The Alabama of the 1960s enters the history books represented by police officers such as Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor, a segregationist who directed violence toward blacks in 1963, and Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark, overseer of beatings of marchers during Bloody Sunday in1965 Selma.
In 2020, the broader nation finds itself reckoning with protests rooted in mistrust of police officers, and controversy seems relatively quieter close to home. Nationwide, some departments and officers are cracking down on demonstrators. The president has wanted to mobilize the U.S. Army to meet marchers. Evidence has surfacing that some American police officers are connected to white supremacist organizations.
There were some protests and arrests locally. For example, fewer than 30 people were arrested May 31 after a series of disturbances in downtown Birmingham with no fatalities. That’s smaller than the scale of protests in other parts of the country, and no present-day equivalents of Connor or Clark lead official resistance. The way things differ in the Birmingham area today partly stands as a legacy of racial conflicts in Alabama’s past.
“I think what you’ve seen is there was a concerted effort across multiple chiefs of police in Birmingham and multiple mayors across time in Birmingham,” said Dr. Jeff Walker, chairman of the criminal justice department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“The police chiefs, the mayors, the citizens, the culture, everything — it was like, ‘We have to overcome this. We can’t keep doing this.’ And they worked very, very, very hard to change the culture of the police in Birmingham, particularly in (the city of) Birmingham and in Jefferson County, … to be more … understanding of people and to try to treat everybody with a level of dignity and a level of police professionalism that you’re not seeing in other places,” Walker said. Read more.
With sidebar: Police Can Be Targets of Extremists
This is the second piece in a package on policing in the Birmingham area. In coming days, we’ll be presenting stories about new policing practices aimed at reducing the risk of bias on the job, the local debate over “defunding” the police and high incarceration rates among Blacks.
Previously in the The Legacy of Race: Policing
Religious communities are exploring new ways of observing religious holidays, as well as for presenting their regular weekly services, this year as the coronavirus pandemic resurges across the nation.
Religious groups in Birmingham and across Alabama turned to Facebook, YouTube, Zoom and their own websites earlier this year when COVID-19 spread across the state. The recent rise in the number of cases of the disease has prolonged the use of those alternate methods of worship and has led to innovative ways of celebrating religious holidays. Read more.
Football players at all levels are used to battles against their on-field opponents, who are easy to see though difficult to defend against.
But the toughest opponent many teams have ever faced can’t be seen without a microscope. Yet it has the ability to make players very sick — and cripple entire programs.
The COVID-19 virus has wreaked havoc on players and on high schools, colleges and professional teams, as well as the organizations that govern the sport. It’s also hurt countless others with ties to the game, from high school band boosters who sell food at home games to hotel and restaurant owners who cater to major college and pro fans on weekends.
If you were in Clanton on Monday, you might have noticed signs of a celebration dedicated to the city’s late mayor, Billy Joe Driver, who died July 9 of COVID-19. There might have been a few people raising a glass to him on what should have been his 85th birthday.
It would be entirely appropriate, although Driver was a teetotaler.
You see, much of the prosperity around you in this peach capital of Alabama came as a result of Driver’s laser-focused absorption with making Clanton a better place to live and work, and part of that came down to alcohol sales. Read more.
Birmingham Public Library Executive Director Floyd Council was back at work Friday after one month of being suspended without pay.
Council was suspended by the BPL board of trustees last month for undisclosed reasons. As with most details regarding Council’s employment, the board refused to provide details about the decision to the public. The board did not discuss Council during its regular meeting Nov. 10.
Multiple BPL employees confirmed Council’s return to the library Friday, though under condition of anonymity. Read more.
History of Us Course Introduces Students to Their Ancestors and the Role of Race in America’s History
“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” – Carter G. Woodson
Eighteen-year-old Delphia McGraw of Tuscaloosa says she loves history. But, growing up, she received little instruction on the history of people who looked like her.
“I went to a private school during my middle school years, and I didn’t have any Black history taught to me,” McGraw said. She said she knew she wanted in when her teacher at Tuscaloosa’s Central High School told her about an elective course at Central the following year.
Its teacher was University of Alabama professor John Giggie, Ph.D. He directs UA’s Summersell Center for the Study of the South. He taught a year-long Black history course called History of Us with UA graduate student Margaret Lawson.
History of Us is touted as the first Black history course of its kind taught in the Tuscaloosa public school system. The course asks students to be historians by researching major themes in Black history and framing those themes locally, to Tuscaloosa County. Students are asked to examine how their own voices, their families and their communities fit in the progress of history, Giggie said.
“We chose the name History of Us because we wanted students to think about several things,” he said. “First of all, there’s always been a tendency in educational circles to separate African-American from American history, and we wanted to show them that, actually, we have to integrate those vigorously to show the ways in which each of them informs the other.”
