The ugly turn Birmingham took after its founding

Bill Ivey
Bill Ivey

Today’s guest columnist is Bill Ivey.

There’s no way to understand Birmingham until you know its history.

Slavery was never practiced in Birmingham because it wasn’t founded until 1871, six years after the Civil War.

But after its founding Birmingham took an ugly turn.

Convict leasing was a system through which “convicted criminals” were leased by states to private individuals and companies–who were free to work the convicts as they saw fit.

And, although all the former Confederate states utilized the system, it was worse in Alabama. Let’s examine why it was so bad in Birmingham–and how that legacy is still relevant. We have never grieved over this great injustice because we don’t know about it. It’s time to change the narrative.

Today, countless folks in our area are helping to make this a much better place to live. They are the spiritual, civic, and political descendants of Dr. Fred Shuttlesworth and David Vann. Downtown is becoming cool. Birmingham receives national recognition for its food, tech sector, new downtown attractions, parks, and so on. But I think we are missing something massively important that is impeding our progress, so stay tuned until the end.

Birmingham: The Southern Outlier 

For two reasons, Birmingham is unique among all large Deep South cities. It is the only one founded after the Civil War (1871). And, unlike other regional cities that were built on transportation and trade, Birmingham was founded on mining and manufacturing.

Post-Reconstruction Alabama

Imagine the scene in Alabama in 1874 when Union troops withdrew and Reconstruction essentially ended. The Civil War had taken the lives of 35,000 Alabamians and severely wounded 30,000 more–approximately one in four adult males killed or wounded. The 2022 equivalent would be almost 400,000 statewide casualties.

Alabama was devastated. And long-term “reconstruction” was a travesty, a myth. Former Union leaders were generally as prejudiced as former Confederate ones. So Northern politicians and businessmen quickly turned their attention to their exploding industrial economy. And turned their backs on the old Confederate states.

Widows and orphans were all too common in Alabama. Most people–White and Black–lived in desperate, dire poverty. Alabama’s agrarian economy was a disaster. With a couple of generations of White men devastated by the War, how could the survivors move forward? More than 400,000 Blacks, almost half the state’s population, were free. How could the state rebuild its economy after losing its labor force? And, last, how would Alabama manage the collective White fears aimed at a huge number of free Blacks?

The War and “Reconstruction” had temporarily thrown state politics into chaos. Where would tax revenue come from to support a fragile state government? How would Alabama’s power brokers manage the new national framework and rebuild their state political structures?

Keep in mind that, before Emancipation, Blacks weren’t included in the formal criminal justice system. They were either unjustly punished by slave owners or killed/lynched for alleged crimes by local mobs. Now the local and state governments of Alabama had to take on that responsibility, with little tax revenue to support those efforts.

The main challenge for any government is to find a balance between liberty and order. Alabama chose order. Whites were so terrified of the free Blacks that they built “legal” walls around Black communities. Southern Blacks were caught in a horrific web; they lived in what we would understand as a police state.

The old Slave Codes were converted into the Black Codes after the War. Among other things, the Codes criminalized joblessness for Blacks, forced them to sign annual labor contracts that ensured they received the lowest pay possible for their work, and denied them the right to vote (despite the 15th Amendment). Without proof of employment or a place of address, Blacks could be fined or jailed. Loitering and vagrancy were crimes, but Alabama made it nearly impossible for Blacks to find work or own property. And then punished them for idleness.

The Convict Leasing System

Such conditions allowed a great conspiracy to become possible: Alabama passed laws authorizing state prisoners to be leased to private industries. Most of those prisoners would be Black.

Even before the War, Alabama was desperate for revenue–and one way to minimize expenses and maximize revenues was to lease White prisoners to private companies and individuals (under the authority of a state warden). Also, beginning in the 1860s and 1870s, county prisoners were leased to small factories and the state-owned farm. Local sheriffs made money off of these arrangements.

Social and political conflicts, poverty, and a racist legal system led to a growing number of Black prisoners. Naturally, the importance of the state penitentiary in Wetumpka and local jails increased tremendously during those years. With little tax revenue, how would such facilities be funded?

And–with the state economy in shambles–how could the state budget be funded? Birmingham, the New South city, provided the answer and thereby became the centerpiece of the story.

Convict Leasing in Birmingham

Birmingham was the only place in the U.S. that included the three essential ingredients for steel production: coal, iron ore, and limestone. Outside investors were drawn to the area and by the late 19th Century, iron manufacturing became the most important industry in Alabama. Steel production soon followed.

