Is this the end of Birmingham’s future?

Alabama & Lyric Theatres (Photo courtesy of Birmingham Landmarks Inc.)
Alabama & Lyric Theatres (Photo courtesy of Birmingham Landmarks Inc.)

Moments after the violent unrest rocked Birmingham the following Twitter messages appeared.

“David Sher’s Comeback Town doesn’t look too nice this morning!

“So much for David Sher’s ComebackTown.”

Is this the end of our Birmingham renaissance?

I say this is a great opportunity, but the negativity is not surprising.

We have always suffered from low self-esteem—and have paid the price.

Much of Birmingham’s history has been filled with disappointment—but we now have a new generation that will learn from our past.

I’m older than most of you and have a long-time view of Birmingham history. It’s sadly filled with lost opportunities.

When I was a child, Birmingham, as well as the rest of the South, had separate water fountains and restrooms for colored and white—Blacks were required to sit in the back of the buses and there was complete and total segregation.

In the early ‘60’s, Birmingham totally mishandled the transition to civil rights—instead of being progressive and forward thinking, we chose to be known around the world for bombings, dogs, and fire hoses.

Hand colored postcard from a photograph of the Birmingham Terminal Station taken in 1909
Hand colored postcard from a photograph of the Birmingham Terminal Station taken in 1909

Up until the 60’s my family went to greet out-of-state relatives at the Terminal Station—one of the grandest and most ornate train stations in the South. There are no words to express the magnitude of this amazing facility. I can still hear the echoing sounds of the announcement of the trains and the throngs of people rushing busily through the station.

No one seemed to notice when the Terminal Station was demolished, but Chattanooga took their small-time, nothing special train station and converted into a tourist attraction—The Chattanooga Choo Choo.  That really hurt.

Birmingham at one time was a top contender for a major Southeast airport—great location and weather—but Delta chose Atlanta.

My dad regularly took me to watch the Birmingham Barons play Southern League baseball at Rickwood Field.

I saw the Barons play teams like the Nashville Vols, the New Orleans Pelicans, the Memphis Chicks, and the Atlanta Crackers.

All those cities now have major league sports franchises, while our Barons play Southern League teams like the Biloxi Shuckers, Pensacola Blue Wahoos, and Mississippi Braves (Pearl, Mississippi).

Every year Alabama played Auburn in the best college football game of the year–the Iron Bowl at Legion Field. That was when Birmingham was the Football Capital of the South. I was saddened when the Iron Bowl moved to Auburn and then Tuscaloosa.

I was excited when I heard that the SEC Football Championship would be played at Legion Field and then disappointed when after one game it was moved to Atlanta.

I remember a time when Birmingham appeared to be one of the two or three strongest candidates for an NFL Football League Franchise.  We got close, but couldn’t make it happen. Since then, we have tried and failed with football franchises like the Americans, Vulcans, Stallions, Fire, Barracudas, Steeldogs, Thunderbolts, Outlaws, and Iron.

In the 50’s Birmingham and Atlanta were about the same size. Birmingham was actually a good bit larger than Austin, Nashville, and Charlotte.

Now’s our chance

Birmingham’s last 10 years have been incredibly successful—Railroad Park, Regions Field, Rotary Trail—billions of dollars of construction.

Birmingham is one of about 140 cities that suffered from civil disobedience.

Most of those cities will take their lumps, but will move forward.

We in Birmingham should do the same.

This is an opportunity for us to prove to ourselves and to the world that we are not going to repeat the past.

Welcome to the new Birmingham.

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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 to your group for free about a better Birmingham.

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7 thoughts on “Is this the end of Birmingham’s future?”

  1. Amen David. I was there with you in the ’50s and ’60s and witnessed those things too but as a child, you do have a different point of view which is usually the one you get from your parents. People seem to forget that there were many towns, not all of them in the South either, that went through major racial unrest, riots, etc. Continuing to live in the past is an obstacle but I just read the best selling book that you’ve probably read to, “The Obstacle is the Way”. It should be required reading for every senior high school class in the state for only through the young will we get true change.

  2. I was just a baby when Terminal Station was torn down so I am too young to remember it. I do remember in more recent years someone saying this train station was in horrible condition. Someone else even said it smelled like one big bathroom.

    It can be argued that if we had taken better care of Terminal Station, it would have lasted longer. However it would not have necessarily lasted to this day.

    While we are on the subject of train stations, I would like to point out that it is not too late to build a new railroad hub in Birmingham. Florida has moved ahead with a high speed rail network which connects Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. There are plans to add Orlando and the Tampa-St. Petersburg area to the network. It would be great if we could go from Birmingham to other cities in other states by high speed train.

    The airlines have served this country well for several decades but now the skies are crowded and miserable. We need high speed rail to take some of the pressure off the airline industry.

    I had always thought, in order to :Comeback” one would have had to go Somewhere ? BHM has not ever gone anywhere in 75 years. Nothing has really changed…. Keep putting lipstick on the pig…..

  4. The renaissance is here. Mayor Woodfin removed the eyesore monuments in two days against the laws enacted by the bigots that run the state. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the injustices that have been endured by the minorities in our country. People can only take so much before they rise up against oppression.

  5. I haven’t lived in Alabama for many years, but it will always be home. Birmingham needs to have a world-class public transit system, a railroad hub with trains to our lovely beaches, be overtly LBGT-welcoming, and remove all Confederate statues from public places.

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