When I picked up Malcom Gladwell’s most recent book, I never expected to be reading about Birmingham.
David and Goliath—underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants features Birmingham as one of its primary stories.
As we’ve come to expect, however, when outsiders talk about the history of Birmingham, they almost always focus on Bull Conner, fire hoses, and dogs.
Gladwell’s description of Birmingham and Bull Conner is no different…
“People told jokes about Birmingham…’A black man in Chicago wakes up one morning and tells his wife that Jesus had come to him in a dream and told him to go to Birmingham. She is horrified: Did Jesus say He’d go with you? The husband replies: ‘He said he would go as far as Memphis.’
…Conner liked to spend his mornings at the Molton Hotel downtown…saying things like, ‘A Jew is just a nigger turned inside out’…
…Black people who tried to move into white neighborhoods had their homes dynamited by the city’s local Ku Klux Klansmen so often that Birmingham’s other nickname was Bombingham…
…Birmingham was the most racially divided city in America. It was known as “the Johannesburg of the South…”
Well, you get the idea.
Gladwell used Birmingham as an example of how Martin Luther King, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Wyatt Walker tricked Bull Conner into a confrontation that gave the civil rights cause a face and eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act the following year. There is a clear analogy between biblical David and Reverend King ‘who ‘was outgunned and overmatched. He was the overwhelming underdog.’
Birmingham at that time was like most other southern cities, but we had the misfortune of having Bull Conner. It seems pretty clear that Birmingham’s history and future would look a lot different if Conner had lived in Georgia or Mississippi.
That was more than fifty years ago and I contend Birmingham’s now poised to be the next David. For the first time in many years we’re in a position to begin to compete with other southern cities that have passed us by.
Why? Because we have humility, generosity, and a Southern small town spirit that is unequaled. We just need an attitude adjustment.
Almost every family in metro Birmingham can tell you a story about a friend, neighbor, or complete stranger who has helped them.
Look at Birmingham. We’re located in the heart of the Southeast–the fastest growing region of America; our people are smart and generous; and our Birmingham landscape is darn right gorgeous.
The only thing holding us back is our historically low self-esteem and that’s changing by the minute.
Other southern cities may have gotten a head start, but Birmingham has something that is special–generous, selfless people who put others ahead of themselves. We own Southern Hospitality.
Complain about Birmingham all you want, but would you really want to live some place else?
Birmingham has heart and heart will beat Goliath every time.
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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham)), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).