Due to incredibly fortunate timing, as Alabama’s old agrarian economy was shrinking, Birmingham was exploding as a Southern industrial and mining hub. This perfect storm fueled Alabama’s New South economy. The state became the leading industrial center in the Deep South–and one of the hottest in the country.

Birmingham, however, was faced with a severe labor shortage. Many people in rural central Alabama migrated for those jobs. In smaller numbers, so did agricultural workers from a wider radius, including men from other states. In addition, immigrants came from Europe–5000 by 1890. But it was not enough.

The state government was desperate for revenue and Birmingham needed cheap laborers. The solution came from an unholy alliance between the state’s still-powerful Black-Belt landowners and the new-money Birmingham industrialists, known as “Big Mules.” The Big Mules would lease as many convicts as possible.

This is no Cool Hand Luke story; convict leasing was a horrific solution. One of the least understood and most dangerous systems of Black oppression in the post-Civil War South, it fueled the explosive growth in Birmingham and allowed the state government to survive.

For Birmingham’s Big Mules, the convicts–mostly Black–provided an ideal workforce. They were cheap and docile, and their numbers helped the companies to suppress the union movement. And, as a result, White miners had no leverage. Diane McWhorter succinctly captured the plight of White miners in her epic history of the Birmingham civil rights battle, Carry Me Home: They “were cheated on the coal they mined…on the rents they paid…at the company store, and summarily fired at the hint of complaint or union activity.”

The Birmingham Monopoly

In 1883, convict leasing provided about 10% of the state’s total revenue–a staggering amount of money. That year, however, everything changed. The legislature approved a plan to lease thousands of prisoners to three Birmingham companies: Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad (TCI); Pratt Coal and Iron (which TCI purchased in 1886); and Sloss Iron and Steel. Birmingham had gained a monopoly on the leasing of state convicts, 90-95% of whom were Black. The companies built and maintained unregulated prisons at various mine sites around the city.

In 1888, however, TCI negotiated a 10-year contract to lease all able-bodied state prisoners. The company paid the state $9-18.50 per month for each prisoner; the scale depended on their health and abilities. Astonishingly, by 1898, the percentage of state revenue derived from convict leasing had increased to nearly 73%. The Big Mules became very wealthy from the forced, practically free labor of mostly Black prisoners.

The working and living conditions were inhumane and often deadly. Prisoners were sent into mines with poor equipment and little if any training. They were exposed to dangerous conditions such as high gas levels, flooding, falling rock, and unstable explosives. Mine bosses had no incentive to treat the convicts well; with increasing quotas, they were motivated to literally work the miners to death.

The mine managers forced the prisoners to eat terrible food, exposed them to communicable diseases (especially tuberculosis and pneumonia), and supplied them with contaminated water–among other horrible conditions. Beatings and torture were common.

McWhorter: “…Negroes were the cornerstone of their (Big Mules) industrial success. Segregation–with its sentimental life force, racism–had kept their workers divided, wages depressed. The industrialists had not invented segregation, but they had honed it into the ultimate money-making instrument.”

U.S. Steel Moved In

In 1907, U.S. Steel acquired control of TCI–essentially turning Birmingham into an economic colony of Pittsburgh. They continued to use prisoners for the next five years. By 1910, as many as 5,000 state and county prisoners were leased at any given time. Thousands of Black men sentenced to less than a year were being cycled through the system. The threat of arrest under trumped-up charges, followed by almost immediate forced labor in Birmingham, had become an all-too-familiar part of Black life in many rural areas.

In 1911 an explosion at the Pratt Consolidated Coal Company Banner Mine (a TCI/U.S. Steel subsidiary mine located in northwestern Jefferson County) killed 128 men. Of the 128 dead, 114 were Black and 14 were White. 123 were convict workers and 5 were free (2 Whites and 3 Blacks). The Banner Mine explosion still ranks among U.S. history’s 15 deadliest coal mine disasters.

U.S. Steel, possibly the largest company in the world at that time, continued to utilize convict labor after 1907 Even with all the deaths on their watch between 1907 and 1912, the company has never taken responsibility. And Alabama was addicted to the convict leasing system: from 1907-1910 the state earned a profit of $1.3 million (about $43 million in current dollars).

