Friday dogblogging: Remembering the dogs of Birmingham

When we launched our Friday dogblogging feature earlier this year, we mentioned Southerners' special love for canines. But an honest understanding of dogs' history in our region also recognizes how the animals were used to brutalize Southerners and Southern progress.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth certainly understood this -- and he used that understanding to help bring down Jim Crow.

A prominent civil rights leader and one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Shuttlesworth invited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to his segregated city of Birmingham, Ala. back in 1963 for what he called "Project C."

The "C" stood for "confrontation."

With the city's police chief, Eugene "Bull" Connor, using the Klan to carry out terrorism against African Americans, Shuttlesworth sought to force the local powers-that-be into a fresh accounting of segregation's true costs. The confrontations that eventually occurred between police officers and nonviolent civil rights marchers -- including high school students taking part in Shuttlesworth's Children's Crusade -- brought to the entire world images of police dogs attacking marchers.

The public was outraged.

The shocking scenes of peaceful, frightened protesters being menaced by snarling, biting animals -- like the Associated Press photo above by Bill Hudson, of an attack on Birmingham protest observer Walter Gadsden on May 3, 1963 -- showed in a visceral way the brutality at the heart of white supremacy. They also ultimately helped create the political atmosphere necessary to pass meaningful civil rights legislation.

We thought of those images this week when we read that the directors of the Birmingham International Airport voted to rename it the Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport, in honor of the Reverend. Though he spent most of the last 47 years leading a church in Cincinnati, Shuttlesworth, now 86, returned to the Birmingham area earlier this year for rehabilitation after suffering a mild stroke.

Before the name change is official, the authority needs the OK of the Federal Aviation Administration and Shuttlesworth. He's expected to approve.