Why is Mountain Brook so polarizing?

Mercutio Southall Jr., being escorted out of Donald Trump rally in Birmingham
Mercutio Southall Jr. being escorted out of Donald Trump rally in Birmingham

Last week Blake Scott Ball, a doctoral student in history at UA, wrote a scathing piece attacking Mountain Brook for al.com titled A brief history of Mountain Brook picking on Birmingham.

He talked about Mountain Brook’s history of ‘establishing segregation laws‘ and ‘moving children out of Birmingham school systems.’

Then there was the national news story in November when Mercutio Southall Jr. was attacked at the Donald Trump rally at the BJCC and complained,“Birmingham is 75 percent black, so why did he (Trump) choose to come here?  He could have gone to Mountain Brook…”

Why is Mountain Brook such a lightning rod?

I’ve published well over 200 blogs and when the headline includes the words ‘Mountain Brook’ I have to brace myself for the reaction.

Is it jealousy or some kind of attitude by Mountain Brook residents?

When I publish a piece about Mountain Brook I always disclose that I grew up and raised my children in Mountain Brook and am currently living in Vestavia Hills.

I cringe when I make the disclosure because I know some folks will instantly judge me. Commenters have labeled me  ‘elitist’ or ‘snobby.’

It’s clear some people think residents of Mountain Brook are rich and pretentious, but I have  the greatest respect and admiration for my Mountain Brook friends.  Many are heavily involved in our broader community–volunteering, serving on boards and leadership positions of non-profits, and donating to charities.

This is as it should be because people with money should be generous with their time and resources.

But why the huge divide?  Why does the income and racial chasm seem to be greater in Birmingham than other Southern cities?

We in Birmingham have divided ourselves into 35+ municipalities defined by race and income.

Birmingham is perceived as black and poor; Mountain Brook as white and rich.

Nashville, our neighbor to the north, is one great county-city.  It is neither perceived as black/white or rich/poor.   Folks in Nashville share a common mission and vision–while we concentrate on our differences and bicker amongst ourselves.

When I talk about regional governance, some people tell me that will never happen in Birmingham because the folks in Mountain Brook are happy with their isolated life in the suburbs.

The folks in Mountain Brook may not realize it, but they are not getting what they want.

Many citizens of Mountain Brook are attorneys, doctors, accountants, and business owners.  The growth of their businesses and practices are limited by the stagnation of metropolitan Birmingham.

We in Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills, as other parents in our Birmingham region, are losing our children and grandchildren to more progressive cities.

I have a Vestavia Hills friend who is currently participating in a monthly area-wide forum looking for solutions for our  Birmingham region.

She was surprised and disappointed by the resentment shown to her and the other over the mountain participants.  This has dented her enthusiasm for working towards a better Birmingham.

So is the problem the people of Mountain Brook or the perception of the people of Mountain Brook?

What do you think?

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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown and is 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).

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9 thoughts on “Why is Mountain Brook so polarizing?”

  1. *I think that the reason Mountain Brook seems so polarizing, in the way that you explained it, is the perception of the people of Mountain Brook. As you said, there seems to be an apparent divide between the perception of Mt. Brook and Birmingham, with Mt. Brook seen as rich and white and Birmingham as poor and black. To me, it seems like there is an easy solution for everyone to get along: stop thinking about race and stop envying others because of their income. 

    This isn’t about politics and has nothing to do with politics. My statement has everything to do with individuals and how we think and act. If the people of Birmingham want other people’s opinion of Birmingham to be positive and not negative, then every individual in the city of Birmingham should personally commit to doing everything they can to improve the stature of their city.

    All that entails is being a good person and being a good citizen. Do you live in Birmingham and want to improve the reputation of the city? There’s several simple things you can do that can go a long way to doing that. Be polite to everyone you encounter. Be friendly to people you see and show off our world-famous Southern Hospitality. Don’t litter. Abide by the laws. Spend a couple hours volunteering in the city. It’s as simple as that. If everyone in the City of Birmingham did that, can you imagine how great it would be?

  2. *Full disclosure: I have lived in Homewood where my children attended
    elementary school. We moved to Mountain Brook for the kids’ middle and
    high school.

    I found – and felt – that Mountain Brook gets its bad
    rap from its self-promoted exclusivity. It’s not about race; it’s not
    about money (we weren’t wealthy); it’s an attitude that “we just don’t
    care.” The “tiny kingdom” exists on an island protected by real estate
    values. “We’re here and you’re there and we simply don’t care about
    anybody but ourselves.” And if you’re not as least a third-generation
    Brookie, you often get the same silent treatment. Both my children often
    suffered the stigma of not belonging. Students – and their parents –
    soon manage to find who you are, where you’re from, and who your people
    are. It’s very subtle, but insidious.

