My family was forced to leave Birmingham

Charles Morgan III

Today’s guest columnist is Charles Morgan III.

The day after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, on September 15th, 1963 – my father, Charles Morgan Jr., gave a speech to the Young Men’s Business Club in Birmingham, Ala.

Part of what he said went as follows: “And who is really guilty? Each of us…every person in this community, who has in any way contributed to the popularity of hatred, is at least as guilty, or more so, than the demented fool who threw that bomb.”

We’re all in this together.

Initially, it wasn’t the reaction of the people in Birmingham to the bombing that created any kind of indignation. It took condemnation from around the world to cause business leaders to take pause. After all, there had been hundreds of bombings in Birmingham before the Sunday morning blast that killed Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair.

Not one of them had been solved. Birmingham had an all-white police force and because of the mining industry in town – dynamite was readily available and there were people who knew how to use it.

My family forced to leave town

My family was forced to leave town shortly after my father’s speech. My dad was a 33-year-old- lawyer – a member of numerous civic organizations and chamber of commerce committees – and he was aggressively involved in moving Birmingham forward. He had a bright future.

Leaving Birmingham was an inconvenience for my family. It was more than an inconvenience for Lisa McNair – Denise’s younger sister. Yet her parents, Chris and Maxine, stayed in Birmingham and became a miraculous force for forgiveness and reconciliation. Lisa and I are on the board of the YMBC The Morgan Project. We work together on behalf of the memory of my father and her sister.

Birmingham languished for decades

In the 1960’s, when Birmingham was referred to, derisively, as “Bombingham” and “The Tragic City” – Atlanta, our neighbor to the east, was promoted as “The City Too Busy to Hate.” That turned out to be a better motto. It led to a city with professional sports franchises, international corporate headquarters, music and film communities, and the world’s busiest airport. Birmingham languished for decades.

The business community has changed over the years. Gone are the days of White/Colored water fountains and restrooms. Today Blacks are allowed to try on shoes and clothes at department stores. Anyone can eat in restaurants or swim or play golf at municipal facilities.

It’s been almost 60 years since Alabama’s governor stood in the school house door at the University of Alabama and defiantly said: “Segregation today…segregation tomorrow…segregation forever.”

In 1963, my father placed the blame on the church bombing on the entire community of Birmingham. 40 years later, Doug Jones, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, successfully prosecuted the last two Klansmen who bombed the church. Many people in Birmingham questioned why Jones would bring back such uncomfortable memories. Jones knew that for Birmingham to move forward and prosper that it was important for Birmingham to seek justice and a level of closure.

Young Alabamians will shape our future

Younger generations tend to think differently than mine did. Their attitudes regarding race, sexual identity, economic opportunity, and equal justice are different from their predecessors. I am optimistic that young Alabamians can shape our future. I think they understand that the formula for meaningful, successful growth involves racial and social justice and that the fabric of a proud city is made up of reason and understanding.

We know that discrimination based on race, gender, religion or ethnicity is illegal. But the perception of discrimination has tremendous economic implications. I’m fairly certain that a man born in Mobile and educated at Auburn University, who is the CEO of Apple, the world’s largest company, would love to be involved in economic growth in Alabama. But Tim Cook, a gay man, probably has reservations about investing in our state.

Our prisons are full of people, largely Black men, serving time for non-violent crimes involving drugs. Our judicial system has to change so that there is room in jails for criminals who are a threat to society and deserve to be locked away. When it comes to equal justice, not surprisingly, people with money have access to good legal representation. Poor people don’t have that opportunity.

“White privilege” is an issue that might not be aptly named but it needs to be addressed. I have some experience with it. I was born in the middle of the last century – in the United States. I was born white, to educated parents, and I had opportunities. I had nothing to do with the circumstances of my birth. I could have been born in Haiti, Somalia, or Hayneville Alabama. Instead, I won the lottery.

Lisa McNair and I met for the first time shortly after the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, when the YMBC  The Morgan Project was founded. We have different backgrounds but we’ve been brought together by an event from 1963. One of the things that I think gives both of us hope is something that Lisa and I learned from our fathers when we were children.

We’re all in this together.

Read Lisa McNair’s inspiring story

Video about Charles Morgan’s speech:

Charles Morgan III was born in Tuscaloosa, Al in 1954 to Charles Morgan Jr. and Camille Morgan. His family lived in Birmingham until 1963. He ran private and charter sport fishing boats for many years and opened Harbor Docks Restaurant in Destin, Fl. in 1979. He has a wholesale seafood operation and operates restaurants in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. He and his wife Carla live in Destin. They have four children and six grandchildren.

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David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  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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6 thoughts on “My family was forced to leave Birmingham”

  1. More repeated great news about the Ham. Please someone say something positive about the community

  2. Thank you Charles for sharing your family’s story with us. We have to grapple with our past in order to approach our future with clear eyes and a full heart.

  3. I look forward to the proposed ‘Forum’ and the effect it could have. Birmingham’s lessons learned and yet to be learned should not be limited to Birmingham alone. Other places have stories to tell and citizens who yet need to learn. It would be wonderful if the new forum cold be an international gathering place where all such experiences and resolutions could be shared.

  4. Excellent commentary and reminders about those days. And to think, Alabamians decided to reject Doug Jones for an ex-coach who has already further embarrassed the state. I’ve read books about your father, and while I hated that your family was uprooted, I always applauded his efforts to help this city.

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