The most courageous white man in B’ham history and how he changed our city, state, and nation

Bill Ivey
Bill Ivey

Today’s guest columnist is Bill Ivey.

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This story’s about a man who likely disarmed people with his not-so-slick, portly appearance.

He was a lawyer and brilliant strategist who quietly used the law and his mind as weapons.

He expertly and single-mindedly changed the city of Birmingham, the state of Alabama—and the nation.

David Johnson Vann was a hero, but without question an unusual one. He was a white man born in Roanoke, Alabama in 1928 who became a Birmingham hero. 

Vann lacked the grace and polish of Martin Luther King, Jr. He isn’t known for fiery, eloquent speeches or for having written great essays. He was a devout Methodist, but didn’t wield his religion like Fred Shuttlesworth, Birmingham’s black warrior-minister.

After graduating from high school he enrolled at the University of Alabama. Vann took time off as a student in 1946-47 to serve as a criminal investigator in the Army. He eventually graduated from Alabama (1950), from the University’s law school in 1951, and earned a Master of Laws degree from George Washington University in 1953.

Vann spent two years in Army counter-intelligence before beginning his law career in the office of general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board in 1953. He was clerking for United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in 1954 when the court handed down its landmark decision on school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education (the beginning of the end of “separate but equal” in the U.S.).

In 1956 Vann moved to Birmingham to join White, Bradley, Arant, Rose and All—the oldest and one of the most prestigious law firms in the city. He became active in the Young Men’s Business Club and the Alabama Council on Human Relations, one of the most progressive race relations organizations in Alabama. Vann had quickly established himself as a liberal leader in Birmingham.

In her epic history of the Civil Rights Movement, Carry Me Home (2001), Diane McWhorter characterized the Young Men’s Business club as a “haven for young lawyers and businessmen who hoped to ‘carry out a progressive takeover of the city through economic diversification…’” By 1962, Vann was its president—and an unofficial member of the Young Turks (the term McWhorter used to describe the most radical members of the group).

In 1962 and 1963, Vann was a central figure in three epic developments:

  1. He served as a local “diplomat” by managing complex, intense negotiations that included local white power brokers, black civil rights activists, and representatives of the federal government. Here’s an example: When the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference launched a boycott of downtown stores in 1962, downtown merchants hired Vann to represent them in negotiations with the civil rights activists and the federal government. Vann became—in the words of Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights Burke Marshall, “the only white man in Birmingham willing to talk with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
  2. At the national level, Vann served the lead attorney in Baker v. Carr, (1962), a landmark Supreme Court case in which the Court held that federal courts could hear redistricting cases. This battle would lead to the reapportionments of state legislatures all over the country. And Vann immediately turned this into a local weapon by fighting to get proportional representation in the Alabama legislature for Jefferson County.
  3. Vann spearheaded the successful process that changed Birmingham’s form of government from a commission to a mayor-council one (and got Bull Connor out of office).

According to Glenn Eskew (But for Birmingham, 1997), “…Vann joined other white racial liberals in efforts to reapportion the state legislature and change the form of city government so racist politicians could be removed from office.”

The 1961 Freedom Riders incidents in downtown Birmingham had been an international public relations disaster for the city. Jim Crow laws, an all-white police force, and Bull Connor’s unchecked power were all on full display. And, as Klansmen attacked the Freedom Riders at the Trailways bus station, Birmingham Post-Herald photographer Tommy Langston took a picture that appeared on the front pages of newspapers all over the world.

Birmingham power broker (and segregationist) Sidney Smyer was attending the International Rotary Convention in Tokyo when the Freedom Rider incident occurred. Seeing the headline and accompanying picture had to have been incredibly embarrassing. Smyer was an attorney, President of old-money Birmingham Realty, and the incoming president of the Birmingham Area Chamber of Commerce.

According to Vann, everything changed for Smyer (a long-time segregationist) that day. Vann: “And that picture as much as anything else, I believe, convinced him that something had to be changed.”

Vann continued: When Sidney Smyer returned from Tokyo, he formed a committee made up of senior partners in local law firms, the presidents of all the major manufacturing operations, the presiding judge of the state courts, and other community leaders. There were about 400 in all, and they set about looking at the racial situation in Birmingham. They formed one committee that started meeting and talking with black leadership, they formed another committee to look at organization of government and political structures and political things that might be important. And they decided to ask the Birmingham Bar Association to make a study of what kind of government would be best for Birmingham. In March of 1962, that committee recommended a change of the formal city government.

