Birmingham of my youth–from a black perspective

3rd Avenue North facing East with Alabama & Lyric Theatres
Third Avenue North facing east from 18th Street with Lyric & Alabama Theatres–remembered differently by black & white

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is RavenBarnes. As far as I know, I don’t know Mr./Ms. Barnes since his/her comments below were published in his/her user name on al.com. This is his/her response to a guest blog recently written by a white male–Jerry Carter– Birmingham:  The city of my youth makes a comeback. 

 If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

It seems that we spent our childhoods in Birmingham around the same time period, but although I remember a few things differently than Mr. Carter, I also remember being able to laugh and enjoy the Birmingham that I was given.

For example, I also remember the trolleys, except there were no seats in the back of them for me so I became accustomed to ankle-express, until somewhere around the 1950’s, when I can remember my first bus ride in the back of the bus after having to get on, pay my money, get off, and re-enter through the rear door and most times standing in the rear because of those two-sided signs on the back of each seat, and of course I had to sit behind the sign most of the time.

I am going to admit that the Krystal hamburgers back in those days were so good that there were several occasions when I sneaked to get mine from the rear of the building, and I had to sneak because my father had told us that we couldn’t buy anything to eat from the door of any place, so for years I missed out on some good hamburgers because I sneaked.

Yes, Loveman’s and Pizitz had some really beautiful Christmas decorations, and I like both of those stores.  Even though I was able to make purchases I wasn’t allowed to go in the dressing room  to try on any of the clothes, but once a year I was able to buy one of those pretty outfits from each store.

I can’t comment on the Alabama Theatre because I don’t remember being allowed to even enter through the back alley and climb the stairs to the balcony like they allowed at the Lyric Theatre. I am happy that within the business community of Black Birmingham, we had the Carver Theatre and there was another black theatre down there on 4th Ave but I suppressed its name because one day while there I ordered some popcorn and I heard something say “me too” and when I looked down, it was a rat, so I never went back.

But I wish that I could have had an opportunity to have heard that Wurlitzer Organ because I am sure that it made some beautiful music.  I had to be satisfied with the organ at my church and the Wurlitzer Upright Piano that was given from my great-grandfather’s estate after he died.  He was around seven years old when Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address.  As an adult he traveled around the world working on a merchant marine ship and was able to purchase a lot of really nice things–the piano being one of them.  I am still grateful for having the opportunity to have that music in my life.

I also remember my visits home when Birmingham’s downtown area was deteriorating and now to see how many of the old building have been restored even for other purposes brings back memories-some good, some bad, but still leaving me thankful for the restorations.

However, and hanging over the heads of the revitalized downtown area, is the realization of the deteriorating “Birmingham Proper” that begins just out of sight of downtown.  If every person living within the boundaries of this city could enjoy the wonderful restorations that Mr. Carter experiences each time that he visits, then we could really say that the work is complete.

Let’s turn Birmingham around.  Click here to sign up for our newsletter.  There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12, a division of Intermark Group, 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).

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5 thoughts on “Birmingham of my youth–from a black perspective”

  1. Thanks for posting this guest opinion, David.  Powerful stuff.  I remember growing up in Birmingham.  I remember wanting to have my best friend over after school, then getting in trouble when my parents found out he was black.  I was told, bluntly, that I wasn’t allowed to have black friends because they would steal from me.  My parents said they were sorry I was upset,  but I was too young to understand. 

    And I remember knowing, even at 9 years old, my parents were dead wrong. I loved my parents, but that day I learned that good people are capable of horrible beliefs and behaviors.  I learned I couldn’t blindly trust my parents any longer.  And I lost a friend.

    The truth is, we live in a city with a troubled past.  But it is our choice what future we build. We stand at the gates of a GREAT future, but we have to walk in hand-in-hand.

  2. David and Patrick,

    I remember the Birmingham of my youth, although my family did not move back to Birmingham until I was 13. There were three boys in our family and we all went to public schools in Birmingham. I graduated from Phillips High as did my middle brother.

    I grew up in Norwood when it was the Mountain Brook of Birmingham. I was fortunate to have parents with a different view of African Americans/Blacks. I recall one specific experience that cemented my view that we are all human beings regardless of race, creed, etc.

    David, perhaps I should consider writing a guest blog about my early experience growing up in Birmingham.

  3. Most likely, each of us can reach back into our pasts and re-live certain things that formed our opinions and lifestyles.  My father worked most of his life in the coal mines.  Hard work, little pay… often, a hard-scrabble life.  I recall hearing him relate a situation that seemed to confound him.  He explained that both the black and white miners worked almost shoulder-to-shoulder loading the coal into the cars after the blasting.  Yet, when it was time to eat lunch, the black men gathered into a group, as did the white men.  When I asked why they did that, he thought for awhile and said, “Most likely, it’s because we’ve always done it that way.”

    Awhile back,  Maya Angelou made a statement to a late-night talk show host that should be burned into each of our minds.  She was asked about her dealing with the black-white situation in her life.  She stated, simply, that she did not see color… that we are all human beings. Simple.  Straightforward. Truth.

    There seems to be an everlasting tinge of status or placement fear that permeates humankind.  Seems there is always a class war that embroils us and creates barriers and schisms that aren’t always about race.  We learn, often painfully, of our “place” in the hierarchy.

    RavenBarnes, the interesting account of your years in Birmingham certainly opens the gates of memory for many of us.  Thank you for sharing and reminding us of where we were… and, how far we still have to go.  As Ms. Angelou stated, we are all human beings.  We should strive to teach and embrace that truth.       

  4. If all children had received vouchers in equal amounts for their educations back then, would the schools have still been separate but unequal?

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