“But more importantly, (we) wanted to demonstrate that the most important themes in Black history are also the most important themes in American history. And, the History of Us is also meant to be personal. It’s about all of us in history trying to find our place, our narratives, our stories.” Read more.
Horizon Church in Vestavia Hills saw a flood of voters descend Tuesday on its Columbiana Road location. But that wasn’t the only flood that precinct experienced.
“Horizon Church had their bathroom back up right early in the morning, and there was flooding in the hallway,” Jefferson County Probate Judge James P. Naftel II recalled. “We had to work with the county to get Port-O-Lets out there for those voters.”
Which, the judge said, was easier said than done.
“You don’t just snap your fingers and Port-O-Lets appear,” he said. “It took a few hours, and people were waiting outside, and sometimes they have kids.
“People had to endure a little bit more than normal on this one (election) but they rose to the occasion as they always do,” Naftel said. “I was overall relieved that things went as smoothly as they did.”
Jefferson County Board of Registrars Chairman Barry Stephenson said Wednesday that Tuesday’s election ran smoothly with “a few minor glitches,” despite long lines at most precincts.
Those standing in one of those long lines in Vestavia Hills had some unexpected entertainment to help pass the time. Voters reported a middle-aged man dressed in a baby costume with a large Trump head cavorting across the street.
“I just told them that as long as he was not too close to the polls, they were on their own,” Stephenson said.
Earlier on Tuesday, he said, “We had one instance of over-zealous campaign workers, closer than 30 feet (from the polling place). We backed them up, and that was it.” That occurred in Tarrant City.
Stephenson said that the county will be looking at adding precincts to remedy the long lines. “This year we were having to deal with COVID, as well,” he said.
On the state level, Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill said absentee votes were still being counted in some counties as of late Wednesday. Already, the state has broken its previous record for the sheer number of people who voted. Read more.
More election coverage from BirminghamWatch
The University of Alabama launched its first Black student-led magazine this semester. Nineteen Fifty-Six focuses on issues minority students face on campus and in everyday life. Read more.
The counting has stopped, but nobody is releasing any tallies yet for the 2020 U.S. census in Alabama, and those final tallies hold the keys to federal funding and congressional redistricting.
Spokespersons and Census Bureau websites tell us that “99.9%” of the households in the state have either self-responded or answered questions from a door-knocking census mop-up worker. But just try to find out what that 99.9% is 99.9% of. If you go to the state response section of the Census 2020 site, it gets even more confusing. Read more.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline: When is a suspension not just a suspension? When it’s part of a nationwide pattern leading to racial disparities and prison.
Let’s say two boys in an Alabama school get in trouble for doing the same thing. One is named DeAndre. The other is named Jake.
DeAndre, who is black, is more than three times as likely as Jake, who is white, to end up suspended or expelled or in the custody of the police.
That’s what statistics have shown over time, leading to DeAndre – or any black student – being far more likely to be tracked onto what education experts have described as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
“The school-to-prison pipeline deprives students of color of their futures by pushing them out of school and its pathway to college and careers and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems,” the National Education Association says in a report. Read more.
Homewood City Council member Patrick McClusky defeated political newcomer Chris Lane in a runoff Tuesday for mayor.
McClusky got 2,727 votes, for 56% of those cast, while Lane received 2,099 votes, for 46%.
In Fairfield, incumbent Eddie Penny was elected to his first full term as mayor, defeating challenger Michael K. Williams in a runoff.
And in Center Point, City Councilman Bobby Scott defeated incumbent Tom Henderson to become only the second mayor in the city’s history of almost 19 years.
“You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good.”
Candidate Donald Trump, 2016
In a campaign speech in August 2016, the future president of the United States outlined his stark perception of the economic status of African Americans and particularly the state of Black schools. It was a statement many saw as oversimplified and glib — he bookended it with “What do you have to lose?” — and reflective of a view that “your schools” meant anything but “our schools.”
The ugly fact is that the schools that serve mostly children of color have never been on a completely level playing field with schools that serve mostly white children. Separate and unequal schools have always been the American reality, even when the law mandates otherwise.
“We just have to be honest with ourselves. We don’t have a uniform public education system in this country. I don’t think we ever had a uniform public education system in this country. We have very good schools and we have very bad schools. We have a lot in between those two poles,” said Dr. Derryn Moten, acting chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Alabama State University.
As a rule, the most persistent metric by which those educational inequalities can be measured remains skin color. Read more.
Redevelopment on Ensley’s Ramsay-McCormack Building is finally underway, Mayor Randall Woodfin announced Thursday. The 10-story structure will be deconstructed and replaced with a five-story building constructed using salvaged materials from the original.
Woodfin’s announcement came the same day a city-run façade improvement pilot program was announced to target nine “priority redevelopment areas” in the city, including the Ensley Commercial Business District. Read more.