The Birmingham Bar Association appointed well-known civil rights attorney Abe Berkowitz to chair that committee (other leaders were attorneys Vann; J. Vernon Patrick, Jr.; and Erskine Smith). They of course recommended the mayor-council model; everyone knew, however, that the real reason was to get Connor out of office. For generations Birmingham had been managed by a commission, with Bull Connor serving unchecked as the Commissioner of Public Safety for parts of four decades (1936-1954 and 1957-1963). Birmingham’s citizens however, would have to approve the change through a special referendum. Young David Vann, while simultaneously working on several important projects, was now thrust into a leadership role that would change Birmingham forever.

In order to understand how Vann engineered the much-needed change in Birmingham’s form of government, we must recognize how the 1962 Baker v. Carr decision fits in at the local and state levels. Because reapportionment had not been applied in Alabama since 1901, urban counties like Jefferson were grossly underrepresented. Through federal lawsuits based on Baker v. Carr, Vann and other attorneys forced Alabama to reapportion its state legislative districts and thereby increase Jefferson County’s number of representatives from seven to seventeen.

A special election was called to vote on those ten new legislative openings. Vann, however, understood that the special election also provided a unique pathway to change the form of government in Birmingham. Vann’s group needed at least 7,000 signatures on a petition to call for a citywide referendum on the new form of government. Vann created a scheme to acquire the necessary number of signatures. And they had little time to prepare; the special legislative election was only ten days away.

Utilizing Vann’s plan, the committee secured volunteers to man petition-signing booths near each city polling place. The tactic was a huge success: 1) They secured 11,000 signatures to force the referendum, and 2) They worked so quickly that Bull Connor was unable to mount any resistance. (Historian Glenn Eskew says that committee-member Erskine Smith guarded the petitions with a shotgun that night.)

The referendum was set, and in November 1962, the mayor-council form proposal won by a slim margin. In the subsequent special election (March 1963), the mayoral votes were split among four candidates, with former Lieutenant Governor Albert Boutwell receiving 37% and Connor 31%. In April, Boutwell defeated Connor in a runoff, 58% to 42%. And David Vann had again helped to change the world…

The city would now operate under a government with proper checks and balances. Connor, however, did not go quietly. He and the other commissioners filed a lawsuit to block the election results, but in late May the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against them. That short, unfortunate delay, however, empowered Conner to leave a horrible stain on the city. Fire hoses, billy clubs, armored personnel carriers, and police dogs created scars that will never heal.

Vann: So, in a single day we instituted a new government, the old government refused to leave and Dr. King and the SCLC began the Birmingham Marches. Uh, and the marches occurred almost entirely during the 37 day period when Birmingham had two governments… Well, I remember now the day we swore in the mayor, new mayor and council, and the headline said, “A New Day for Birmingham,” and before the day was over, we discovered we had two mayors, two city governments, and Dr. Martin Luther King and the SCLC starting marches up and down the street.

Concurrently, Vann was a plaintiff and the attorney of record for the lawsuit that would lead to another landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Reynolds v. Sims (basically an extension of the previously cited Baker v. Carr, 1962). From Oyez.org:

In 1961, M.O. Sims, David J. Vann (of Vann v. Baggett), John McConnell (McConnell v. Baggett), and other voters from Jefferson County, Alabama, challenged the apportionment of the state legislature. Lines dividing electoral districts had resulted in dramatic population discrepancies among the districts. The state constitution required at least one representative per county and senatorial district. However, the district in Jefferson County, which is near Birmingham, contained 41 times as many eligible voters as those in another district of the state. Sims and the other voters argued that this lack of proportionality prevented them from effectively participating in a republican form of government.

 In an 8-to-1 decision authored by Justice Earl Warren, the Court upheld the challenge to the Alabama system, holding that Equal Protection Clause demanded “no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens…” Noting that the right to direct representation was “a bedrock of our political system,” the Court held that both houses of bicameral state legislatures had to be apportioned on a population basis. States were required…to construct districts as nearly of equal population as practicable.

