Time for Birmingham to embrace our civil rights past

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham’s been called the ‘city of perpetual promise.’

But that potential seems to elude us.

Destiny, however, has dealt us a hand and it’s up to us to grab it.

If we want to make our mark on the world then we must identify how we’re unique and how we can exploit that uniqueness.

Modeling ourselves after other cities is a losing strategy

It’s good that we’re building a technology presence here, but we’re never going to be Silicon Valley.  And we’re certainly not going to be the “Rocket City”–Huntsville owns that.

We have a nice music scene, but we’re not going to be Music City–that would be Nashville.

And forget about competing head to head with Atlanta.

We’re proud of our $60 million Regions Field, but the Atlanta Braves are now hitting home runs in a brand new $672 million baseball stadium.  Once there was talk of building the Birmingham Aquarium, but then Atlanta opened the $290 million Georgia Aquarium.

Embrace our history

It’s unfortunate that Bull Connor forced his reign of terror on Birmingham. It’s a tragedy that four little girls lost their lives in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, and we’re known around the world since Martin Luther King wrote his letter while being incarcerated in a Birmingham jail.

We cringe when Birmingham is featured in the news because we have to suffer through television footage of blacks being attacked by ferocious dogs and fire hoses.

That, however, is our unique racial history and no other city in the in the U.S. is quite as ill-famed.

Atlanta built a National Center of Civil and Human Rights. Memphis opened a National Civil Rights Museum. However, Atlanta, Memphis, nor any other southern city is even close to being known for suffering the Civil Rights indignities as Birmingham.

We have been designated a Civil Rights National Monument by the U.S. National Park Service because we have the…

Birmingham could impact the world by becoming the epicenter of human and civil rights

If we get it right, people from all over the US, Europe, and Asia will visit Birmingham to see our historic sites and to learn how to make the world a better place.

According to Brent Leggs, a senior field officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Alabama Tourism Department estimates 550,000 people visit the state each year to experience civil rights history. It’s estimated that cultural tourism attracted $52.5 million to the state last year, including $6.8 million on lodging, $14.2 million on dining, and $21.5 million on transportation.

Some folks may wish we could make Birmingham’s checkered history go away.

But that isn’t going to happen.

After more than fifty years Birmingham is still known around the world as the center of the Civil Rights struggle.

Let’s become the city that learned from our mistakes and set an example for the world.

Birmingham will never be Music City, Rocket City, or the Big Easy–but we must seize the opportunity and become “The center of human and civil rights.”

It’s time for Birmingham to embrace our civil rights past.

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 Co-Founder 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).

Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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5 thoughts on “Time for Birmingham to embrace our civil rights past”

  1. I completely agree with this. We have tried to bury our painful past and it has not and will never work. Instead, we need to own it and our unique place in history.

  2. There are certainly civil and human rights struggles that continue today here in Birmingham. This is not all ancient history and we have the opportunity to make history, not just memorialize it. Does Birmingham have the leadership and the courage to set the standard for rights, for example, for the LBBTQ community? Now that would make some history.

  3. You can scratch civil rights off the list David. I know you’re optimistically optimistic about bham, but let’s be real. You’re writing about bham but live outside of it just like 95% do. Your real plan of a unified metro/suburban Govt can work but not if the focus is on civil rights. Keep it really real David and start talking about being a city with unified Govt that can be known for governmental efficiency, collaboration, cohesiveness, and getting anything and everything done. This rabbit hole goes much deeper and I’m ready to hear about what’s really going on in your head.

    1. Randall, I can appreciate your attempt to overturn David’s commentary but consider this. When non-Alabamians think of Alabama, they think of Birmingham. While visiting 16th Street Baptist on last week, I was joined by people from all parts of Europe. They were not visiting my home city of Springville. Birmingham has a history that outlying cities do not. I can appreciate David’s commentary because I am a Birmingham native and have witnessed our city’s growth over the past 10 years. Further, show me a unified government and I will show you a preceding history of dysfunction. We have to start somewhere, why not here. Cynical comments such as these only seek to further divide and impede real progress that our city deserves. Be well.

  4. Having not grown up in this city it remains odd the some of the real natives refuse to embrace the checkered and racist pass to deal with the vestigies of the present and future. We are getting their inspite of the 32 cites in Jefferson County and a County government that seems indifferent to race as positive factor in business and economic development. Forget unification!!!
    We can collaberate regardless of where we live in Jefferson County!!!

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