Reading Birmingham: Author Connor Towne O’Neill Explores Race Through the Legacy of Nathan Bedford Forrest
“Down Along With That Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning With Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy,” by Connor Towne O’Neill (Algonquin Books)
Earlier this year when the city of Birmingham removed the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument from Linn Park, the action was part of a broad nationwide discussion on the place of Confederate symbols in our culture and who decides how and where those symbols are displayed.
Connor Towne O’Neill, who teaches in the English Department at Auburn University and produces the National Public Radio podcast White Lie, has achieved every nonfiction author’s dream. He began researching a book five years ago that is now being published and could not be more relevant to this moment.
Race in America is too big a topic to take in a single bite. O’Neill chose to examine a more narrow but telling slice. “Down Along With That Devil’s Bones” is a travelogue of race and racial tensions that explores the topic through the life and legacy of one of the Confederacy’s most popular figures, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Read more.
The discussion appeared to be over before Tuesday’s Birmingham City Council meeting had even begun. Council members had disinterestedly trickled out of the afternoon’s budget workshop until only a voting minority of the nine-member council remained: Councilors Valerie Abbott, Steven Hoyt, Clinton Woods and Crystal Smitherman.
The remainder of the council, led by President William Parker, voted down Smitherman’s proposed amendments to the budget. They opted instead to approve it as proposed by Mayor Randall Woodfin, with Abbott joining them in that vote.
The budget has been controversial since Woodfin announced it last month. With the city facing a $63 million shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Woodfin made several significant cuts to its operating budget. He defended some of his cuts, such as those to the Birmingham school board and the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, arguing that those organizations would make up the loss via other funding sources. Other departments, including the library and parks and recreation, were given budget cuts that led to hundreds of full- and part-time city employees being furloughed.
Unchanged, Woodfin told residents, was his administration’s commitment to neighborhood revitalization, which had been one of the central promises of his campaign. His proposed budget continued to allocate $10 million for street paving, $1.5 million for dilapidated structure demolition and $1.25 million for weed abatement. His new Birmingham Promise Educational Initiative also continued to receive its $2 million. Read more.
As Dr. Mark Wilson prepared to release advice in July that middle schools and high schools in Birmingham should not open for in-person learning this fall, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its position and issued the opposite recommendation.
Wilson, health officer for Jefferson County, stuck to his at-home schooling decision, but now without support from what had long been regarded as the nation’s most esteemed public health authority.
Not only that, he said some of the vexed parents even cited the CDC in attacking his stand. It felt like the limb he was out on had been sawed off at the trunk.
“That guidance gave me one of the worst weeks of my life,” Wilson recalled in an interview with Stateline.
The agency’s revised advice came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s vigorous call for a full, face-to-face school reopening. But it conflicted with what Wilson and other public health officials knew were disturbing results from a credible South Korean study, which, contrary to popular belief, found that older children were a greater risk for transmitting the virus than younger children. That made reopening middle and high schools more problematic.
Since the pandemic began, a string of messages from the Trump administration, many lacking scientific evidence, have confounded the work of state and local public health authorities who have the already challenging job of convincing people to abide by restrictions that many find not only onerous but also economically punishing. Read more.
FORKLAND — If the Wizard of Oz had known Pearlean Slay, he would have called her a “good deed doer.”
In the movie, that line was targeted for the Tin Man, who had come to the wizard in search of a heart.
To hear her friends and loved ones tell it, Pearl Slay’s heart was as big as the Emerald City.
That heart stopped beating on May 29, two months shy of Slay’s 71st birthday, after a month-long battle with the coronavirus, and she entered a lineup of grim categories covering the nearly 2,300 Alabamians who have died after testing positive for COVID-19.
The eye of Hurricane Sally crept onto land near Gulf Shores bringing heavy rains and a strong storm surge for hours on end. Both are threats to the fragile environment along the coast. The storm surge began eroding sand dunes even before the hurricane arrived, according to the Weather Channel, as well as swamping piers and low-lying areas. The hurricane was packing winds upward of 100 mph at its peak, and rain in some areas was estimated at 20 inches or more, according to the National Weather Service. BirminghamWatch about a year ago published several stories looking at the effects climate change and the more severe weather it’s causing are having along Alabama’s coastline.
By Hank Black
Along coastal Alabama lies Dauphin Island, a narrow, shifting strip of sand inhabited by a laid-back vacation town that is becoming more endangered with every passing storm and every incremental rise in the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Dauphin is one of perhaps 2,200 barrier islands that make up 10% to 12% of the globe’s coastline. They help absorb the blows of nature and suffer greatly for it, either eroding dramatically from catastrophic hurricane forces or gradually, almost imperceptibly, from constant wave action.
