What can Birmingham claim that no other city in the world has?

Richard Dickerson

Today’s guest columnist is Richard Dickerson.

What can Birmingham claim that no other city in the world has?

Some folks may say it is healthcare…

Others may point out our incredible restaurants.

However, other cities may claim the same.

So what is totally unique to Birmingham? What should be our face to the world?

Birmingham has the 16th Street Baptist Church, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson are names that will be forever remembered.  They went to church and never came home.

Birmingham was home to fearless Fred Shuttlesworth often referred to as the bravest man in the civil rights movement.

Birmingham is where Dr. King wrote his Letter from the Birmingham Jail.  In short Birmingham was and remains the birthplace of the civil rights movement.  The events that occurred in Birmingham changed America and the world.  It was Birmingham where the moral and economic imperative to end racism became a national movement.

As the birthplace of the civil rights movement Birmingham has a painful, powerful and rich history that is literally known and shared by people from around the world.  The Birmingham story is shared in text books from New York to California and most places in between.  The Birmingham story has been the subject of TV specials, movies and grand debates.

The Birmingham story is unique because it chronicles a march for civil rights against unbelievable odds.  It is the classic David vs. Goliath.  In the Birmingham story David won.  The people who were denied basic rights were successful.  The bombings stopped and because of Birmingham major civil rights laws were passed.

It is Birmingham through its trials and tribulations that helped to birth and get passed the 1964 Voting Rights Act and the 1965 Civil Rights Act.  The Birmingham story reminded the world of the many injustices suffered by people with dark skin.  The institutional racism and the collusion of federal, state and local officials to deny black people basic rights.

Birmingham has been a beacon to the world because of the changes that occurred here.  Birmingham is a special place because of the unique events that occurred here.

No city can claim the Birmingham story.

Birmingham can claim and celebrate its story because it is unique to the nation and the world. Birmingham is a civil rights city that helped to change America and the world.

The Birmingham civil rights story is far from being completed.  There remains much to do.  Birmingham once again has the opportunity to lead, to be that lantern of hope for a polarized nation and troubled world.  We live in a nation and a world where civil rights and democracy are under attack.

Democracy can no longer and should no longer be taken for granted.  Leadership will require the Birmingham story to be told, the struggle, the strife, the pain and the suffering and yes the incremental and important steps made to move forward.

As Birmingham strives to become a lighthouse of hope for the nation and the world it must address the institutional racism and segregation which remains.

Birmingham is a unique city much more than fried chicken and smoked meat.  Birmingham is the birthplace of the civil rights movement the place that changed the nation and the world.

Richard Dickerson is the President and CEO of RAD Communications, a business and political consultancy specializing in planning, government relations, community relations, political campaigns and grassroots lobbying.  He has over 25 years of experience in campaign politics, state and local government and business.  Richard served as the Director of Strategic Communications for USAID in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  He also served as a senior official in the Clinton Administration and in a variety of senior roles with state and local government.

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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 to your group for free about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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12 thoughts on “What can Birmingham claim that no other city in the world has?”

  1. Birmingham has the 16th Street Baptist Church, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson are names that will be forever remembered. They went to church and never came home.”…”No city can claim the Birmingham story.”

    And no city wants to. This is a tragic, horrific, painful, and sorrowful part of our history that no person , regardless of race, wants to known for. Can we move beyond it? No, as long as it’s advertised as a reason to travel here. Did New York City move beyond 9/11? Yes, they had to to survive.

    Are we forever to be known as the city of Bull Conner, fire hoses, and police dogs?

    1. This was a terrific beginning in the story of what we here in the Birmingham Metro area can claim that none other city can.
      Even though we still are burdened with civil unrest great things have been known to grow from here and we can hope there will be even more.
      I shared this article with many of my high school peers (class of 1987) in hopes they can find some feeling of pride in what their hometown can be known for.
      Thank you Mr. Dickerson for reminding us of the somewhat proud moments in our Alabama history.

