Category: BirminghamWatch

Reading Birmingham: For Halloween, Birmingham Murder Story That’s ‘Grisly,’ ‘Hard-Boiled’

In his book “The Infamous Birmingham Axe Murders,” journalist Jeremy Gray has a hell of a story to tell. From 1919 to 1924, as many as 18 people were killed and 16 injured in a series of brutal attacks. A number of the victims were Italian grocers killed when their stores were robbed.

The killings were not the work of a single killer or group of killers, and not all the victims were attacked with axes (one victim was beaten to death with a shovel, another with a metal pipe) but the spree of murders panicked Birmingham and stirred the nasty specters of race, class and religious bigotry.

The police and the newspapers focused on African-American suspects and, because several of the victims were Italian, the Mafia. The Birmingham Age-Herald offered readers a completely made up serial killer, publishing a racist cartoon of an axe-wielding black man dubbed “Henry the Hacker.” With the approval of the police, the Ku Klux Klan paraded through African-American neighborhoods at night hoping to intimidate potential black criminals. Read more.

AIIJ/BirminghamWatch Selected For NewsMatch 2018, National Campaign to Encourage Donations for Journalism

More than 150 nonprofit newsrooms across the country, including Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism in Birmingham, will participate in this year’s NewsMatch, the largest grassroots fundraising campaign to support nonprofit news organizations. The national effort will launch Nov. 1.

In 2017 NewsMatch helped to raise more than $4.8 million from individual donors and a coalition of private funders.

Sue Cross, executive director and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit News, which serves as one of NewsMatch’s nonprofit partners, said, “We are encouraged to see such strong growth in community support of news … NewsMatch makes it easy for communities and individuals to find and fund their local sources of trusted news.” Read more.

Reading Birmingham: Put Aside the Politics. This is First and Foremost a Story of People who Love Music.

About 10 years ago, while visiting rural England, I met a genuine Southernphile (and yes, that is a word I just made up). When a young hotel clerk learned I was from Alabama, he engaged me in a long and animated conversation about his love for Southern pop culture.

While his sources were dubious (his favorite movie was Smokey and the Bandit and his favorite television show was The Dukes of Hazzard), his fascination was sincere. What he loved most of all was the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. “I don’t care about the politics,” he said. “They just sound so bloody good.”

Historian Andre Millard found a similar lack of interest in politics, especially the politics of race, among many of the musicians interviewed for his book Magic City Nights. Read more.

Reading Birmingham: In Birmingham 1931, a Man Went Out for Cornbread, Died in Prison

Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham by Melanie S. Morrison (Duke University Press, 2018)

By James L. Baggett

UPDATED: Victim’s daughter challenges book’s view.

Willie Peterson just wanted to pick up some cornbread for supper. On a hot September afternoon in 1931, Peterson boarded a streetcar near his home in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Birmingham and rode to Southside.

After visiting his mother-in-law, Peterson walked up Avenue G (now Seventh Avenue South) toward Beamon’s Café. A slightly built African-American man, Peterson suffered from tuberculous and followed his wife’s instructions not to overexert himself. Before Peterson reached the café, three white people in a car — a man and woman in their 20s and an older woman — stopped and began to question him. As the young man held Peterson at gun point, the young woman said, “Yes, it’s him. I know it’s him.”

When three police officers arrived, they beat and handcuffed Peterson and drove him to jail.

“You’ve got the wrong Negro,” Peterson told the officers. Willie Peterson lived in a time when being the “wrong Negro,” or just any black man in the wrong place at the wrong time, could be deadly.

In this new book, Melanie S. Morrison, a United Church of Christ minister and self-described social justice educator, researches and retells a story she heard as a child in Michigan from her Birmingham-born father. Read more.

Reading Birmingham: An Introduction
Today, BirminghamWatch begins a new feature spotlighting books about Birmingham and Alabama. Read more.

NewsMatch 2017 Raises $4.8M+ in Donations for Nonprofit News

NewsMatch 2017 raised more than $4.8 million from individual donors and a coalition of foundations to support more than 100 local and investigative nonprofit news organizations, including Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism, which publishes BirminghamWatch.

According to a report from the Institute for Nonprofit News, this makes NewsMatch 2017 the largest-ever grassroots fundraising campaign to support local nonprofit and investigative news.

More than 80 individual donors supported AIIJ/BirminghamWatch during the October-December campaign, the highest number in the organization’s two-year history. These local contributors gave more than $20,000 that is being matched by national foundations to support the organization’s mission of public service journalism on the environment, education, the economy and government for Birmingham and Alabama. Read more.

What to Watch in 2018

2018 promises to be an interesting time, as the Chinese blessing (or curse) goes. Alabama and Birmingham, specifically, will be tackling many issues involving education and school management, jobs and the economy, the environment, crime and, of course, party politics and political leadership, to name a few.

BirminghamWatch asked community leaders and contributors for insight on important issues that are likely to be demanding attention this year. Read what they had to say. Read more.

What news are you watching for in 2018? Visit our Facebook post and tell us in a comment, or send us an email at editor@birminghamwatch.org, and and we might watch it, too. We always want to know what’s important to people in the community.