In 1912 U.S. Steel announced that it would employ only free workers in its mines. The state then took over the management of the convict leasing system, prompting several legislative efforts to end the practice during the ensuing 16 years.

Although the Banner Mine disaster led to protests and negative national publicity, Birmingham’s Big Mules were able to fend off legislative attempts to end convict leasing and increase mine safety. Alabama had maintained the nation’s longest-running convict leasing system, from 1866 until 1928. Florida, the next-to-last state, had ended theirs in 1923.

Why Bring It Up Now?

A couple of years ago I was fortunate to be present at a brief presentation by Dr. Max Michael, former Dean of the UAB School of Public Health: Urban Blight Effects. I was stunned to learn that the effect of urban blight (high blood pressure, kidney disease, PTSD, for example) can be carried by DNA into at least the next two generations. Dr. Michael’s insights led me to research the keywords and into a scientific field I’d never heard of: Epigenetics.

Here’s a shorthand version of what I learned:

  • A growing body of research suggests that trauma (childhood abuse, family violence, food insecurity, etc.) can be passed from one generation to the next.
  • Trauma can leave a chemical mark on a person’s genes, which is passed down to future generations.
  • This mark doesn’t cause a genetic mutation, but it does alter the mechanism by which the gene is expressed. (Therefore not genetic, but epigenetic)

I’m at best an amateur social scientist, but this lightning bolt from Dr. Michael, this “epiphany,” gave me a new perspective on our community. If convict leasing ended in 1928, is it not likely that many of the descendants of those men still live in our area? And wouldn’t they carry (genetically and through family stories) the residual horrors of their great-grandfathers, grandfathers, and even their fathers? Keep in mind that scientists believe that these epigenetic effects may be carried beyond two generations; they just can’t prove it yet.

And this is not just a racial conundrum. What about poor Whites who were also exposed to violence and horrible working conditions? Who were denied the opportunity to join unions because there was always an available supply of virtually free Black labor? Who also lived in squalor? How have such conditions affected their descendants?

What Can We Do?

What we need in the Birmingham metro area is a scaled-down version of the Marshall Plan.

The U.S. learned a hard lesson after World War I: Don’t leave your defeated enemies living in political and economic chaos. Hitler rose out of those ashes and started World War II in Europe.

So after World War II we implemented the Marshall Plan. In a now-celebrated speech delivered at the Harvard University commencement on June 5, 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall proposed a solution to the widespread hunger, unemployment, and housing shortages that faced Europeans in the aftermath of World War II. We spent $13.3 billion (about $163 billion in current dollars) to rebuild our enemies and restructure their economies. Unbelievable after what the Fascists and Nazis had done–but we did it. And it worked.

Here’s my second epiphany: There was no “Marshall Plan” for the defeated Confederacy. Except for a very brief, halfhearted, and ineffective “Reconstruction,” Union leaders left the Confederate states to fend for themselves. There was no reconstruction–and our region still suffers from that.

Our own “Marshall Plan” is not brain surgery. Figure out creative ways to work around the pathetic restrictions of our 1901 Constitution. Raise billions of dollars. Lift up poor Blacks and Whites. Eradicate substandard housing. Create the best public transportation system in the country. Build a high-tech economy to include some new Fortune 500 companies. Recruit educated employers and employees. We need a Richard Shelby-type “czar” to run the show, to kick the apathy and pettiness out of the region. We would become THE model, the most famous and admired metro area in the country.

Let’s not discuss why we can’t do this.

Bill Ivey is a retired coach and History/Government/Economics teacher who has a BS in Business from the University of Alabama and a Master’s degree in History from UAB. He coached basketball and track for 25 years, including a 3-year stint as the women’s basketball coach at UAB. After retiring from the public school system, he founded a nonprofit that assisted young male basketball players who had graduated from high school but had “slipped through the cracks.” He also founded and ran the Birmingham Basketball Academy until 2020. He and his wife Cathy lead the Carolyn Pitts Class for Social Justice (Sunday School), which meets online every Sunday morning.

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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55 thoughts on “The ugly turn Birmingham took after its founding”

  1. This is a great history lesson and an interesting concept of a “Marshall Plan” to alter our current circumstances. Thanks for your thought-provoking writing.

  2. Convict leasing by the Big Mules reminds me of the slave laborers in Nazi Germany who literally were worked to death in service to the Nazi war machine & German industries like BMW, Bahlsen Bakeries, and Allianz Bank. Germany continues to reckon with its past. More education is needed in Alabama to change our present mindset.