The 1964 decision made “one man–one vote” the law of the land in 1964. Reynolds v. Sims had nationwide impact: It affected every state that did not apportion its legislative districts based on population.

Vann’s liberal activist reputation, however, made him unpopular with Birmingham’s conservative whites. He certainly never lacked the courage to act—even when it cost him dearly. And it did cost him dearly. Here’s McWhorter’s account (from Carry Me Home, 2001): “Vann had suffered plenty since assuming the task of ending Our Way of Life…his partners at Bradley, Arant felt that he wasn’t pulling his weight at the firm (and, of course, that he was so deeply involved in liberal causes). Vann agreed to leave the firm. McWhorter: “Douglas Arant, the closet liberal partner, had managed to secure a few months’ salary for him while the firm officially loaned him out to the new administration, at long last moving into Birmingham City Hall.” Vann and another liberal attorney, J. Vernon Patrick, formed their own firm in 1963.

Local writer Mark Kelly, former publisher of Weld, believes that Vann is one of the five most important people in the city’s history. Kelly reminds us of Vann’s fearlessness: “In 1970-71, Vann was the driving force behind the most ambitious attempt ever to eradicate political boundaries in Jefferson County. Working with business leaders like retailer Richard Pizitz, banking executive Norman Pless, accountant Donald Brabston and lawyer Jim White, Vann pushed a plan that would have expanded the boundaries of the city of Birmingham to encompass almost all of Jefferson County, including ‘all of its surrounding suburban cities.’” This was an incredibly ambitious effort, and would be the last attempt to end the “balkanization” of the Birmingham metro area.

In 1971 Vann was elected to the City Council along with Richard Arrington, Jr., Birmingham’s first black member. It is fascinating and ironic that Vann and Arrington became best friends and political allies.

In February 1974, Councilor Vann introduced an ordinance to create a Citizens Advisory Board in which the city would be divided into twelve Citizens Participation Program (CPP) communities. Mayor George Seibels was against it, however—and it failed by a 5-3 vote. However, Vann’s best friend on the council, Arrington, immediately began a crusade to empower local leaders (particularly in the black communities) to support the idea.

By November Arrington had created a wave of support—and 500 citizens attended a meeting to call for Vann’s proposal to be adopted. According to Arrington, this time the Council unanimously adopted it—and November 19 was set as the date of the first CPP election. The new organization gained nationwide recognition and became a model for other cities. The CPP: 1) Empowered grassroots neighborhood organizations, 2) Became a watchdog over city government, and 3) Provided a pathway for neighborhood leaders to eventually become city leaders. [from Arrington’s memoir, There’s Hope for the World (2008)]

In 1975, with Arrington’s important endorsement, Vann was elected mayor. A coalition of white liberals and an increasingly influential bloc of black voters had put Vann into office. Vann continued his liberal crusade as mayor of Birmingham. Before 1975, no African-American had ever held an important staff position. Under Vann, however, they held four of nine of the city’s most desirable jobs. Vann also pushed through (the city council) an ordinance that allowed him to set aside ten percent of the City’s construction budget for minority contractors. After a legal battle, the program was finally implemented by the next mayor, Richard Arrington, Jr. (Nordin, From Edward Brooke to Barack Obama, 2012).

Michael Calvert, former long-time president of Operation New Birmingham, described Vann’s aggressively progressive approach in a very conservative city: “After Vann’s election as mayor in 1975 with support from the growing number of African-American voters, he quickly established an activist role for city government. A new Department of Economic Development was created, a city center master plan was commissioned, and citizens participated in decisions on zoning changes, liquor licenses, recreation centers, and other issues previously decided primarily at City Hall.”

Fate, however, turned against Vann near the end of his term. A 20-year-old black woman, Bonita Carter, was shot and killed by Birmingham police officer George Sands on June 22, 1979. According to witnesses, Carter was acquainted with a man who had been arguing with a store clerk, and she had agreed to move his car. While Carter was behind the wheel, Sands shot her several times at close range.

A citizen review board eventually ruled that Sands’ actions were justified, and Vann supported its decision. A city that had been relatively quiet for about fifteen years exploded. As we’ve seen play out across the U.S. in recent years, angry blacks conducted mass demonstrations to express their frustration with the systemic brutality aimed at them.

