In the months leading up to the March on Washington, a pivotal civil rights campaign was fought in Birmingham, Alabama, the most segregated city in the US. "Colonel" Stone Johnson remembers how Martin Luther King shone a light of hope on those dark days.
The March on Washington, for freedom, justice and equality, let the folk know what terrible things were going on. They put the march on television and millions of Americans saw it. They didn't know that blacks were being kicked and beaten in the streets in towns like ours. The march opened the world's eyes.
For years, foot soldiers - ordinary people like myself - were demonstrating against the disadvantage of the poor folk. In Birmingham, white people had a lot of hate and little respect for black folk.
Segregation was the law and it was way out of line - a lot of folk were afraid
I had a supervisor at my job with the L&N Railroad who didn't respect nobody, black or white. Back then I was a union representative and I used to say he was hell on white folk and double hell on black ones.
There, segregation was the law and it was way out of line. I saw white men kick grown black men and laugh about it. A lot of folk were afraid.
We couldn't eat in the restaurants. You had money and the food smelt good, but they would say: "We don't serve blacks." But they still wanted our money. They let us eat in the kitchens but we had to pay the same price as the other fellow.
It didn't matter how much money we spent in downtown clothing stores, we couldn't use the rest-rooms. There were no restrooms for what they then called the "coloured folk".
In the months leading up to the March on Washington we had mass meetings every Monday night at different churches to get the fear out of folks' hearts.
When things got real rough, our main preacher and leader, Reverend Fred Shuttleworth, called for Dr King to come in and help us. At that time, Dr King was involved in bus boycotts in Florida. It seemed like he was losing ground, but I think it was part of God's plan to slow him down so he could come to Birmingham. We needed him so badly.
He and Shuttleworth had a good connection; together they were an inspiration.
They called for volunteers for the non-violent army, to march and demonstrate. We didn't have any fear because we knew it was right.
In the months leading up to the March on Washington, we marched all the time - to the courthouse, downtown. Children marched. But the police chief "Bull" Connor put the folks in jail. In the days leading up to Easter, some 600 schoolchildren were put in jail.
He instructed the police to set the dogs on the people and the firemen to turn the hoses on them.
He wanted the marches broken up at any costs. They beat up news reporters from around the world, they didn't want the news to get out that they were doing such a low-down trick to human beings.