A vivid portrait of the man who made Birmingham infamous, Nunnelley’s biography covers Connor’s early life as a sportscaster, his years as a nearly pathological police chief, and his reign as president of a corrupt public service commission.
While providing the first published biographical study of Connor, Bull also traces the evolution of the civil rights movement in Birmingham. The book amplifies traditional one-dimensional accounts through the use of such primary sources a s Connor FBI files gained from a Freedom of Information request, Connor papers discovered in an old fire station about to be demolished, files from a law firm which represented Connor, interviews, and newspaper files. Connor’s racist image remains intact, but a more complete portrait of the controversial commissioner emerges.
Eugene “Bull” Connor gained infamy during the spring of 1963 as the heavy-handed Birmingham police commissioner who turned power hoses and police dogs on the black demonstrators led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Bull Connor and Birmingham symbolized hard-line Southern racism. Connor’s actions received national and international media coverage, which dramatized the plight of black people in segregated areas, giving the civil rights movement much-needed attention. After viewing television reports of the fire-hose and police-dogs episode, President John Kennedy said, “The civil rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He helped is as much as Abraham Lincoln.”
Bull Connor was an unlikely catalyst for the civil rights movement. Rather than forestalling integration, his response to the 1963 demonstrations hastened the demise of the dual society of which he became a symbol. Within weeks of King’s much-publicized Birmingham campaign, Congress took the first steps toward enacting the most sweeping civil rights legislation in American history. Birmingham was a turning point in the civil rights struggle, and Connor was the movement’s perfect adversary.