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In '63 march's footsteps

New generation honors Birmingham of 50 years ago.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Fifty years ago, Birmingham leaders used fire hoses, police dogs, and jailings to stop waves of students who marched out of a church and onto downtown streets seeking equal rights for blacks.

Thursday, more than 1,000 students re-created that landmark demonstration, bringing tears to the eyes of Ronald Short, 65. He was only 15 when he participated in the "Children's Crusade," which authorities in the then-segregated city met with overwhelming force that shocked the nation. He wiped away tears as he joined in the commemoration five decades later.

The experience made Tamisha Hall regret she wasn't around for the original protest.

"I wish I was born back in that time so I can say, 'I want to go to jail for my freedom,' " said Hall, 15.

An estimated 1,400 students from a dozen high schools and colleges marched from Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church to mark the 50th anniversary of the Children's Crusade.

The march 50 years ago ended with the city unleashing fire hoses and police dogs on the demonstrators, who ranged from grade schoolers to college students. More than 2,500 were arrested over two days.

The ghastly images from TV and newspapers spotlighted the depth of racial turmoil in the South, and the resulting public outcry helped spur passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Paulette Roby, 63, still remembers the spot where she was arrested as a girl.

"We had left 16th Street Church where we're standing now, and I was arrested right there where the fire truck is," Roby said.

Roby was gratified to see so many people pouring out of the church during the reenactment.

"It makes me feel good to know that they are interested enough to come out and see what took place at that time, and it lets me know they are ready to move forward with what we started," she said.

Protests against legalized racial segregation in Birmingham began in April 1963, but relatively few people participated and the demonstrations generated only limited attention.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his aides began the Children's Crusade on May 2, 1963. Police arrested hundreds of young people marching through downtown from 16th Street Baptist Church, which months later would be the site of a bombing that killed four black girls before worship on a Sunday morning.