Interview with David J. Vann


David J. Vann:

Well, I remember now the day we swore in the mayor, new mayor and council, and the headline said, "A New Day for Birmingham," and before the day was over, we discovered we had two mayors, two city governments, and Dr. Martin Luther King and the SCLC starting marches up and down the street.** Uh, At first, there was a lot of resentment, both in the black community and the white community. I remember, I felt, you know, that I had set out to prove what you could do through the democratic process, and how you could bring substantial change even in tough things like race, by vote of the people of the city. Some of the black leadership had worked hard on electing a new mayor, and defeating Connor. They felt they had commitments from the new government, and Dr. King was trying to pick up their crackers you might say. Um, But then, about a week or so later, Bull Connor, uh, brought the police dogs to the scene of the marches, and he was also the head of the fire department, and he had the fire department and their hoses, come to the scene of the march, and I remember I was talking to a black businessman on the telephone, and he was expressing a great deal of resentment about King coming in and messing up the thing, just when we were getting a new start, and then he said to me, he said, but, Lawyer Vann, he said they've turned tire hoses on those black girls, they're rolling that little girl there, right there in the middle of the street, now, I can't talk to you no more,** and there in a twinkling of an eye, the whole black community was instantaneously consolidated behind King. They were no longer arguing among themselves they were all, like one man, behind Dr. King. And while many people probably think these marches took place over many blocks, very seldom did they march further than from 16th Street to 17th Street. And it was a masterpiece of the use of media to explain a cause to the general public of the nation. Because in those days, you had fifteen minutes of national news, and fifteen minutes of local news, and in marching only one block, they could get enough news film to fill all of the newscasts of all of the television stations in the United States.** And of course, when the police dogs arrived and they started the hoses, the — the water, that just created very dramatic pictures, there was no way Dr. King could have bought that kind of thing. I remember I was on a panel with Wyatt T. Walker, who was one of King's strategists, and he said that, they tried to talk us out of starting the demonstrations, and give the new government a chance. But we realized that this was our last chance, to demonstrate against Bull Connor. And with his colorful language, and colorful expressions, we knew that sooner or later he would do something that would help our cause. And they were right, cause, the ball game was all over, once the hoses and the dogs were brought forward.