MARIETTA - Thousands of African-American children were arrested in May 1963 for daring to voice their desire for freedom and equality.
The Children's March, held in Birmingham, Ala., helped lead up to the 1963 March on Washington and gave renewed life and hope to the Civil Rights Movement.
McKinzie Craig, assistant professor in the department of Political Science at Marietta College, showed a movie on the event during the kickoff to Marietta College's Martin Luther King Jr. Week Monday. She said the event is little known.
Al Letson was a speaker during an evening talk during the first day of Marietta College’s MLK Week. (Photo by Amanda Nicholson)
"This is one of the moments we almost never talk about," she said. "Birmingham was so significant."
Craig said as the film pointed out, the Children's March "broke the back of Birmingham. It changed the South."
Craig said there were so many restrictions on adults at the time that they couldn't heed King's call to march and join the movement, but the children could and did.
"There were 4-year-olds in prison," she said. "They did what King wanted them to do."
Ultimately, more than 4,000 children were arrested.
"It fundamentally changed the trajectory," Craig said. "It changed where the (Civil Rights) Movement went...The movement could have ended if the kids hadn't stood up."
The events continued at the college Monday evening, as storyteller and performance poet Al Letson spoke about Bayard Rustin, an African-American, openly gay Quaker who organized the March on Washington in 1963.
Rustin brought Gandhi's protest approach of complete nonviolence to the Civil Rights Movement. He urged King, who had not yet adopted this tactic, to embrace nonviolence and peaceful protesting.
Letson spoke about Montgomery, Ala., in the 1950s as being "one match away from exploding."
"There were armed guards in front of King's house," Letson said. "(Rustin) almost sat down on a shotgun (after entering the home)...(Rustin) said if you're going to do this and be completely nonviolent, you need to get rid of the guns."
Letson said Rustin was a huge influence during the Civil Rights Movement, usually in the front lines unless his sexuality was called in question, which it was many times.
Letson compared the Civil Rights Movement to the gay rights struggle today, where little demonstrations pop up across the country, but there isn't one great organized event.
"Little sparks were starting to happen," Letson said. "They thought, in order to start a fire, we have to connect these sparks. We need to make this catch fire."
And with Rustin helping to organize, the March on Washington happened and was a huge success.
"His aides had a feeling of nirvana, that they had climbed the mountaintop, they had done it," Letson said.
Despite this success, and many others, Letson said the nation is not in a post-racial society.
"I would say when we can stop asking that question is when we know we're post-racial," he said. "We're post-racial when we can have a conversation about it."
Events will continue through the week and will include an honorary reading from King's 1967 speech at Marietta College on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the McDonough Auditorium and a candlelight ceremony to honor Nelson Mandela on Friday at 7 p.m. in the McDonough Auditorium.
On Jan. 28, a discussion will be held by professors Alex Perry and Jamie Moshin, who will explore modern-day civil rights movements. It will be held at 7 p.m. in McDonough Auditorium.
These events are free and open to the public.
Cristie Thomas, civic engagement coordinator for the Office of Civic Engagement at Marietta College, said the importance of history was huge, given the fact that our lives and the latest technology can interfere.
"It's easy to be really detached from history," Thomas said. "It's really important to know where we came from. Most people say we're in a post- racial society, but there is still racisim today. It's important to talk about these things."