These sandy, offshore bodies are potent poster children for our planet’s warming, part of a natural, 100,000-year cycle that, according to most scientists, has greatly accelerated since the birth of the Industrial Age. Read more.
Slaves in Alabama could thank their masters for providing them with one of the earliest versions of social security, according to a ninth grade textbook used for more than a decade in public schools.
The textbook — Charles Grayson Summersell’s “Alabama History for Schools” — dismissed realities of slavery, glorified the Confederacy and defended deeds of the Ku Klux Klan.
Summersell’s textbook was the ninth grade companion to Frank L. Owlsey’s “Know Alabama,” written for fourth graders. In addition to repeating much of the same Lost Cause ideology, the two esteemed authors shared similar career paths, which included serving as chair of the history department at the University of Alabama. They influenced tens of thousands of grammar-school children, high school and college students, and professors.
Both authors also drew from predecessors such as Alabama history textbook writers L.D. Miller, Albert B. Moore, L. Lamar Matthews and others for a now-disputed version of history repeated for about seven decades.
Teachers were still using Owsley’s and Summersell’s books after classrooms were widely integrated in the late 1960s, and they continued to use revised editions well into the 1970s. The later editions toned down the contention that slaves were mostly happy and contented. Read more.
More about textbooks with pro-slavery messages used to teach Alabama students.
Textbook ‘Know Alabama’ Justified Slavery, Praised Confederacy to Schoolchildren
The cleanup and restoration of downtown Birmingham continues as more murals are painted on plywood used to secure buildings vandalized almost two weeks ago after a protest.
Saturday morning, people are being invited to the Alabama Theatre, where they can get paint and go around painting their handprints on each of the large murals lining the sidewalks, according to Mary Jean Baker LaMay, one of the organizers of BHAM Cleanup.
The Love mural above, by Véronique Vanblaere, is one of many painted this week, adding to artistry begun after the May 31 demonstration. See the photo display.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said today that the nation is in the midst of a “crisis trifecta” from the pandemic, the economic crisis and the battle for equal rights and treatment, and black Americans are disproportionately affected by each of those.
Jones spoke during a Facebook live video conference with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.
“The events of the past few weeks have laid bare the fact that structural and systemic inequality exist in almost every layer of society in the United States of America,” Jones said. “We are in what I have called a crisis trifecta — from the coronavirus pandemic, to the economic crisis and the moral awakening of so many people in this country to the fact that there are so many of our brothers and sisters who are still being denied equal opportunities, equal rights and equal dignities.” Read more.
Gov. Kay Ivey and state census officials say participation by Alabamians in this year’s census “will make or break” the state.
Poor census participation by state residents could result in the state losing a member of the U.S. House and about $13 billion in federal health care and education funds.
Anyone living in Alabama on Friday is being asked to complete the census. For the first time, the census can be completed online, as well as by phone or mail.
Letters encouraging residents to complete the census are now being mailed to Alabamians.
Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Community Affairs, is spearheading the census in Alabama. Boswell and Ivey pointed out that federal funding disbursements are tied to census data.
“It is the most important census the state has ever seen,” Boswell said. Read more.
Some Alabamians and the politicians they elect traditionally have denied global warming. But many people in coastal Alabama are preparing now for what they fear will be inevitable consequences of increased warming of the air and oceans. They see Mobile Bay and the Alabama coast as uniquely susceptible in the state to harm from forces of nature.
Money for their programs comes from a variety of public, private and institutional sources. Some dollars are being generated from a man-made disaster in the past – the BP Horizon oil spill. It’s being spent to help prepare the shoreline and bay for man-made disasters ahead as scientists say temperatures and sea level will rise, storms intensify, and the state will be slammed with more torrential rain alternating with periods of severe drought.
Here are two examples of those efforts.
Bayou la Batre’s Lightning Point
Judy Haner heads the Alabama chapter of nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, part of a collaboration of entities using oil spill money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore 40 acres of marsh, tidal creeks and other habitat for fish, shellfish and birds in Bayou la Batre. That small fishing and seafood processing town has not fully recovered from the twin hits of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP Horizon oil spill five years later. Read more.
Over the next year, BirminghamWatch will visit places in Alabama where ways of life have been affected as climate changes and look at what’s being done to mitigate or avoid the effects. This is the fourth in a series of four stories from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Read the earlier stories: Alabama Sees Heat, Storms, Drought and Turtles, Cloudy Future for Dauphin Island, a Canary in the Coal Mine of Climate Change , In Pursuit of the Disappearing Alabama Oyster. Will They Ever Return?
Mayor Randall Woodfin urged councilors to consider either automating or outsourcing Birmingham’s garbage pickup program during a special-called meeting of the City Council Thursday night, arguing that it is unsustainable in its current form.
