Category: Race in Alabama

Remembering Homewood Resident And Civil Rights Activist Eileen Walbert

Alabamians are mourning the death of lifelong civil rights activist Eileen Walbert, a white woman who made fighting for racial equality her life’s work.

She and her husband Jim moved to Homewood in the late 40s. Born in Virginia in 1920, Walbert was aware of the racial tensions between Blacks and whites but moving to the deep south was different. 

“She didn’t see the swastikas when she arrived here, but she saw the colored and white signs which represented the swastikas,” said historian Horace Huntley.

Huntley, former leader of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s oral history project, said Walbert was determined to challenge the racial inequalities of Birmingham and her Homewood neighborhood. 

Walbert and her husband befriended a couple who were refugees from Europe during World War II. Soon after, the couple introduced the Walbert’s to the Civil Rights Movement. 
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Alabama Black Mayors Say It’s Time for a New Reconstruction, Lament Capitol Insurrection

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin described the Jan. 6 Capitol insurgency as a time when people “identified themselves as white supremacists,” which he said the country must acknowledge.

“To move the country forward, we have to acknowledge the pain it caused, have accountability and move forward,” he said during a livestreamed interview with Karen Attiah, global opinions editor for the Washington Post.

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed described the insurrectionists as people who felt they could get close enough to use deadly force. The terrorists exhibited “a level of privilege, entitlement and outright brazenness,” he added.

The two black mayors, whose cities represent the cradle and battlegrounds of the Civil Rights movement from the 1950s to the present day, were interviewed during a Facebook Live event by Karen Attiah, the global opinions editor of the Washington Post, on Friday, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. 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.

Racist Textbooks Endured, Presenting Alternate ‘History’ to Alabama Students for 70 Years

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

Textbook ‘Know Alabama’ Justified Slavery, Praised Confederacy to Schoolchildren

The year was 1961.

As the Freedom Riders crossed the South in their fight for civil rights, schoolchildren in Alabama were reading about the bright side of slavery and the contributions of the Ku Klux Klan.

They were taught these lessons from “Know Alabama,” the standard fourth-grade history textbook in the state’s public schools. The book informed baby boomers and Generation Xers from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. Some of those students became the teachers who taught subsequent generations.

Both white and Black children were instructed from “Know Alabama” that plantation life was a joyous time and slaves were generally contented. They read that Confederates were brave heroes, and Reconstruction was a terrible time when carpetbaggers, scalawags and illiterate Blacks corrupted the state.

Today, with factions across Alabama caught up in a clash over the meaning of Confederate monuments and symbols, many are debating the true history of the South. Is it the version that Black Lives Matter protesters shout in the public square or the story taught in Southern schools during and after the fight over segregation?
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Daughters of Confederacy Put Up Statues, Indoctrinated Generations, Historians Say

The Alabama Legislature adjourned in 1900 so the United Daughters of the Confederacy could convene its national convention in the state Capitol.

The women sat just steps away from the spot where Confederate President Jefferson Davis took the oath of office 39 years before.

“You stand before the world the living witness that the past is not dead, but all in it that was good and great and true still lives and has its worshipers,” Marielou Armstrong Cory told the UDC in her opening address. “To you the selfsame welcome of the heart goes out as went that day to Jefferson Davis, the martyr chieftain of our sacred cause.”

That sacred cause — or Lost Cause — is a legacy of the UDC that critics say amounts to whitewashing the history of a slave-owning South.

Today, hundreds of UDC Confederate monuments are under attack as Black Lives Matter activists target them in protests against the killings of unarmed black men by white police officers. While monuments endure until a mob or mechanized crane removes them, historians and academics say the UDC holds a more lasting and insidious influence over generations of minds in the South.
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Descendants Want to Remove Gadsden’s Emma Sansom Monument

A descendant of Emma Sansom said members of Sansom’s family support removing a Confederate monument in Gadsden that memorializes their ancestor.

The statue of Sansom near City Hall has become a target for conflict between Black Lives Matter protesters and counter-protesters. The fray began with national protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed May 25 by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Sansom is a heroine of Confederate lore for her role in helping rebel Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest capture Union Col. Abel Streight and his brigade in 1863. Streight appeared to have escaped Forrest’s pursuit across north Alabama by crossing and then burning a bridge spanning Black Creek at Gadsden.
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Protests Over Confederate Monuments Spread to Small Towns Across Alabama

Chants of “black lives matter” and “take it down” echo across the courthouse square.

Protesters wave signs and shout their disapproval of an anonymous Confederate soldier, immortalized in monument and towering over them.

This is not Birmingham or Mobile or some other urban center of Alabama with a core population of black residents. This is Florence, tucked away in the remote northwest corner of the state, with a population that is 75% white.

The protests from more populated Southern cities are filtering down to the hinterlands, with people in smaller and sometimes more conservative cities such as Florence, Gadsden, Anniston, Opelika, Jasper, Athens, Selma and Tuskegee showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
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Hundreds Gather in Birmingham to Celebrate Juneteenth

Hundreds of people gathered at Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park on Friday to commemorate Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery.

Onoyemi Williams is with the group Alabama Rally Against Injustice. She said after weeks of protests and demonstrations, today is a celebration of Black lives.

“Because when you’re at war, you must take the time for self care and celebration,” she said. “We’re celebrating where we’re at so we can prepare for where we have to go.” Read more.