Are ‘Over-the-Mountain’ Caucasians welcome to Magic City Classic?

John Lyda
John Lyda

Today’s guest columnist is John Lyda.

I have always wanted to attend a Magic City Classic football game between the Alabama A&M Bulldogs and the Alabama State Hornets, the state of Alabama’s two largest historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Year after year I’d find myself once again allowing the Classic weekend to come and go, telling myself, “I’ll go next year”.

After all, I felt somewhat qualified to attend being married to my wife Beth, a proud graduate school alumna of Alabama A&M, class of 1997.

But am I qualified to attend?  Would I be welcome?  For 26 years I allowed myself to believe that I’d not be welcome, that “over the mountain” Caucasian graduates of non HBCUs were to carry on their tailgates and traditions in Tuscaloosa and Auburn and leave the Classic to those who had deep roots in the HBCUs.

I feel certain that thousands of others are just like me, having a natural curiosity about the Classic and a desire to experience it, but yet still apprehensive because of the perceived lack of connectivity to the event.

Finally, after 26 years, I took the opportunity and accepted the invitation to attend the 2022 Classic with my friend and Hoover City Council colleague Mr. Derrick Murphy.

As soon as I stepped out of the car and into the most unique tailgate scene I’d ever experienced, I knew my assumptions were unfounded.  I was made welcome in a way I did not expect or imagine.

I found myself revisiting memories of traveling from Tuscaloosa to “The Old Gray Lady” in the 1990s for University of Alabama “home” games in Birmingham.  But there was something noticeably different about this setting.

The haze of smoke emitting from the throngs of tailgaters was unlike anything I’d seen here previously.  It was apparent that the vast majority of Classic tailgaters highly prefer cooking over catering.  And oh my do they cook.  Fryers, smokers, and grills cranking out a seemingly unending supply of catfish, chicken wings, smoked meats, and accompaniments; southern soul food at its finest!

The host of each tailgate was proud to showcase their culinary creation and an invitation to join them was always extended.

First played in 1924 and played at Legion Field since 1940, the Magic City Classic is the Birmingham-Hoover area’s most significant sporting event.

Drawing an estimated 200,000 people to the area for an entire week of pep rallies, a parade, soirees, block parties, and a scholarship breakfast, it surpasses in total attendance the Regions Tradition Golf Tournament, the SEC Baseball Tournament, and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, all nationally televised sporting events.

The Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the total economic impact of the Classic week close to $25 million.

But let us set aside, for a moment, the common data points that often define the success or failure of a major tourism event.

The Magic City Classic is about culture, family, tradition, and is an epic celebration of each of those.  It represents pride in the competing universities, yet draws a far greater audience outside of those with direct ties to the two HBCUs.

Being our area’s longest running and most widely attended sporting event it deserves our collective support.  The Classic presents a tremendous opportunity for the corporate, civic, and community partners to come together and join forces in an even greater way in celebration of this iconic event.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity I had to attend and experience something so special and unique to Birmingham.  I’ll be back next year, and let me assure you that you have an invitation as well.  I hope you’ll join me.

John Lyda serves as President of the Hoover, AL City Council.  He is a lifelong Alabamian and a 26-year resident of Hoover.  He is a graduate of the University of Alabama and UAB. 

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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29 thoughts on “Are ‘Over-the-Mountain’ Caucasians welcome to Magic City Classic?”

  1. I wish more locals(White) attend it’s like a large Family reunion all ages Any living Graduates attend ,I live in Nevada an come every yr it should be a celebration of City,Culture, Togetherness Race don’t matter actually I know most people would love to see more white people it does have some but come enjoy you would be back

  2. I’m glad you shared your hesitancy about attending the Classic. The uncertainty you felt is something Black people experience when they consider attending an event that is predominantly attended by Whites. Being viewed as “other” is painful and it is something affluent whites rarely experience. Thank you for sharing yours.

    1. Agreed! But not just events. At work, school, and basically whenever we come out of our homes depending on where we live so…


    1. ADDING TO MY RESPONSE…Make sure while you’re planning to come to the Magic City Classic..Get those bands together from your side of town and let them participate and that way you can really feel a part of it..set up some tents representing ..Hoover..Mt Brook..Pelham..Chelsea..Alabaster ..Homewood and all of the other neighboring cities and be a part..feel apart of the AMAZING MAGIC CITY CLASSIC 🐝🐝

  4. The article was beautiful and honestly I would love to see a number of people from different races coming to the classic. You are welcomed

  5. In the words of Rod Roddy, “Come on down!!!!!!” I did see a few of our Caucasian brothers and sisters attend the game. One gentlemen noticed my gallon of Hurricanes ready to serve my tailgate guest. He was gone before I could extend the invite to grab a bite of food and a few adult beverages. Like you said The Magic City Classic is about family. There are many things we have more in common than different. I would say come on to The Classic next year and hope to see your there. I won’t hold it against that your wife graduated from A&M. Lol. I’m glad that you enjoyed yourself.