In a joint presentation with the city’s public works, legal and finance departments, Woodfin called for the city to either “engage an experienced refuse management service” or to “automate the city’s refuse collection fleet by purchasing 20 side loaders and adding tipper (trucks) to (the) existing fleet.”
Both options would provide significant cost savings to the city amid an economic crisis brought on by COVID-19, he said, though he added that the need for change predated the pandemic. Read more.
The number of COVID-19 patients in Alabama hospitals has shot to a record level with the resurgence of the disease across the state, prompting a UAB doctor to warn people against playing “Russian roulette” with their response to the pandemic.
There were 1,717 patients in 104 hospitals across the state Monday, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported. That eclipsed the previous high of 1,613 patients on Aug. 6. Read more.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alabama have reached critical levels again, straining health care facilities and throwing Thanksgiving holiday plans into disarray.
In the weekly BirminghamWatch analysis of data supplied by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the moving averages of both new cases and of COVID-related deaths have hit new all-time highs in the past two days, and the number of hospital beds filled with coronavirus patients is quickly approaching the levels seen during the peak this summer. Read more.
Black Friday will be an unpaid holiday for Birmingham city employees after the City Council delayed a proposal by Mayor Randall Woodfin to pay employees out of city reserves.
In a last-minute addendum to Tuesday morning’s meeting agenda, Woodfin called for the city to take $807,333 out of the city’s general fund to restore the paid holiday, which had been nixed due to COVID-19-related budget cutbacks. Employees still will receive their regular paychecks next week but without payment for Nov. 27.
Councilors balked at Woodfin’s proposal because it was brought to them without warning and without details on the health of the reserve fund. One objected to the mayor’s asking the council to make major financial decisions while figuring out the budget numbers “on the back of a cocktail napkin.” Read more.
Dr. Michael Saag with the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases said at a Friday press conference that Alabama residents should treat the fight against COVID-19 like it’s a real war.
“We’re on a tour of duty right now, and we know our tour of duty ends by Thanksgiving next year. So what can we do to stay as healthy and, frankly, stay alive and survive this tour of duty and get home safe?” Saag asked.
Jefferson County, like much of the state, is seeing a “staggering” number of new COVID-19 cases, said Saag. Health experts say the county is averaging more than 300 new cases each day; that’s three times the daily rate from September. Since March, Jefferson County has recorded about 30,000 cases and nearly 500 deaths related to the virus.
Since March, more than 22,000 Alabamians have been hospitalized with COVID-19, some requiring months of inpatient care.
Victor Perea, 38, has been fighting the virus for almost three months at UAB Hospital. His wife, Magaly Cordova, said the diagnosis came as a shock. Before this illness, she said, Perea didn’t have any pre-existing conditions. “He was healthy,” Cordova said. “He was a gym guy – you know, eating healthy, go to the gym every day – and really careful about this virus.”
Perea, who lives in Homewood, recently had gotten a new job installing IT systems. He found out he had COVID-19 in early September, after a co-worker tested positive for the virus.
He’s been in the hospital at UAB for three months, and remains in the Pulmonary Intensive Care Unit, and is slowly showing signs of improvement.
With the number of new daily cases of COVID-19 up by almost half and the number of deaths reported each day up by more than 80% in two weeks’ time, the concern over a so-called “second wave” of infections is increasing. In this week’s BirminghamWatch analysis of coronavirus data, all numbers have taken a sharp turn for the worse. The 7-day average of daily new cases jumped from 1,438.71 two weeks ago to 2,121.29 on Wednesday, an increase of 48.3% and the highest level since the pandemic began. Read more.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones on Wednesday urged people to listen to health care officials’ advice on the coronavirus, not the opinions of politicians.
“We have now seen another surge in cases,” Jones said during a press conference with UAB’s Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo. “You will all recall that beginning last April, I kept admonishing folks, ‘Please, please listen to our health care professionals. Do not listen to politicians. Do not listen to anyone other than our health care professionals.’
“What we’ve seen come to pass is exactly what our health care professionals have said,” Jones continued. “As we get into the colder months, as we get into the winter, as people let their guard down and get a little COVID fatigue, we are going to see a rise in cases, and we are seeing a dangerous rise in cases at this point, more than we anticipated and more than we even saw in the summer.” Read more.
Hospitals across the state are feeling the strain of a growing number of COVID-19 cases but are managing to keep up with patient needs, the president of the Alabama Hospital Association said Tuesday. “We are in a very precarious and potentially dangerous place right now in dealing with COVID cases,” said Dr. Don Williamson, a former state health officer who heads the Hospital Association. Read more.
The Birmingham City Council is mulling a proposal from Mayor Randall Woodfin to bring back up to 132 furloughed city employees by taking $7 million from the city’s reserve fund.