    2. It would be nice if we could but unfortunately to many people want to hold the bad it’s still to many people in Bham an Alabama would love to have the 40,50,an 60,was alive today Bham purposed 10hr mw ,, in 2 weeks They passed law no city can have its on mw letting Bham know we still run things move a monument We will pass a law you keep you in your place Why can’t leaders in Bham ,,make rules for their without Montgomery staying out of their business,,Yrs have changed people haven’t much How about passing Lottery only been 40yrs pass health care for all can’t its Obama ,,, can’t do it pass no tax groceries can’t do that Bham would if they could but Montgomery will let em know who’s in charge

    3. Unfortunately the horrors of the past started writing the narrative of Bham and despite some wanting to forget the horrors, the story must be told in way that includes the truth. Albeit, Bham is not the same and has become better than worse in many ways, however any omission of truth is a lie. Despite many wanting to clean up Bhams reputation with a coat of fresh paint, new businesses, and gentrification to hide the blemishes and scars of truth, it is important to allow the WHOLE truth to be known. History has a habit of repeating itself which is why it must always be remembered and known. LEST WE FORGET is the answer to your question.

  2. Whether Birmingham is “known for” this vicious part of history or not, bringing it up is important. We have not gotten completely past this horrible time, and I would hope that remembering would help those who think white supremacy is a problem of the understand that the white supremacist/nationalist movement is, unfortunately and sadly, still with us. Yes, we are to be forever known as “that” city, but we can also be known as the city who isn’t afraid to face its ignoble past, too. We likely disagree as to whether we have completely faced it, however.

    Thank you Richard, especially as we close in on the anniversary of the bombing.

  3. Bringing it up is not the issue. Of course, it should never be forgotten or ignored. But making it the centerpiece of our identity is. Atlanta is also recognized for Stone Mountain and the Klan rallies of the past, but the city doesn’t make it part of its travel “have-tos.” Atlanta is the resplendent jewel of the south (traffic aside) and is pushing ahead. Margaret Mitchell doesn’t live there anymore.

    1. Excellently crafted article! What has been demonstrated in the city is what helped to shape the city’s identity which will be forever how it will be viewed and remembered. Those actions will live on forever and never be erased in history. Also, pictures speak louder than words especially the ones taken in Birmingham. In this entire country, sadly, there have and continue to be human tragedies due to systemic issues .

      What stops people them from traveling to a specific place are the people and their behaviors. People should travel to places were history occurred in this country to better understand how it shaped this country and bought us to where we are today. That’s a plus for Birmingham and a lesson of why that part of history shouldn’t be repeated. Georgia is pushing forward in your eyes, but, that isn’t necessarily a view point that all whom are living there is experiencing. Suppression on a new and continuing level isn’t a good way to be pushing forward . They like all other states in this country will be forever carrying historical baggage.

      By the way, all people in NY city have not moved past 9/11 because it was an altering and traumatizing event caused by non Americans unlike what occurred during those times in Birmingham by citizens of this country. Two different situations from that stand point. Also, stop and think, if NY city has moved on passed 9/11, then, why did they build a new tower, since 2001, held and continue to hold a major ceremony at Ground zero to reflect, remember and honor those whom were loss, annually schedule city wide activities for 9/11, etc. One of the many reasons people flock there is because it is a magnetic city with much to do, see and experience.

      Wishing you the best and take the time to walk in someone else’s shoes who is not like you in anyway and not experiencing what you are able to experience. Trying on new lenses can assist with seeing the world from others perspective in this country and the total uniqueness of Birmingham in a different manner.

  4. Bham needs to EARN the right to change its reputation. First and foremost, it is necessary for Bham to undo the horrors of the past by becoming a place of equality, liberty and justice for all. Bham has not earned that definition. NYC leadership and citizens became unified regardless to economic or social status, race, ethnicity, culture, lifestyle or religion thus they equally benefited from being New Yorkers and can proudly claim the right to the reputation they EARNED.

  5. By the way Karl Vanhooten, Margaret Mitchell does not live in GA anymore but her myopic perspective has been awarded and rewarded as a truth that is often regarded as a more acceptable part of history that only depicts the beginning and the end of a story told by a white woman born in 1900. More than 100 years later, white supremacy is still alive and well yet cowardly hidden in systemic forms of oppression and suppression. Minorities in GA ( such as the gay community) had the courage to become unified thus empowered enough for citizens to compel change in government/leadership which helped encourage other marginalized communities to advocate for change. There is power in numbers. Alabama is still recovering from wounds that white supremacists refuse to allow to heal. It is unconscionable to expect victims/survivors to simply move on so the state/city can appear to be nice and clean. That idea is referred to as whitewashing. Alabama/Bham must earn the right to change its story.

    1. Absolutely. I agree. I worked in Healthcare at Emory and Crawford-Long Medical Center in Atlanta for five years in the early ’70s, as well as for five years in Mobile, AL until 1980. More than half my colleagues and employees were LGBTQ and Black. I accepted them and befriended them as fellow humans as any intelligent person would.

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