  6. To be honest .. some of the best entertainment in the classic parade this year were Caucasian or non black ..tho all were enjoyable..get the Hoover..Mt Brook and other bands envolved so you won’t feel uncomfortable 😀

    1. Deborah, please don’t fault John for the title. I write the titles. This is an important topic and my goal is to have as many people read it as possible. I don’t sell advertising or make money from these columns. Without a provocative title no one will read. Thanks for your comments. That is how I learn what people think.

      1. I hear ya David re provocative titles! Over the years, the titles of some of your articles have been really disturbing….yes provocative AND disturbing 😰! I often gasped when I have read some of your titles! I also have felt mad, sad and scared because, in an attempt, to get readership you have NOT taken into account how your white, male and class privileges are impacting and actually affecting meaningful dialogue across difference! So after folk read your provocatively titled articles, then what?!?!?😰

        1. Deborah, I am so sorry I have upset you and I appreciate you taking the time and effort to let me know. This particularly upsets me since the primary objective of ComebackTown is to create meaningful dialogue not available in other local media. I’m in a difficult position because when I publish columns that do NOT have provocative titles, then no one reads them. My job is to identify people who have something important to say and then to write a title so that the column will be read. Please note that I do not sell advertising or receive money for clicks. MY only reward is to live in a better community. I welcome your feedback.

  7. I consider the Magic City Classic as a private space for Black people, something not very available to us anywhere. As an individual…no problem maybe however, we all know how history repeats itself. History tells us often of how whites would come among us and we welcome them as friends; “brother from another mother”, or “sister from another mister” and we know the rest. Our territory is seized and governance, laws are established with restrictions on us. What we cherished is no more, it only takes one this year, a few more next year, 5 years later the integrity and culture of what we have has changed, resulting in what we see so often…the Gentrification Effect. It’s good you had a nice time and was welcomed warmly and it’s also unfortunate that we don’t get the same reception when we go among others by simply,-WANTING TO ATTEND.

  8. FACTS AND WELL SAID! 25 million is a good purse for the city of BIRMINGHAM! And with the contact in Birmingham ending this year, Hoover/Hoover Met may want dibs on the PURSE for the next few years! Then, the Hoover community will say they are so afraid to have so many blacks in their city that there would be so many restrictions, limitations, and arrest that the “Classic” would mean classic racism! Hoover may tolerate a few blacks, like John, but don’t be confused that black people would receive the same warm embrace and welcome as John Lydia did! The Magic City is Birmingham not Hoover! I hope the powers that be at A&M and State don’t get hoodwinked by Hoover and no-one-else!

  9. Well slow down there John. Don’t be inviting people to a party that you’re a guest at. White folk have a reputation of taking over and kicking out. If you have to question if you’re invited, you’re probably not. We do wanna keep the B in HBCU. And the C is not for Caucasians. Understand that Black is a way of life, a culture. If you can rock with that we can rock with you. No invitation needed

    1. Why would this not sound to anyone as if it is anything but a completely racist comment? What John has pursued is a wonderful step toward peace and cooperation. Anyone can have and keep any culture and share it in peace. Your write in a way that sounds like segregation. Please don’t be angered by my remark. One aspect we both can probably agree on, I hope. It is that we would not like to have anything pushed onto our faces and forced upon us. Let us be who we are together in peace.

      1. Roy I’m not angered by your comment at all. I respect and appreciate all points of view. One of my strengths/weaknesses I don’t feel the need to be overly sensitive when making a point. He’s not the first Non-Black to attend the MCC and he won’t be the last. I myself am not a fan of removing monuments and changing titles to pacify overly sensitive groups with hidden agendas. There does appear to be a movement to have things “pushed in our faces.” The next thing you know, the Magic City Classic is offensive to people and now it’s canceled or the phrase (HBCU) has to be changed because it’s not inclusive. I have white friends that 100% belong at the MCC. And I have some that 100% do not. I even have Black friend that don’t belong there. Your response to me was as respectful as anyone could hope for. Thank you and I do see that it did sound racist.