The proposal also would reinstate two paid holidays and reverse some salary reductions to appointed staff, both of which, like the furloughs, had been cut due to a city budget shortfall caused by COVID-19.
Although Finance Director Lester Smith assured councilors he was confident the money would be reimbursed with Cares Act funding that is awaiting action by the Jefferson County Commission, the proposal was met with deep skepticism from councilors, who criticized the proposal’s lack of detail and argued that it could damage the city’s financial standing. Read more.
What is the next step for Alabama’s soon-to-be former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones?
“I fully expect that Doug Jones will be the next United States attorney general,” said Bill Baxley, himself a former Alabama attorney general and a key piece of the church-bombing “cold case” solution that brought Jones to national attention.
Baxley cited Jones’ long-time relationship with Biden and his bipartisan approach to politics. Several publications also have listed Jones among top picks for Biden’s cabinet. Read more.
A coalition involving the National Newspaper Association, the Institute for Nonprofit News and a dozen more news organizations recently rolled out an ambitious plan to channel $3 billion to $5 billion dollars from the government, businesses and philanthropies into local journalism.
The plan for newsroom funding, called Rebuild Local News, comes as local news organizations in many communities are crumbling. Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that more than one-quarter of the nation’s newspapers had disappeared during the past 15 years.
As policymakers, news organizations, advocates and community members think about how to save news organizations that can (and should) be saved and how to replace those that can’t (or shouldn’t), it is vital to remember that simply “providing the news,” shouldn’t be a journalistic organization’s only responsibility. Local news organizations also must be committed to a community, promoting inclusive dialog to help them see and solve local problems. Read more.
Alabama recorded its highest number of new cases of COVID-19 ever on Friday, with the state Department of Public Health reporting 2,980 total cases for the latest 24-hour period.
There were 18 more deaths from the disease and a steady rise in the number of people being treated for the virus in Alabama hospitals.
State and federal health officials have raised alarm over the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases across the nation in recent days, and they have cautioned against another surge as people gather for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
Nationwide, the number of new cases has grown from 100,000 a day eight days ago to a record 160,000 on Thursday, The New York Times reported.
Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo has been taking a close look at the recent data in the ongoing COVID-19 battle, and they have her worried.
“(They are) astonishing numbers that I hope people do not become numb to,” Marrazzo, the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases for UAB Medicine, said as she opened an online press conference Wednesday morning.
The numbers have been increasing steadily over the past few weeks, with new cases across the nation surpassing 140,000 Tuesday and deaths coming in at roughly 1,500.
Alabama has followed suit, with 2,070 new cases and 81 new deaths reported Wednesday. However, as many as half of the deaths were reported at an earlier time and were added to the count after being investigated, an Alabama Department of Public Health official said in an email.
Additionally, the number of patients hospitalized because of COVID-19 has increased significantly, both in the state and nationwide. Read more.
Elected officials, business leaders, school systems and news media — among others — keep a close eye on the numbers of Alabama COVID-19 cases every day, with a wary watch on trends the data might indicate.
When those numbers suddenly spike on a single day, as they sometimes have in the past couple of weeks, many people may scratch their heads in confusion or fear.
The explanation in almost all cases is one of bureaucracy. In not-so-technical terms, it’s a “data dump.”
The great majority of results of tests given by hospitals and county health departments, and those processed in larger quantities by laboratories, go through the system swiftly and almost untouched by human hands.
But with the onset of the pandemic, there are many medical establishments that have conducted public COVID-19 testing but weren’t aware that they were required to report all test results to the state. When ADPH discovers these entities, it requires them to report all their testing, sometimes resulting in the addition of hundreds of cases from past weeks.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Thursday that she is extending the state’s public health order through Dec. 11. This means residents will still be required to wear face masks in public, and when in close contact to others, to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Read more.
When the National Report Card, an assessment of educational progress, came out for 2019, the results were not great for Alabama.
Alabama students in fourth and eighth grades lag behind the country in the overall reading and math scores. Worse, average reading scores for Alabama students actually went down from where they were the last time the assessment was done — just two years earlier.
And race and ethnic gaps remain evident in the scores, with white students scoring close to the national average in reading and math, followed by Hispanic and black students, in that order.
While some people are concerned solely with who wins on Election Day, Deb and Charlie O’Hara were worried about people they didn’t know in neighboring Jefferson County at Legion Field.
The residents of unincorporated North Shelby County cast their ballots about two days ago, but they couldn’t sit idle as they saw others performing their civic duty in a television report this morning. The thought of them enduring the hot sun or freezing cold – “We weren’t sure which one it was going to be,” – spurred the couple to action.
“We saw the line this morning here. They showed it on the news, a big, long line,” Deb O’Hara said. “We just went over to Costco and bought a bunch of snacks and stuff and bottled water. We just thought we’d give it out. We just wanted to do something nice for people.”
