Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

The Ghosts of Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM, AL — My father grew up not far from here in the town of Gadsden, and he attended the University of Alabama in nearby Tuscaloosa.  I have vague memories of visiting this town as a boy, just as I have equally vague memories of family discussions about the civil rights movement.  For all practical purposes, my time here this week was my first real trip to Birmingham.

Bham_vulcan I was fortunate to grow up in a home that was as color blind as you could be in the south.  By the time I went to school, integration was the order of the day, and while there might have been tension and conflict in the adult world, there was none among the students.  From first grade through college, I always had friends who were of a different race than I.

To this day I find it hard to fathom the kind of hate that caused this town to be called “Bombingham” in the 1950s and 60s.  Driving past the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Friday morning, I felt a lump in my throat thinking of the little girls who died there at the hands of a Ku Klux Klan bomber in 1963.  They were attending Sunday School when they died.  Their only crime was being black.

Driving through the 4th Street Historic District, you are struck with how determined, motivated people can make the best of a terrible situation.  At the turn of the last century, black businesses thrived alongside white ones in downtown Birmingham.  But with the coming of Jim Crow laws in the early 1900s, black owned businesses were forced out and concentrated into a “black district” around 4th Street west of downtown.  Today, that area continues to thrive with ethnic shops and businesses.

Birmingham today bears little resemblance to the place that was ground zero in the struggle for civil rights in America.  In many ways, the town that was the scene of so much conflict is the poster child for all that has been accomplished.  Birmingham’s mayor, Larry Langford, is an African-American who grew up in the city’s Loverman Village public housing.  Mayor Langford was a teenager during the days of the civil rights movement. 

Everywhere we went in the city, including the historically black areas of town we saw people of all races going about their daily lives side by side.  Folks in this town now reach across ethic lines to build bridges. Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in the Homewood section of town is handing out copies of the Gospel of John in Spanish at the end of the services this Sunday to encourage the members to share the gospel with their Hispanic neighbors.  A Hispanic Choir was rehearsing when we were there on Friday.  Black, white and Latino people worked out side by side in the church’s impressive Fitness Center, built as an outreach to the community.

Birmingham is a great place to live, work and raise a family today no matter what the color of your skin is.  As you drive through the city, you can’t help but be reminded that many people literally gave their lives to make Birmingham, and the rest of our country, what it is today. 

That number includes four little girls who were brutally murdered while attending church over on Sixteenth Street just a little over 40 years ago. 


Raising Unbiased Kids in a Bigoted World
Rev. John Cross, 1925 – 2007
He Had A Dream
Little Things Mean A Lot

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