Vann was in a no-win situation—and his solid coalition made up of liberal whites and the black community collapsed. Ironically, this seminal event helped propel Vann’s friend, Richard Arrington, Jr. into a successful campaign to become Birmingham’s first African American mayor. Arrington served in that role for an entire generation, from 1979-1999.

In a 2009 piece, Birmingham News columnist John Archibald ranked David Vann as Birmingham’s top mayor since 1963:

It would be easy to think Vann the Jimmy Carter of mayors, the man who achieved more after his term than in it. But Vann shaped Birmingham before, during, and after his term. He helped change Birmingham’s form of government in the first place, in effect ousting Connor and his gang. He tried, and barely failed, to consolidate metropolitan government in the early ’70s, and he masterminded the city’s annexation push of the ’80s. He was not flashy, he was not a good dresser, and he didn’t seem all that energetic. Still, he is the model for what Birmingham needed, and still needs, as mayor.

As was his nature, Vann was handed lemons and subsequently made a bunch of lemonade. As mayor, he had developed an expansion plan for Birmingham. Recognizing that “White Flight” was causing a declining population and, along with it, a smaller tax base, Vann envisioned an annexation strategy to acquire property for future economic development. And Arrington, ever loyal to Vann, brought him into his administration.

During Arrington’s second term—and with Vann serving as special counsel—the mayor aggressively pursued Vann’s annexation strategy. Through Vann’s creative genius and exceptional legal skills, Birmingham annexed thousands of acres of largely undeveloped land that now includes the Birmingham Race Course, Barber Motor Sports (along with other new developments in that area), the Summit, Brook Highlands, HealthSouth, the Colonnade, Birmingport, and much of Oxmoor Valley.

The Vann-Arrington partnership’s legacy: A much stronger tax base for Birmingham and, therefore, a significantly more diverse and larger economy. The upscale Summit, for example, pulls in about $14 million per year in sales tax revenue for Birmingham.

According to Odessa Woolfolk, founding president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, it was Vann who conceived of a “museum-like facility to memorialize its civil rights history… (1978, while Vann was mayor).” Woolfolk continued: “…on a trip to Israel, he was impressed by the museums of the Holocaust and Jewish Diaspora. His visit convinced him that respectful remembrance of horror could be therapeutic for a community. Perhaps, he reasoned, Birmingham could heal itself through recalling its civil rights struggle and celebrating the changes it produced.” Vann’s vision finally came to fruition in 1992—and he was a founding board member.

Vann, ever the public servant, also served two terms as chair of the Birmingham Water Works Board before resigning in 1991.

David Johnson Vann died in 2000 at the age of 71. By his mid-thirties, he’d been a catalyst for massive change at the state, local, and national levels. He had injected his vision of a changed Birmingham into a complex, dangerous time. Vann served as the most important diplomat during Birmingham’s tumultuous, dangerous, and delicate years of 1961-1964. His position was unique: He was trusted by black leaders, by whites like Smyer who had decided that changes had to be made, and by key negotiators in Washington, D.C.

It’s hard to imagine, however, the personal and professional costs sustained by such a liberal white lawyer in the Birmingham of the Sixties. How could such a man find enough clients to sustain a law practice? (The other well-known young lawyer who’d openly challenged the status quo, Charles Morgan, moved to Washington, D.C.) Vann, as always, managed to land on his feet. Even though he’d lost the mayor’s race to Arrington, their relationship stayed strong and—through that bond and the annexation program—they built an economically viable Birmingham.

Our community, our state, and the nation owe Vann a great deal, but he seems to be lost in history. We continue to practically ignore his role as a change agent during the most important era in Birmingham’s history. There are no biographies of the man. And little has been written about the unique friendship and partnership between Vann and Arrington.

Someone needs to write a book about David Vann.

Bill Ivey is a retired coach and History/Government/Economics teacher. He’s currently president of the Birmingham Basketball Academy, which he founded in 2013.

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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 for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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28 thoughts on “The most courageous white man in B’ham history and how he changed our city, state, and nation”

  1. How a great city develops is represented very well in this history of Vann. It takes continuing intelligent and deeply thoughtful leadership along with strong support from people like Mayor Arrington, who can continue that leadership effectively.

    Yes, this needs to be considered the beginning of a whole book about one of the most important parts of the history of Birmingham.