There is sadness and economic disappointment in Alabama associated with the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, but some indicators are pointing to signs of revival, at least on the economic front.
Total nonfarm payroll in metro Birmingham-Hoover indicates about 27,000 fewer workers employed in 2020 than had jobs in 2019, with 520,800 workers having jobs this year, according to government statistics.
But overall, unemployment numbers have dropped for Alabama in recent months. According to Alabama Department of Labor statistics, the latest official unemployment rate for Alabama is 5.6%. That unemployment data has improved since August, when it was reported as 7.9%. As a comparison, U.S. unemployment data shows a current rate of 8.4%, down from 10.2% last month. Read more.
Apparently, I shouldn’t be wondering about the agenda of my city’s newly elected mayor or what improvements I can find at the renovated public library down the street. Apparently, I should be thinking instead about the awful “C” rating given to Democratic Colorado governor Jared Polis by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., for poor fiscal management.
Because that was the top story when I visited the news website of the South Birmingham Times on Thursday (and on Friday!)
The site is one of nearly 1,300 pretend local news sites launched by a company called Metric Media in the past several years. That’s about twice as many as the nation’s largest newspaper chain.
Alabama has 20 of them, according to The New York Times, with seemingly legitimate and neutral names such as the Tuscaloosa Leader, the Jefferson Reporter and the Decatur Times. Read more.
Alabama’s COVID-19 case numbers had been declining recently, but that’s taken a turn for the worse in the past few weeks.
Like much of the country, Alabama has seen increases in the moving averages of new cases per day, with the 7-day average now at 1,183.57 per day and the 14-day average at 1,147.57. Hospitalizations also have spiked to more than 1,000 for the first time in two months.
The cumulative total of positive tests as of Wednesday had risen to 187,706. Of those, 160,380 are confirmed cases and the rest are listed as probable cases.
The moving averages of new daily cases are now at their highest levels since early September, though they still are still well below the peaks of July. Read more.
Health experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham warn that Alabama could see another surge of COVID-19 in the coming weeks. This comes as the number of new daily cases in the state continues to tick upward.
“Unfortunately, we’re now heading up towards higher levels [of COVID-19 caseloads] than we’ve ever seen before,” said Dr. Michael Saag, a UAB infectious disease doctor. “Positivity rates of tests in Alabama are almost up to 25% now. That means one in four tests are coming back positive.”
Saag said this indicates widespread community spread. He said the goal is to have a positivity rate of less than 5%.
Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said that he predicts “with some degree of certainty” that in the next four to six weeks officials will have some answers to the question of vaccines.
The Birmingham City Council has approved an incentives package to bring a new grocery store to the city’s Roebuck neighborhood as part of a larger initiative to reduce food deserts in Birmingham.
The agreement will include an initial payment of $200,000, then up to an additional $1.6 million, based on the store’s performance, spread out over seven years.
The store, tentatively named The Price Butcher, will be at 1125 Huffman Road, the former location of a Sav-A-Lot, and will “double the amount of fresh produce in the area (and) double the sales area for meat,” Josh Carpenter, the city’s director of innovation and economic opportunity, told the council during a Monday night committee meeting. “It’s going to expand the food options for the citizens of District 1.” Read more.
COVID-19 cases in Alabama are surging just as Birmingham sees its first few flu cases, UAB epidemiologist Rachael Lee said Friday.
The rise in the number of COVID-19 infections mirrors trends across most of the country, Lee told reporters. She urged people to continue to wash their hands, wear masks and maintain social distancing — measures that reduce the spread of both COVID-19 and influenza. Lee also recommended getting the flu vaccine since UAB has already diagnosed several patients with the flu.
“Places like Chile and Australia who just had their flu season had very, very low numbers because they were following all of these other COVID-19 mitigation strategies. So I’m hopeful that that, in addition to the flu vaccine, will really protect our community from seeing a surge,” Lee said.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin says the proposed sale of several city-owned parking decks is an opportunity to lessen the economic damage done to the city by COVID-19 — including bringing back furloughed public library employees.
Woodfin said in an interview with BirminghamWatch that the city received an unsolicited offer from Birmingham Economic Development Partners LLC — a group founded last month by Shipt founder Bill Smith, according to paperwork filed in Jefferson County Probate Court — to purchase six of the city’s 11 parking decks for a total of $41 million.
If the sale is approved by the City Council, the city could receive that money in one lump sum in 60 days — which could go a long way toward offsetting the $63 million budget shortfall caused by COVID-19. Among other things, Woodfin says, the money would go toward reinstating library employees who were furloughed as a result of severe budget cuts.
About the only agreement between Democrats and Republicans these days is that their opposite number is evil.
