He helped Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.

Diane Nash American businesswoman known for civil rights activism

Diane Judith Nash is an American civil rights activist, and a leader and strategist of the student wing of the Civil Rights Movement.

Birmingham campaign American civil rights campaign in Alabama

The Birmingham campaign, or Birmingham movement, was a movement organized in early 1963 by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to bring attention to the integration efforts of African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama.

James Bevel 1960s Civil Rights Movement Leader

James Luther Bevel was a minister and a leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. As the Director of Direct Action and of Nonviolent Education of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), he initiated, strategized, directed, and developed SCLC's three major successes of the era: the 1963 Birmingham Children's Crusade, the 1965 Selma voting rights movement, and the 1966 Chicago open housing movement. He suggested that SCLC call for and join a March on Washington in 1963. Bevel strategized the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches, which contributed to Congressional passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Albert Burton Boutwell was the 19th Lieutenant Governor of Alabama. A Democrat, Boutwell served Governor John Malcolm Patterson of the same political party, from 1959-1963.

Floyd Mann was born in Daviston, Tallapoosa County, Alabama, and served as Director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety between 1959 and 1963. He is particularly notable for his interactions with the Freedom Riders who passed through Alabama in May 1961.

John H. Cross Jr. was an American pastor and Civil Rights activist. He was best known as the pastor of the 16th Street Baptist Church, an African American Baptist congregation in Birmingham, Alabama, at the time of church's racially motivated bombing in 1963. The bombing, which ripped through the church and killed four young girls, became a rallying cry for the Civil Rights Movement and propelled the problems of racial segregation in The South into the national spotlight. Cross spent much of the rest of his life working for racial reconciliation in the South.

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated Southern United States in 1961 and subsequent years to challenge the non-enforcement of the United States Supreme Court decisions Morgan v. Virginia (1946) and Boynton v. Virginia (1960), which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. The Southern states had ignored the rulings and the federal government did nothing to enforce them. The first Freedom Ride left Washington, D.C. on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17.

Freedom Rides Museum United States historic place

The Freedom Rides Museum is located at 210 South Court Street in Montgomery, Alabama, in the building which was until 1995 the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station. It was the site of a violent attack on participants in the 1961 Freedom Ride during the Civil Rights Movement. The May 1961 assaults, carried out by a mob of white protesters who confronted the civil rights activists, "shocked the nation and led the Kennedy Administration to side with civil rights protesters for the first time."

Lola Mae Haynes Hendricks was corresponding secretary for Fred Shuttlesworth's Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights from 1956 to 1963. She assisted Wyatt Walker in planning the early portions of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's involvement in the 1963 Birmingham Campaign during the Civil Rights Movement.

The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) was a civil rights organization in Birmingham, Alabama, United States, which coordinated boycotts and sponsored federal lawsuits aimed at dismantling segregation in Birmingham and Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. Fred Shuttlesworth, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, served as president of the group from its founding in 1956 until 1969. The ACMHR's crowning moment came during the pivotal Birmingham Campaign which it coordinated along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the Spring of 1963.

Charles Person is an African-American civil rights activist who participated in the 1961 Freedom Rides. He was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Following his 1960 graduation from David Tobias Howard High School, he attended Morehouse College. Person was the youngest Freedom Rider on the original Congress of Racial Equality Freedom Ride.

The Birmingham riot of 1963 was a civil disorder in Birmingham, Alabama, that was provoked by bombings on the night of May 11, 1963. The bombings targeted black leaders of the Birmingham campaign, a mass protest for racial justice. The places bombed were the parsonage of Rev. A. D. King, brother of Martin Luther King, Jr., and a motel owned by A. G. Gaston, where King and others organizing the campaign had stayed. It is believed that the bombings were carried out by members of the Ku Klux Klan, in cooperation with Birmingham police. In response, local African-Americans burned businesses and fought police throughout the downtown area.

This is a timeline of the 1954 to 1968 civil rights movement in the United States, a nonviolent mid-20th century freedom movement to gain legal equality and the enforcement of constitutional rights for African Americans. The goals of the movement included securing equal protection under the law, ending legally established racial discrimination, and gaining equal access to public facilities, education reform, fair housing, and the ability to vote.

Gary Thomas Rowe Jr., known in Witness Protection as Thomas Neil Moore, was a paid informant and agent provocateur for the FBI. As an informant, he infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan to monitor and disrupt it, and incited violence as part of the FBI's COINTELPRO project. Rowe was accused of participating in and helping to plan violent Klan activity against African Americans and civil rights groups.

Joseph Charles Jones was an American civil rights leader, attorney, co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and chairperson of the SNCC's direct action committee.

Audrey Faye Hendricks is known as the youngest marcher to participate in the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. At just nine years old, Audrey was involved in the Brown v. Board Education march with Civil Rights Leaders to establish that racial segregation in public schools, is unconstitutional, being one of many children who were arrested and jailed. Audrey was also the only child involved in the Children's Crusade on May 2, 1963.


  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. Mays, Willie (1988). Say Hey: The Autobiography of Willie Mays. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 30. ISBN   0671632922.
  10. Goluboff, Risa (2016-01-25). Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s. ISBN   9780190262273.
  11. "How 'Communism' Brought Racial Equality To The South".
  12. J. Barton Starr, "Birmingham and the 'Dixiecrat' Convention of 1948," Alabama Historical Quarterly 1970 32(1–2): 23–50
  13. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=
  14. https://www.nytimes.com/1973/03/11/archives/eugene-bull-connor-dies-at-75-police-head-fought-integration-less.html
  15. 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>
  16. Nunnelley, William. Bull Connor. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1991, p. 93.
  17. Arsenault, Raymond. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 154.
  18. Terry Gross, "Get On the Bus: The Freedom Riders of 1961", 12 January 2006; accessed 10 January 2017
  19. Dierenfield, Bruce. The Civil Rights Movement. Great Britain: Pearson Education Limited, 2004.
  20. 1 2 Nunnelley, William. Bull Connor. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1991, p. 154.
  21. Connor v. State, 275 Ala. 230, 153 So. 2d 787 (1963).
  22. 1 2 "Segregation at All Costs: Bull Connor and the Civil Rights Movement", YouTube, 8 Apr 2011
  23. Nunnelley, William. Bull Connor. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1991, p. 157.
  24. https://www.nytimes.com/1973/03/11/archives/eugene-bull-connor-dies-at-75-police-head-fought-integration-less.html
  25. "Eugene 'Bull' Connor Dies at 75", Associated Press, March 11, 1973

Further reading