    Homewood used to be more
    socially-mixed and ethnically mixed, but it too is headed toward a tiny
    kingdom attitude, support by outrageous real estate values.

  3. Take a different larger Alabama city that is set up like your Nashville template, Montgomery. The city is stagnant, the majority of college graduates go elsewhere after graduation, many many families move out when the children become school age. They go to Prattville or Opelika because they refuse to school children in Montgomery schools. There are no less than a dozen major private schools there, full of children whose parents refuse to send their children to Montgomery public schools. The crime is rampant and continues to escalate despite being the States Capital. Property values in Montgomery proper can be slashed out from under you depending on housing classifications given by the Feds that affect an area. The “money” has moved east, out of Montgomery to new developments, leaving vast swatches of old valued areas as only lost neighborhoods. No new industry or large companies locate there, the school dilemma alone precludes setting up shop, how can you attract young college grads when at school age for two kids the bill is $25k annually, no deductions, straight out of pocket, no recouping any portion through increase in property values which may go the opposite direction. 

    I lived there for 25 years, I left when I saw the school bill for my 3 rise to $30k annually. I moved to Mountain Brook. I paid more for a home, but in essence it was deductable, I sold my home in the steady market at a profit after my kids school age passed. They received a very good education, not in prestige only. 

    Those are facts, I lived them. Much of your argument ignores realities of Alabama, we are not Nashville and never will be, we can’t be. I hope the area improves and thrives, but banging the drum over some metro utopia, has in fact, no basis, in facts. 

  4. **Classism, skepticism, and cynicism underlie the divide. These attitudes may arise from reading Archibald-Whitmire blame and shame columns at al.com with excessive reliance on information in the virtual world rather than direct contact of residents from both communities. The end result is a lack of social cohesion in our communities. The strongest force for social cohesion in our community is faith-based. The challenge is that the Sunday service is the most segregated hour of the week. 

    We need to move beyond merely citing, complaining and shaming about the divide or proposing politically unrealistic regional government as the solution. A simple strategy of “breaking bread” (i.e. shared suppers) might foster increased social interaction. The proposal is to offer low-cost attractive suppers in schools at the border of Birmingham City and the Over the Mountain communities. Once a week on one weeknight, suppers would served in the school cafeteria. Families from both communities could come. Over dinner, the discussion could be about shared interests ranging from football to their concerns about their children’s futures. Tables staffed with community volunteer facilitators would be arranged to mix members of  both communities rather than segregate the cafeteria. Performances by adult and child community members could offer entertainment after the meal. Teaching session around the interests of community also could be offered after the meal. 

    My guess is that families would discover that they share similar concerns over safety, drugs, education and employment for their children and their disappointment in the political leadership in their community and our region. Residents from both communities are more likely to coalesce and drive change more effectively that status quo-seeking politicians interested in maintaining their personal power and prestige. The meals could be offered for less than $5/person as schools buy in bulk from large vendors, already have cooking equipment and facilities and trained cooking and serving staff. Staff would be paid overtime. The meals would be more attractive than the usual school lunch. The $5 meal is realistic as school lunch is currently supported by the feds at $2.93/free meal. Reactions to this proposal and potential collaboration to implementing such a proposal are welcome.

  5. There are three groups that it’s okay to hate in the US today:

    • Rich people
    • White people
    • Christians

    Many residents of Mountain Brook fit all three descriptions.

  6. Why is Mountain Brook so polarizing?  State Rep. David Faulkner took the helm in sponsoring a bill blocking Birmingham and all local municipalities from raising their outdated and meager minimum wage.   And what district does he represent?  Mountain Brook.   

  7. * Bob is wrong and uninformed . . . or stupid. A very sizable percentage
    of Mt. Brook residents are Jewish. Plus there are many residents on the
    less-than-desirable streets in Crestline that are not wealthy. I know, I
    was one.

  8. There are BIG reasons why principals run as far away as they can from this “great school system.” The one who left is a good man who got railroaded by psycho parents.

    The pressures and expectations from this holier than thou old money society is suffocating. As a former resident and student of mountain brook, I would not raise my kids there. Drug use amongst teenagers has gone up, IMO because parents and other parents put too much pressure on their kids to get into some 50k/year Ivy League school. The attitude is basically if you go to an in-state school you (and your parents) are failures. The pressures from parents trickles down from the MASSIVE societal peer pressure that exists in the community. Careers and money based on long personal connections overrides everything else, keeping everyone in line. There are so many fake high and mighty people, however the more down to earth people live in Brookwood Forest and Cherokee Bend. Avoid the other areas unless you are a blue blood. If you’re offended go whine about it in your gossipy sunday service in Crestline full of fake christians. The world is far more accepting and real outside of this town…your kids will have great opportunities but it will come at a MASSIVE cost.

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