  2. Another beautifully written piece by Bill Ivey. David Vann so deserves a biography and Bill is the perfect person to write it.

  3. One of the most informative articles ever appear in Comeback Town. Look forward to an expansion of the fate of the the Citizens Participation Program (CPP) communities and specifically, the attempt to include all of JeffCo in Birmingham City. That failed attempt set Birmingham on a slower growth trajectory than many Southeastern metro areas.

    1. Thank you, Frank! I agree about the combined metro government, but can’t see it ever happening. As David has pointed out a few times, there IS an increased level of cooperation among most of the suburban cities. I hope that trend continues…

  4. This was a great article about a man who had the courage of his convictions. We need more heroes like this today.
    Unfortunately, money and power motivate men and women who run governments local and national.

    I’m hoping among this years graduating classes there are some David Vanns who can change our place in the world.

  5. Excellent piece, Bill. I didn’t move to Birmingham until 1983 and knew precious little of its history. Your article filled in a very large gap for me. I’m as conservative as any other aging Vestavia white-guy, but found the story of Vann incredibly inspirational. Thank you so much!

  6. Hi Bill. Thanks for your excellent piece on a great man. I am actually writing a book about the contributions of white allies of the Civil Rights days of Birmingham, and David Vann is significant part of that, but you are right, he deserves his own book. One small correction–the “Blue Ribbon Committee” Vann set up was not able to reach a conclusion about the Bonita Carter shooting, despite 1,000 pages of testimony and discussion. The Grand Jury declined to prosecute and internal investigations did not find wrong doing. Recitations of this tragic event often leave out the complex facts of the event that include the officer was responding to a robbery-in-progress alarm and the fact that the owner of the car had just shot one of the employees. In any case, Vann’s refusal to fire the officer did set off explosive reactions in the community and led to Arrington becoming mayor.

    1. Thanks so much, T.K. And I appreciate the “correction.” It is very difficult to piece together those complex times: so many small details and nuances.

      Would love to visit with you sometime; you can contact me @ wbivey@gmail.com!

    2. As one of the Vann’s assistants who helped staff that Blue Ribbon panel, if memory(40 years later) serves, though not fired, the officer was placed on permanent administrative duty and eventually left the force and did not patrol a beat again. One of the striking memories of David Vann from that tragic time For me was the sight of the Mayor marching, arms interlocked with protestors, on his own City Hall.

      1. This is priceless info, Scotty. Thank you very much! This is crazy, but I’ve already been “corrected” on this point by Teresa Thorne and the great Judge U.W. Clemon. It’s an honor that all three of you read the piece and took the time to comment. When you get a chance, please contact me at wbivey@gmail.com.

  7. Thank you for sharing this history. David Vann and my father were best friends growing up in Auburn . David’s father, also a lawyer, died at a young age and his widow moved to Auburn so that their four children could have a good education (David was the youngest). Mrs. Vann ran a rooming house in Auburn to support the family. It was across College Street from Comer Hall, the agricultural building for the Alabama Polytechnic Institute. David Vann and my father enlisted in the Army together in the summer of 1946 right after they graduated from high school in Auburn. David had finished high school a year early and had already started at the University of Alabama when he joined up. They were both 17 years old. They both served in Korea and then completed college on the GI bill when they got home. Justice Black had known David’s father long before becoming a Supreme Court Justice. My father visited David in DC and was absolutely awed when David arranged a lunch for them with Justice Black in the Supreme Court cafeteria.

    You may be interested in the oral history David’s daughter Ruth submitted to Alabama Public TV about the adoption of her younger brother Michael from Vietnam — days before Saigon fell in April 1975. That November David Vann was elected mayor of Birmingham.

    1. Thank you so much for this great information, Christy! This adds a richness to the story; and–in my mind–his life was a very rich one. You’re blessed to have known him…

      1. I didn’t know David Vann — those are all stories from my father who is now 91. I sent him your article. He has many fond memories of David growing up and greatly admired who he was as a person and what he accomplished.

