Connor, “Bull” (1897–1973)
Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor was a long time police commissioner of Birmingham, Alabama, who supported segregation. Connor was born on July 11, 1897, in Selma, Alabama. While he enjoyed popular support among Birmingham's white voters, he was not well known outside of the city. This Page 186 | Top of Articlechanged in May 1963, when he ordered the use of fire hoses and police dogs to deter citizens who were protesting the condition of civil rights for African Americans in Birmingham. This display of violence catapulted the nation's attention to the Civil Rights Movement at a time when the movement was in need of political support.
The confrontation in Birmingham was in stark contract to the movement's previous stage in Albany, Georgia. Connor's tough stand against integration was in contrast to that of the local Georgia sheriff Laurie Pritchett, who, for the sake of expedience, allowed demonstrators to protest without incident. Connor was very much a product of his environment. Having been raised in Alabama's Black Belt region, strict social segregation of black and white citizens was a way of life. Many white citizens in Birmingham held similar beliefs, although many were not considered to be members of higher socioeconomic status. These citizens gave Connor a political base that supported a longtime career in public service, including six terms as police commissioner.
Segregation was the law of the land as far as many white citizens of Birmingham were concerned. In his inaugural remarks in 1957, upon winning the post of Commissioner of Public Safety, Connor publicly stated he would protect segregation by any legal means. This was reflected in many aspects of daily life in Birmingham. The city was often described as the most segregated large city in the nation. For example, in 1960, it was the only city, with at least 50,000 citizens, with an all-white police force. When federal courts ordered public parks and golf courses in Birmingham to integrate, Connor had them closed rather than face an end to segregated facilities.
While Connor will be remembered primarily for his role of violence against civil rights marchers in May 1963, he will also be remembered for things he did not do. Primarily, he seldom took action against individuals who perpetuated violence against African Americans in Birmingham, especially those who were involved with the Civil Rights Movement. Connor could be counted on to look the other way when violence was taken against black citizens in Birmingham. One of the most notorious moments was allowing an attack by members of the Ku Klux Klan against Freedom Riders as the bus stopped in Birmingham.
After serving two terms as president of the Alabama Public Service Commission, Connor suffered a severe stroke and died March 11, 1973.
Further Readings: McWhorter, Diane. Carry Me Home. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001; Nunnelley, William A. Bull Connor. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991.