|Death: ||Aug. 29, 1997|
Melvin "Mel" Bailey served on the Birmingham police force before becoming sheriff of Jefferson County, Alabama. His career as sheriff began in 1963 and ended with his resignation in 1996, [33 years of service] after a period of illness. Although less famous than Birmingham's Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene "Bull" Connor, Bailey helped shape the police's relationship with the civil rights activists of the early 1960s.
Civil Rights Era
As sheriff of Jefferson County, Bailey's jurisdiction included the city of Birmingham, and his position gave him authority over police officials in the city. During the 1963 marches and protests, Bailey tried to minimize conflict between black protestors and white Klansmen. In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Bailey met with black ministers and leaders, and refused official sanction for Klu Klux Klan activities. He also tried to constrain the racism of the police force, and admitted that Connor and many Birmingham police officers had ties to the Klan and the White Citizens' Councils.
The violence of mid-May demonstrated that Bailey's tactics were not always effective. On May 10, 1963, news conferences announced a compromise between black leaders and white Birmingham businessmen. Connor and other former city councilmen were enraged, and Klan leaders called for retribution. On the night of May 11, bombs exploded at the house of King's brother and at the A.G. Gaston motel, where King and other SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) leaders had been staying. Over Bailey's objections, Connor's policemen came to restrain the black demonstrators who arrived at the scenes of the bombings, and state troopers sent by Governor George Wallace began beating black demonstrators with clubs and handguns. King, other black leaders and some white officials attempted to restore calm, but the night erupted into violence once again. Thirty-five blacks and five whites were injured, seven stores were burnt, and local authorities restored order only after President Kennedy sent federal troops to a nearby military base.
In his later years, Bailey helped desegregate the police force, and remained popular with black and white voters until his retirement in 1996. The events of 1963 demonstrated, however, that Alabama's local and state police forces remained committed to maintaining segregation.
He was Alabama's Law Officer of the Year in 1971 and was inducted into the Alabama Peace Officers Hall of Fame in 1991.
NOTE: His DOB, DOD and where he is interred un UNKNOWN. Requesting any help in this matter. Please submit to Edit@findagrave.com s/EJH
Created by: Eugene J. Henderson
Record added: Sep 30, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 21838075