Rev. James Orange, who was one of the young people confronted that day, said, "The dogs didn't turn us around. The water hoses didn't turn us around, and you had the police being outworked. When they'd beat down one group, here was another group coming behind them."
Within a week there were nearly 3,000 students in jail. Connor built outdoor pens at the county fairgrounds to hold them.
That May, all of America saw what was happening on their evening news. Americans saw the children of Birmingham doing battle for their future.
"It was controversial, it was risky, but obviously it worked. I mean, it had an electric impact," Smith said of the students' participation in the Birmingham protests.
Dick Gregory, a political activist and popular entertainer of the day, agrees. "There were people that didn't give a damn about a Negro, but they still didn't want to see dogs biting little children. They still didn't want to see fire hoses on people. … Those horrible pictures coming out forced this government to do things that it really didn't want to do and it wouldn't have done," he said.
In Washington, President Kennedy, who had done nothing until now, finally intervened. He quietly pressured the business community in Birmingham to integrate lunch counters, department stores, and other public facilities — in defiance of local laws.
King was 34 that summer. His movement had been saved by the children. Birmingham had set the nation on fire.
The whirlwinds of revolt in Birmingham were being felt across the country as city after city erupted in conflict over civil rights.
In Greensboro, N.C., a student leader named Jesse Jackson led a protest that resulted in the arrests of more than a thousand demonstrators. In Jackson, Miss., teenagers sat in at Woolworth's lunch counters. Hundreds were arrested. In Cambridge, Md., the National Guard was called in to restore order after demonstrations led to violence.
Georgia Congressman John Lewis, a Democrat who was one of the young leaders in the civil rights movement, remembers how the Birmingham demonstrations spurred a nationwide movement. "There were people saying if they can sit-in in Birmingham, if they can march in Birmingham, we can march in Nashville. If they can march in Jackson, Mississippi, we can march in Albany, Georgia. The time was right. It was an unbelievable period," he said.
King was now in demand to speak or lead a march all over the South and now he saw an opportunity to go national.
A giant march on Washington had been a goal of the civil rights movement for some years. A. Philip Randolph, the head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters — a powerful black labor union — had been talking about it since 1941. Now Randolph and King and other civil rights leaders agreed they would do it together.
During his presidential campaign, Kennedy had often said he would end segregation "with the stroke of a pen." When he got to the White House many people sent him pens. But by the summer of 1963, the president had done almost nothing about civil rights.
John Lewis said civil rights leaders were becoming impatient with Kennedy's reluctance to take action.