Tag: Reading Birmingham

Author Gives Gritty Look at Life Growing Up in Central City

“Central City’s Joy and Pain: Solidarity, Survival, and Soul in a Birmingham Housing Project”: (University of Georgia Press, 2024) by Jerome E. Morris.

Jerome Morris has written a book about home.

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in the Central City housing project on the northeast edge of downtown Birmingham, Morris came of age in a community that could be by turns brutal and nurturing.

It was, he writes, a place of “Block parties, freeze cups, shooting marbles … kissing in the hallways, fighting, borrowing butter and eggs, Powell School, my mama, five older brothers and a younger sister, the free summer lunch program, the Double Dutch Bus, Mr. Hook’s store, the Electric Poppers and the CC Poppers, free school breakfast and lunch, due bills, and the music of Frankie Beverly and Maze.”

Central City was a world of extremes — a world where many men were in prison, out of prison, or on the road to prison. But also it was a world where older people mentored and watched protectively over young people. Read more.

Birmingham’s Jazz Tradition and How It Shaped the Sound of America

“Magic City: How the Birmingham Jazz Tradition Shaped the Sound of America” (University of North Carolina Press, 2023) by Burgin Mathews

Mathews will speak and sign copies of “Magic City” at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame on Saturday, 5-7 p.m., and at the Birmingham Historical Society on Sunday, 3-5 p.m.

Birmingham has been waiting for this book for a very long time. In my 30 years as an archivist, I directed many local students and out-of-town tourists to the site of Tuxedo Junction and shook my head no when asked, “Isn’t there a good book on jazz in Birmingham?”

Now there is, “Magic City: How the Birmingham Jazz Tradition Shaped the Sound of America.” Read more.

New Book Explores the Meaning of Birmingham

“Learning From Birmingham: A Journey Into History and Home” (University of Alabama Press, 2023) by Julie Buckner Armstrong

Birmingham is a place that requires explanation. The city’s racial past makes it a source of fascination and contempt. If you live in Birmingham, you know that outsiders often come at you with questions, and sometimes attitude. For African American residents, the attitude can come in the form of hillbilly jokes and a lack of respect. It was these type experiences that inspired Birmingham poet Dianne Mills to compose the wonderfully profane “Don’t Say S—t ‘bout Birmingham.”

White residents also experience a lack of respect from outsiders, a sense — sometimes said out loud — that we must be a bit backward or simply not smart enough to realize that we live in a terrible place and should probably leave. White residents can also experience suspicion regarding our racial attitudes. Call it the taint of Bull Connor. But for many of Birmingham’s white sons and daughters, there are no questions an outsider can ask that we have not already asked ourselves. Read more.

New Book Offers Glimpse Into the Life of Harper Lee

“Afternoons with Harper Lee” (NewSouth Books, 2022) by Wayne Flynt

Among the millions of documents preserved in the Birmingham Public Library Archives, there is a brief, handwritten letter from Harper Lee to a fellow writer. In the letter, Lee explains that she cannot read a book that has been sent to her and lists a variety of ailments that have made reading difficult. “As Gilda Radner would say.” Lee writes, “It’s always something.”

This is one of the items that archives staff regularly bring out to show visitors, although it is wasted on 21st century college and high school students, who rarely have a clue who Gilda Radner was or that she was one of the comic geniuses of the last century.

But what makes this letter intriguing is that it tells us something about the life and tastes of a widely beloved but intensely private author. Like many people, Harper Lee watched Saturday Night Live and quoted lines from the show.

Small nuggets like this are at the heart of Wayne Flynt’s new book, “Afternoons with Harper Lee.” Flynt, a professor of history at Auburn University, and his wife Dartie, befriended Lee after a stroke forced her to leave New York and return to her hometown in Monroeville. Read more.

Author Documents Police Killings of African Americans During Jim Crow

In the spring of 1941, outside a movie theater in Fairfield, John Jackson waited with his girlfriend to see a show. A white police officer ordered Jackson and the other people in line, all African Americans, to clear the sidewalk. But Jackson, laughing and joking with his girlfriend, did not hear the order.