  8. David was my uncle. When my father died at age 38, I was 6 and my sister 12. David became the most important person in my life, besides my Mother. He came frequently to Lewisburg Tenn, about 60 miles north of B’ham. He played cribbage with me for hours and I remember my Mother saying,”David, can’t you let her win once?” He said something like, “when she beats me, and she will, she will know she won fairly.”
    He regaled us with stories about civil rights, legal issues, often beyond my grasp. As I grew older I also viewed segregation as a horrid abuse of people’s civil rights. I wrote a history paper about segregation in my senior year that my teacher said was the best paper she had ever read.
    David involved me in politics taking me to the Democratic Convention in Chicago which spurred riots. He urged me to become involved in Nashville politics where I attended college, and I joined a young Democratic group.
    Of course he took me to the Civil Rights museum and proudly showed me the David J Vann Justice center.

    He told us of bomb treats and hate mail or those posted in his yard. One story I will never forget was him telling me he was on the phone with an African American man when the man said, “David I have to go. They are turning the fire hoses on little children.” David said he dropped the phone and ran down to try to help, telling me it was the worst sight he had ever seen.
    He took us to Wash. DC in my senior year as my sister was going to attend American University. I will never forget his taking us to meet Justice Black. I was speechless and the Justice and David talked and bantered back and forth. Here was this tiny man behind a huge desk who was a giant in his own right. Justice Black took us to lunch at the cafeteria and as we walked down the stairs, Justice Douglas was coming up. He asked Justice Douglas to join us..which he could not. But there I was, a high school senior on the steps of the Supreme Court, with two of the legends of the Supreme Court.

    I could tell many more stories as can my sister, Melissa Oliver of Dadeville, Ala.

    David was not only my hero, he filled in for my lost father. He loved us so much and always had time to talk with us and be there for us. He set the example for my life. At the time, he was just my Uncle David, but of course as I grew older, I realized what an amazing, brilliant and fearless man he was. I came to understand how incredibly lucky I was to have him in my life.

    1. This is fantastic stuff, Debbie! Thank you for taking time to share all this; it shows that he was much more than a great public figure…

      When you can, please contact me at wbivey@gmail.com.

      Thank you!

  9. I’m adding these comments and a detailed correction from Judge U.W. Clemon, who served as the federal district judge for the Northern District for almost 30 years.

    You’ll see that Judge Clemon, whom I admire greatly, was a participant (as an attorney) in this turning point moment in Birmingham history. (I told him that it is an honor to be corrected by him–and I’m doing quite a bit of web searching to make sure I have my facts straight on the Bonita Carter incident… )

    Judge Clemon:

    RESPONSE TO BILL IVEY’S OPINION ON DAVID VANN

    Bill Ivey’s Comeback Town Op-ed concerning the career of David Vann is quite commendable and long overdue.

    However, Mr. Ivey’s Opinion is demonstrably mistaken when, with respect to the Bonita Carter murder, he boldly asserts that the “citizen review board eventually ruled that [Officer} Sands’ actions were justified, and Vann supported its decision.”

    Quite to the contrary, Howell Raines wrote for The New York Times on July 18, 1979: “Birmingham Mayor Keeps Policeman: Blacks Irate.” The article continued: “Mayor David Vann refused today to dismiss a white policeman for what a citizen review committee called the unjustified fatal shooting of black woman, and a coalition of civil rights groups announced a protest march along the route used in the historic 1963 demonstrations here.” Id., p. 18, Section A. (emphasis added.) The New York Times’ article comports with my personal and vivid recollection of the matter.

    I was the lawyer who represented the Bonita Carter family before the bi-racial citizen review board. Previously, I had been an early and avid supporter of David Vann for Mayor (he subsequently appointed my law partner, James Keeton Baker, as the first black City Attorney of Birmingham). Along with Rev. Abraham L. Woods and others, I also was one who strongly urged Dr. Richard Arrington, Jr. to run for Mayor after David Vann had betrayed, what we felt to be the best interest of the black community.

    To be sure, David Vann was one of the two most courageous white men in Birmingham history – the other being the initiable Jerome “Buddy Cooper,” who represented unions and civil rights causes from the forties through the sixties. Incidentally, he and Richard Arrington, Jr. were the two best mayors the City of Birmingham has ever known.

  10. Hello Coach Ivey,

    Great article. I moved to Birmingham to attend UAB in 1988. Until I read your article, I had never heard of David Vann.

    1. Thank you, Anthony! I think you’d agree that his story is worthy. And I’m glad you were able to learn a little bit about Mayor Vann, a quiet but pivotal leader during very trying times.

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