Should we celebrate Birmingham’s 50th civil rights anniversary?


Willie Chriesman

Comebacktown published by David Sher & Phyllis Neill to begin a discussion on creating a better government for our region.

Today’s guest blogger is Willie Chriesman.

The city of Birmingham has come up with a name for its observations of the landmark events of the Civil Rights Movement that took place here in 1963. But you have to wonder if “50 Years Forward” is more descriptive of the last half-century or more aspirational for the decades to come.

When you look at how far the Birmingham metro area has come in the last fifty years, it is hard to say we’ve accomplished a lot in creating a post-racial “city on a hill” so many had hoped for then. We continue to live in a community of fractured and often dysfunctional government. We live in an area of great wealth but also soul-grinding poverty. Where a child’s chance of academic success is just as dependent on a ZIP code as an IQ score.

It’s disheartening to think of the squandered opportunities we’ve had since the dark days of the 1960’s, squandered opportunities that have put us at a competitive disadvantage not only with other cities across the South but find us being challenged by rivals right here in Alabama.

Whenever the subject of commemorating what happened here in the early ‘60’s comes up, there is always a chorus that objects to what they describe as dragging up the past and hurting our image to the outside world. (It is ironic that these are often the same people who seem to have no objection to honoring the state’s role in a war of secession from the United States of America.) They fail to see the story of triumph and redemption the history of Birmingham 1963 tells. We have come so far since then. It is something we should all celebrate and embrace.

But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we’ve come as far as we could. The inspiration we should get from 50 Years Forward is not how far we’ve come since then. It’s how far we can go in the 50 years ahead.

Willie Chriesman is a Birmingham-area native and a veteran of the media industry. He works as a media consultant and writer/producer.

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2 thoughts on “Should we celebrate Birmingham’s 50th civil rights anniversary?”

  1. *Alabama is a wonderful state and has plentiful natural resources yet the states best asset is its people. Alabamians are a proud people who work hard and want to succeed.

    Our people deserve the best leadership available, they deserve to be told the truth and they deserve a government that is unified in doing what is best for the whole state. If the state succeeds we all succeed.

    Turf wars over who is going to get what should be a thing of the past…working together for the common good is what it is about…how is it we allow ourselves to be pitted against each other so easily? 

    We are antiquated in our thinking and then wonder why we are at the bottom of the lists in education, and lead the nation in obesity and are very high on the Federal Governments aid list.

    Our people and our state deserve the best, it is time to demand that our leaders put aside political differences and start putting the state/people first. It is time to change the re-frame the discussion, to stop talking about losses of the past and how things used to be. It is time to embrace the future and construct a streamlined efficient government that puts its people first.

    Admittedly, I am a “homer” for the state of Alabama, I am tired of people from around the country defining who we are, it is time for us to put our best foot forward and become all that we can be.

    This is my opinion, thanks for allowing me to share it.

    Hal Cain

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