Interview with Sheriff Mel Bailey


Sheriff Melvin Bailey:

These matters of daily demonstrations even on into later becoming night demonstrations required people. At times the numbers would diminish which hurt the leaders in their efforts to get the attention of city hall and county government and state government, federal government. So it obviously became a matter of involving school children. All the time we're running the police into this problem daily, to somehow match the numbers and the spread, and it amounts to hundreds and thousands and several thousand at times, when a great majority at times were school children. Of course, this was clearly a violation of law and it gave the police a vehicle to arrest on. Here both our leaders using juveniles in a problem. Number one, endangering their lives, more than that, drawing them out of public school where they ought to be. Arrests were made on adults for that purpose then the mass number of school children were arrested that should have been in school. The court would immediately remand them to the sheriff, which is coming from the code of Alabama, and this mounted into hundreds and thousands just almost in hours. Required school buses to move them. They couldn't be confined in the then Birmingham city jail. They were in the yard like cattle and being herded into buses, and moved to family court, and then remanded and bused back here to a county jail, to get them in shelter, get them in safe and secure places, boys and girls. At one time I had here in this building on the eighth, seventh, and eighth floor, we had over twelve hundred male juveniles, black, on top of our regular complement of probably near a thousand. I really laugh out loud even today since the problem is somewhat behind us on how the court has come down on crowded jails. Nobody said anything then about being crowded. Now, if I was still in this jail I couldn't have over three hundred and fifty, three hundred and fifty up there. Well, I had ten times that number almost. At the same time, I had six hundred female juveniles in the 4H dormitory** at the fairground. And I, being steeped in police methods and, and the dangers of trying to bring in volunteers, you don't use volunteers in a situation like this, nor in the streets, for that matter, as police go. Suffice to say we have them. We managed all of that over a period of about seven weeks without one added person who was not experienced in corrections and handling people, adult and juvenile. This presented no small problem. There was no such thing as off days, everybody working seven days. Sleeping, cat napping, and just holding fire. We all had the confirmed belief that this couldn't go on for long because it was pressing the issue to the wall.**. And obviously so and purposefully. I was in a meeting with Chief Moore, again, we held it every morning to see just where we were the night before and what was planned for the day. Relating we'd move from sit-ins to kneel-ins that involved the churches in early stages, and then the wholesale street demonstrations almost daily and later nightly. All perfect set up for someone to do something terrible, and it was almost shoulder to shoulder police whenever there was a march or demonstration, a focal point. And city hall was basically that focal point every day in some way. Large scale or small. Had the whole delegation petitioning, for some kind of relief or having had a stand off there in multitude at the door steps. Here later on the mass voter registration.