Who is Bull Connor?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

One of the most infamous of segregationists in the Deep South during the decade of the 1960’s, Theophilus Eugene Connor began his political career as a Democrat but was instrumental in creating serious rifts within that party over the issue of race relations. He is best remembered as the Public Safety Commissioner for the city of Birmingham, Alabama. His tenure in office is remembered as a period marked by the use of police dogs and open fire hoses on Freedom Fighters, African American citizens who gathered in public assembly, and anyone that Connor viewed as promoting the end of segregation in the city.

Sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr., whom Bull Connor had arrested.
Sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr., whom Bull Connor had arrested.

Born on 11 July 1897, Bull Connor entered the political arena during the 1920’s. By 1936, Connor was elected police commissioner for the city of Birmingham, a position that he held until 1952. After a four year break, he returned to the office in 1956. Over the same period of time, Bull Connor became prominent in the Alabama State Democratic Party, a connection that led him to conflict with the national party on a number of social issues, including racial segregation.

Bull Connor often employed the approach of describing those who were not in agreement with his political and social stances as Communists. For example, Connor cited Communist tendencies within the Southern Negro Youth Congress as his reasons for raiding a 1948 meeting of the group and arresting Glen Taylor, Idaho senator and guest speaker for the event, on charges of violating the city’s segregation laws. Connor expressed similar sentiments when he led the Alabama caucus out of the 1948 Democratic National Convention, largely due to the civil rights reforms that were on the agenda for discussion at the Convention.

Due to a controversy surrounding the involvement of Bull Connor in a personal relationship with his private secretary, Connor chose to not run for reelection to his post in 1952. However, he returned in 1956 and established his administration once again, with little to no variance in his approach. Connor appeared to be particularly mindful of preventing a similar event in Birmingham of the recent successful bus boycott that occurred in Montgomery, Alabama. His tactics went as far as raiding a meeting between ministers of churches in Birmingham and Montgomery and arresting them on a charge of vagrancy.

Bull Connor continued to be a prominent civic official in Birmingham during the 1960’s. Known to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan and an ardent opponent of the American Civil Rights Movement, Connor seemed to often turn a blind eye to the actions of law enforcement officers and others against civil rights activists and supporters. His actions went a long way in establishing a national reputation for Birmingham as the most racially divided city in the country. Connor instigated the 1963 arrest of Dr. Martin Luther King and unwittingly allowed King the time to write his famous Letter From Birmingham Jail, considered one of the most important documents in the history of the non-violent struggle for racial equality.

A change in the structure of the city government of Birmingham in 1962 led to the abolition of the commission position held by Bull Connor. Attempts to run for mayor of the city were subsequently unsuccessful. However, Bull Connor became the director of the Alabama Public Service Commission in 1964, a post he held until 1972. A stroke in late 1966 confined him to a wheelchair, but he continued to oversee his responsibilities. One major event as his tenure as Public Service Commissioner was the implementation of the use of 911 as a nationwide telephone number for emergency assistance, with the first use taking place in Haleyville, Alabama on 16 February 1968.

After suffering a second stroke in February 1973, Bull Connor began a decline that ended with his death on 10 March 1973. His legacy includes some of the most severe abuses of civil authority in the history of the United States, and continues to serve as a reminder of one of the most violent and shameful periods in American history.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


Bull Connor was a hard-core Democrat. There is no "but" about it. While is may be painful today to acknowledge this, saying anything less is to reinvent history.


He let the Klan know the comings and goings of the FBI as well the Civil Rights leaders. An FBI asked him what he thought of Jackie Robinson.

Connor stumbled for his answer. The agent said, "It's the only place where a Black man can wave a big wooden stick at a White man and not get lynched for it."

Blacks and whites alike built this country.


@OceanSwimmer: According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Connor was not a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but did protect Klansmen who committed racial violence. Connor did order the Birmingham police to stay away from the Trailways bus station, so Klansmen could attack the Freedom Riders, in 1961. The Freedom Riders were a group of civil right activist who were touring the South to protest segregation.

He also ordered Birmingham police and firemen to use dogs and high-pressure water hoses against demonstrators when Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. came in 1963. Due to this incident, television and newspapers throughout the country saw this mayhem as it unfolded. After that, it helped to shift public opinion in favor of civil-rights legislation. These images can still be seen today and is why people view Birmingham, AL, as a racist place.


What was Bull Connor’s involvement in the Ku Klux Klan?

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