ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.
Jerry Carter, wrote a piece in December titled, “Birmingham: The city of my youth makes a comeback.” RavenBarnes responded with “Birmingham of my youth–from a black perspective.” Now Mr. Carter answers Ms. Barnes.
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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 a while and said, “Most likely, it’s because we’ve always done it that way.”
I did not really understand the impact of that simple statement in the early ’50s… it later became sharply defined.
My Dad was also a consummate gardener. The garden was actually a means of survival for us. The coal mines did not pay the miners very much then. Each spring he would have a black gentleman bring his Ox, Old Blue, and break-up the garden plot. Often, the man would put me astride Old Blue’s neck and lead her around, giving me an exciting few moments of fun. I had not seen him in several years but I clearly recalled his gentle manner and great smile.
One Saturday morning as I was walking up the sidewalk of our small town I was surprised to see this man approaching. As he neared, I called his name and he looked at me intently, huge smile, and immediately stepped off of the sidewalk onto the street. He reached up and removed his cap, nodded his head to me, and said, “My, my Lil’ Mastuh…you sho has growed!” As warm and amenable as that moment was, it sent a chill through me. I reached out to shake his hand and told him to step back up onto the sidewalk, that he did not have to step into the street for me. He said, “Ahhh, Lil’ Mastuh, that’s just the way things be.”
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.
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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12, a division of Intermark Group, and co-CEO of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).