        1. I very much appreciate your response, and I am very happy to say that we see eye to eye on everything you just wrote!

          I really am not a fan of erasing history because the philosophers’ idea the we must remember our history or we might be forced to relive it is basic in my way of thinking. EG. : monument removal is monstrous. To forget what they represent is also to forget how survival from dark times happened. Memory of survival is a source of future encouragement and resolutions.
          Martin Luther King’s Peaceful protests, like Mahatma Ghandi’s, had good results. Violent protests, especially when encouraged by bad politics is truly horrific. Memory of the dark history is a reminder of what to avoid. Poor education is a major source of such mistaken views. Poor religious belief is also. Selfishness, pure and simple, is very bad.

          I find Birmingham’s remarkable survival from it hideous racist past to be extremely remarkable and a hallmark of our favorite hometown. It was a cultural earthquake, too beautiful to describe and to fail to notice.

          Thank you

        2. Let us white folks remember that for most of the history of our country, white people had their own things and no one else was welcome. (And of course, it was much worse than simply not being welcome.) So being asked to be respectful and appreciate the culture is not too much to ask. Make the effort and you will usually be rewarded.

  10. HBCU: “Historically” Black Colleges and Universities! Let us remember there are students from all ethnicities, races, creeds, etc who have attended and currently attend both A&M and ASU (these include Whites). These students are proud of their connection with these and as well as other HBCUs. I’m speaking of undergraduate more so than graduate school students. I am an Alumnus of A&M and have been helping “ANY” high school student who chooses to attend my Alma Mater for more than 30 years; they have NOT All been Black. So when you see Whites at the Magic City Classic, they are not always there because of curiosity; they may be an Alumnus of either University and their family.

    1. I believe that must be so true.

      I am white, born in Birmingham and bred in Mountain Brook, schooled at Indian Springs School when my father was president of the Jefferson County School Board, and dedicated the then new Shades Valley High School. I went on to receive two degrees from Harvard, undergraduate general education and Graduate Masters of Architecture. After a year at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Architecture School in Copenhagen, Denmark where I met my wonderful Canadian wife of 51 years I went to teach architecture becoming dean twice and to the main point I have just finished 34 years starting as Dean and then Professor of Architecture at Florida A&M University. Well that is much to tell to make the main point. I had the task of converting the FAMU School of Architecture to becoming one of the very most diverse in the country: White, Hispanic, and Black. Therefore I personally know there would very likely be white alumni of Alabama A&M attending the big game. I used to follow FAMU’s games around Florida with my family and hardly more fun can be imagined, Especially when we could sit with the President in the big box. Now don’t be too shocked by this last note. It has a complex study and much experience behind it but I am a conservative Republican, as politics need a constitution for a truly well ordered society and because practical citizen support and protection is what is required. (I am delight to know that finally Alabama is dealing with its wicked constitution known as the largest and worst in entire world. Really serious is the removal of all the racist ideas. That should be a big plus for all of Alabama, Birmingham and its scattered metropolitan area as well. Now get rid of state income tax, like Florida and Tennessee and then BOOM!
      I keep saying, no city needs to be bigger. All of them need to be better. this subject and what is being reported look to me like a wonderful big step toward being better!

      BTW: I do own some property in Vestavia Hills and oversee more for a family trust in Monroe County. So beside viewing Birmingham as my permanent home town, there are those other reasons for continuing to pay attention to what happens. My apologies for going way beyond the scope of this report.
      Let’s keep going!

  11. Good report! The nature of my work over the years has often made me the only – or one of very few – white people at a gathering. In all those times, I have never received anything but a warm welcome. It’s amazing and humbling, considering so many of our gracious guests were not treated the same in similar predicaments. Hopefully that is rarer now, and hopefully we make it rarer. We all should find ways to get out of our comfort zones and experience life outside the majority.

  12. I adore Classic week—it’s one of the best cultural experiences in the South and one that is SO unique to Birmingham. The spirit and energy of the city and its people comes alive in ways indescribable. It’s a tradition I hope will only continue to strengthen and grow!

  13. I had the same question when I attended last year but was welcomed with open arms as a guest. It was good for me to be the minority for a change, but acceptance was not a problem at all. It helps having someone connected to show you around tho, I’ll admit.

  14. I had the same concern when I went last year but I was completely accepted and had a great time. It was good for me to be the minority for a change and I will say it helps to have somebody connected to make it more fun. It was like a “you gotta do this at least once” type thing for me, and it was fun.

  15. In 1831 the “Capstone” university in this state was founded. It was June 11, 1963 before African Americans were aloud to attend. Just 3 months later on September 15, 1963 Birmingham received a new nickname that would taint its growth for the next 40+ years….Bombingham. Make no mistake that Sunday morning bombing was in direct response to the university no longer being ALL White.

    I find it stupefying for any person to have a lack of empathy for oppressed people, especially in a town with Birmingham’s history.

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