At least that is the impression one gets in the aggregate. But what about one-on-one? Can you face a political adversary and explain what you feel, how you feel and why you feel that way? And engage in a dialogue in which you also listen to the other party’s feelings and opinions?
Dave Isay would like for you to take that challenge.
Isay’s Story Corps has chosen Birmingham as one of four cities where it will match up people across the political divide and record their exchange of viewpoints. A copy will be stored in the Library of Congress.
Environmentalists and members of the coal industry filed into West Jefferson Town Hall Tuesday evening to give feedback on a proposed permit to allow Alabama Power Company to cover a local coal ash pond and leave the pollutants in place.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management hosted Tuesday’s event as part of its efforts to gather public comments on the permit, which specifically concerns the Plant Miller Ash Pond near West Jefferson. The permit outlines requirements for managing the coal ash, including facility maintenance and groundwater monitoring.
Alabama Power is seeking to treat and remove water from the pond before covering the coal ash in place, according to its website. Material located within 450 yards of the river would be excavated and moved farther away. Alabama Power also would monitor groundwater around the facility for at least 30 years. Read more.
Updated — The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to implement new software for the Birmingham Police Department’s real-time crime center, despite public concerns that the agreement could pave the way for facial recognition software to be used by city law enforcement.
The resolution will allow the city to lease-purchase rights to Motorola Solutions’ CommandCentral Aware and BriefCam softwares at a total cost of $1,315,659 over a five-year period.
Fifteen residents — several of whom had also vocally opposed Mayor Randall Woodfin’s FY 2021 budget — spoke against the proposed agreement at Tuesday’s meeting, expressing concerns that BriefCam’s capability for facial recognition could have a negative impact on residents, particularly Black people, who are misidentified by such software far more often than white people.
Hundreds of people lined up in Linn Park on Saturday to cast their absentee ballots in person.
The Jefferson County Commission decided to open the courthouse for in-person absentee voting this Saturday and next because people have been waiting in line for up to three hours to vote during the week.
The Alabama Poor People’s Campaign was among several groups manning tables in the park with absentee ballot applications for voters to fill out before they got in the official line to vote. Volunteers also could make a photo ID in case a voter did not have one, which is required before they cast their ballots.
“At least one step will be done before getting inside the courthouse,” said the Rev. Carolyn Foster, one of the chairs of the state Poor People’s Campaign. Read more.
The FY 2021 budget passed Tuesday night by the Birmingham City Council contains a number of austerity measures stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, which since March has stymied the local economy and caused the city’s business tax revenue to plunge.
The budget, which was approved by the council with no changes to Mayor Randall Woodfin’s original proposal, is nearly $50 million smaller than last year’s and cuts the city’s contributions to schools, libraries and public transit, among other departments.
Some of those changes have proven controversial, but other cuts — particularly those to external nonprofit organizations such as the Birmingham Zoo, Jones Valley Teaching Farm and Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve — went largely unquestioned even by opponents of Woodfin’s budget.
Leaders of those nonprofits say they were unsurprised by the cuts, and even before the budget’s passage they appeared resigned to the loss. Instead, faced with their own significant budget shortfalls, those organizations are adapting to survive a hostile, post-COVID landscape. Read more.
Gov. Kay Ivey extended a statewide face mask order through Nov. 8. The order requires face masks to be worn in public to try to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Ivey made the announcement at a press conference Wednesday. The rule was set to expire Friday, but the new deadline extends it past Election Day and much of the remaining high school and college football seasons.
Protestors Not Allowed Into Birmingham Council Meeting to Speak on Drastic Cuts to the Library Budget
Protestors gathered outside Birmingham City Hall on Tuesday morning, but they weren’t allowed to speak at the City Council meeting going on three stories above them.
The demonstrators held signs that read “Reject Woodfin’s Budget,” “Furlough Woodfin” and “Fund Books Not Brutality.” One neon-yellow sign read: “Dear Randall Woodfin & City Council: Y’all have got to do a better job pretending to care …”
On Friday, the Birmingham Public Library’s board of trustees made the decision to furlough 157 employees, the result of significant cuts in the budget recommended by Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office. Read more.
Members of the Birmingham City Council called on the city’s Park and Recreation Board Tuesday to halt plans to close 12 recreation centers until a “more equitable” plan can be created.
The centers in question — Brownsville Heights, Harriman, Harrison, Henry Crumpton, Hooper City, Howze-Sanford, Inglenook, North Birmingham, Roosevelt City, Sandusky/Hudson, Wiggins and Willow Wood — would have to close as a result of employee furloughs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Park and Recreation Director Shonae’ Eddins-Bennett told the council on Sept. 10.
A phone app built by UAB and Birmingham-based MotionMobs that anonymously tracks COVID-19 exposure became available today to all Alabama residents.
“Alabama is the first state to launch the app,” said Dr. Karen Landers, district medical officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health. Read more.