My wife and I got on the shuttle bus leaving Protective Stadium following a UAB football game.
We walked to the back, sat down, and watched as people boarded.
A young couple, likely UAB students, sat down in front of us. The male was African American and his girlfriend was white. He put his arm around her and she laid her head on his shoulder.
And then do you know what happened?
No one stared. No one said anything. It was a nonevent.
I grew up in Birmingham in the ‘50’s. If that couple had sat down together back then, the young man would have been thrown off the bus—or worse.
In those days, blacks and whites weren’t allowed to sit together on a bus or anywhere else. Blacks were required to sit in the back behind a sign labeled ‘Colored.’
And the football game experience would have been totally different. No black players or coaches, separate restrooms, and separate water fountains.
In the 60’s Birmingham made headlines around the world with the bombing of the 16th Baptist Church and Bull Connor’s dogs and firehoses.
Birmingham was an ugly place for African Americans, but Birmingham was not alone.
There were segregated cities all over the South.
Through the 1900’s there were dozens of race riots across America where huge numbers of blacks were murdered –New Orleans, Atlanta, Houston, Charleston, Knoxville, and Tulsa.
In 2015 Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, killed nine blacks during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
More recently there has been racial violence in Cincinnati, Oakland, Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Charlotte.
It seems that every national TV news story about Birmingham–either good or bad–begins with grainy black and white film footage of police dogs and firehoses.
When Charleston, Charlotte or any of the aforementioned cities are featured by the media, the introduction is not film footage of their racial past, but Birmingham somehow remains the poster child for racism.
1963 was almost sixty years ago. Very few people reading this column were alive then.
So why are we still being shamed by the media?
We were not perfect then and we’re not perfect now—but enough is enough.
Some folks feel strongly that we should use our racial history to show the positive impact we have made on the world. Some feel just as strongly that we should forget about our past and concentrate on our future.
George R. Leighton wrote in an article published in Harper’s Magazine August 1937 entitled “Birmingham Alabama: The City of Perpetual Promise.” “In a mountain wilderness, laid a region devastated by the war and inhabited by bankrupts, a group of speculators and industrialists in 1871 founded a city and peopled it with two races afraid of each other. This town without parallel anywhere, was Birmingham, Alabama.”
Birmingham has still not reached its potential, but as I’ve heard Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin say, “Birmingham’s history didn’t end in 1963.”
Yes, we should embrace our history, but we shouldn’t allow the national media to define us.
Look around, folks!
Birmingham’s preparing to host the World Games next year.
The world will see a new Birmingham
A Birmingham in which we can take pride.
A Birmingham moving proudly into the 21st Century.
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).
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