When challenged by one officer, Jackson asked, “Can’t I laugh?” The police officers forced Jackson into the back of their squad car, beat him severely and shot him four times. He died before reaching the police station.

Three years later, in Donalsonville, Georgia, an “elderly Negro woman” did or said something (or perhaps, nothing at all) that displeased the white clerk in a general store. The 20-year-old clerk followed the woman outside and beat her to death with an ax handle.

Neither the Fairfield cop nor the store clerk, or countless other white killers like them, went to jail for their crimes.

White-on-black violence was both a result and a pillar of Jim Crow. For African American men and women, even “the most commonplace encounters” with whites could turn lethal. And it is this aspect of the Jim Crow system, in which whites could do violence to black people with impunity, all the while being empowered and protected by the legal system, that is the focus of Margaret A. Burnham’s new book “By Hands Now Known.” Read more.

Professor Explores Relationship Between White Police and Black Citizens Through the Years in New Book

In recent years, American cities have exploded in protests against police violence. Whether the protests were over the murder of George Floyd in 2020s Minneapolis or Bonita Carter in 1970s Birmingham, these Black communities’ reactions were about more than the killings of individuals. These communities were responding to a century of police violence and murder directed at African American citizens.

In his new book, “Race, Crime, and Policing in the Jim Crow South,” Brandon T. Jett, a professor of history at Florida SouthWestern State College, explores this long history of the fraught and dangerous relationship between white police and Black citizens.

“Jim Crow law enforcement officers and institutions,” Jett writes, “by rule and practice, were not created to improve the lives of African Americans.” The white community wanted police to prevent and solve crime, but whites associated crime disproportionately with African Americans and saw police as the frontline enforcers of Jim Crow.

Looking at three major Southern cities — Birmingham, New Orleans and Memphis — Jett finds that while African Americans had good reason to be wary of white police officers, they also needed the help and cooperation of the police to reduce or punish crimes in the Black community. Read more.

Columnist John Archibald Tries to Understand His Preacher-Father Through the Lens of the Civil Rights Movement

“Shaking the Gates of Hell: A Search for Family and Truth in the Wake of the Civil Rights Revolution,” by John Archibald (Knopf)

A rhetorical, almost visual thread runs though John Archibald’s family memoir. The thread is silence. Silence in a noisy and violent time. Safe silence. Complicit silence. This silence haunts the author, a Pultizer Prize winning columnist for The Birmingham News and AL.com.

Archibald follows in the frustrated tradition of white Southern writers — W. J. Cash, Clarence Cason, Jonathan Daniels — and writers who are children of Birmingham — Diane McWhorter, Paul Hemphill, Howell Raines — who try to understand and explain the South and what happens there.

“Shaking the Gates of Hell” is Archibald’s attempt at a conversation about historical silence with his deceased father, with his younger self, with his home state and region. The author’s father, Robert L. Archibald, Jr., was a Methodist minister who served at churches in Birmingham and north Alabama. Read more.

Family, Faith and Race Collide in Columnist John Archibald’s New Book (WBHM)

Reading Birmingham: Peggy Kennedy Struggles With the Legacy of Her Father, George Wallace, in “The Broken Road”

George Wallace is one of the great enigmas of American history, an enigma that keeps pulling us back and begging us to render judgment. Wallace was the most successful racist demagogue of his time, but because of his late life mea culpa on all the terrible things he had done, we each get to decide whether Wallace deserves redemption. That is both maddening and satisfying. And it is a large part of what makes him so compelling.

This is not a biography of George Wallace. Those have been done and done well. “The Broken Road” is the story of a family struggling with an impossible legacy. Peggy Kennedy explores the impact of her father’s life and career on our nation and on the children and grandchildren he largely ignored. (On the day of Peggy’s birth, her father showed up late, kissed his new daughter on the forehead and left to go out politicking.)

White southerners who reject the racist teachings of their elders often feel a life-long need to understand and to explain. That need propels “The Broken Road.” Read more.