    1. Mary, it was shockingly cruel—and has somehow been pushed beneath the surface of our “story.” Thanks for your comment.

    2. Sunday, 6/11/23

      Nazi Germany…I grow weary of hearing about this particular phase of Germany’s hideous regression to ancient barbarism…

      It’s a touchy subject for some when it shouldn’t be.

      Wernher von Braun redeemed himself and his fellow German scientists (more than adequately) when they facilitated and pushed, through endless persistence and engineering genius, our efforts to get to the moon & back safely in’69. We most likely could/would never have done so by ourselves, without German ingenuity…

      ~ Ballard from Huntsville

      1. With all due respect, we can NEVER grow weary of such atrocities. As a matter of fact, the German people do not want people to forget.

        In this country we don’t want to even know about our barbarism—much less remember…

        1. Bill+Ivey

          You missed my point entirely.

          I do not countenance forgetting history, or being indifferent to “atrocities”… Never have been.

          In fact, I find myself, more often than I would like, reminding folks to consciously carry the past on their shoulders like a backpack, otherwise, they will understand nothing about any aspect of human behaviour.

          It’s academic anyway, as Faulkner said,

          “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

          If you would have read my comment carefully, you would understand that the issue I was raising is the constant media connection and assumptions related to Van Braun’s history with the Nazi Party, when clueless nay- sayers are always attempting to smear and dilute Van Braun’s important contributions to all of us.

          Mary McGlaughlin may not have dropped Van Braun’s name, but not a single conscientious Huntsville citizen would miss the underpinnings she chose not to spell out.

          Furthermore, I see no “respect” from you with your implication that I ever would countenance neglecting “atrocities”. You obviously do not know me.

          ~ Ballard fro Huntsville

          1. James: I appreciate your input here, and—as Dr. Munchus has noted—your opinions are valid and valuable. What is puzzling to me is how personal this is to you. As you’ve made clear, we don’t know you, but your tone reveals quite a bit…

          2. I think the Alabama Historical Association has annual meetings each year. Not sure how one gets on the program to present your interest research?
            Go for it please!

          3. Fri., 61623

            Bill Ivey :

            Quote :

            “…but your tone reveals quite a bit…”

            You’re welcome.

            I make no apology for my…uh…”tone”…Whatsoever you think you mean by that.

            I write as I write, and play the cards as I see them.

            When I see anyone placing themselves on a pedestal and rendering judgment over an issue they clearly know nothing about, then you’ll hear from me…LOUDLY.

            I see Western Civilization slowly crumbling all around me. The signs are clear to the bear bones. The tells are everywhere.

            I am offended by wholesale ignorance. And cheap-shots.

            I’m 76 now. My days are numbered. I don’t know a better tone to sing. If you think you have a better” tone”, sing it and I’ll listen.

            In the interest of full disclosure, I do have a 20page/20 min rule of thumb for all that I read, or films/documentaries that I watch. After “20pages/20 minutes” (if I’m that patient), I’ll stop and move on when I’m not satisfied…

            I apply an abridged rule of thumb to silly Internet “conversation pieces” as well.

            I think Dante had a similar warning before one enters the Gates of Hell.

            ~ Ballard from Huntsville

        2. And Kay Ivey and her bunch are censoring us and don’t want to support teaching black history. A concerted effort, I might add.

          1. Ivey is toothless!
            You can never censor teaching nor learning!
            Young ( and Older) people are very curious about race and class in Alabama . They see it in real time in Jefferson County regardless of their ZIP code and color!

          2. Yeah, we used to jokingly call her “Aunt Kay.” Not anymore! She definitely needs to retire…

      2. I agree as the vestiges of the Nazi occupation is very much a part of world and American history.
        The facts matter so I salute those who remind us daily. Each country in the world has it own dark history.! Germany seems to continue to acknowledge these facts!!

        1. George Munchus,

          Germany certainly does so acknowledge its history, and has done so for a long time.

          It’s long overdue that Americans acknowledge their wretched and dark beginnings.

          Some are doing an excellent job reminding us of our ugly past. I just heard a report on NPR about how a certain group of Jesuits, in 1838, sold slaves and how Georgetown University was built on the backs of slaves, owned by theses Catholic Church Jesuits…Now I wouldn’t go to Georgetown if it was “free”.

          I say we tend to our own garden and out all the dark associated histories, BEFORE we compulsively point the finger at other cultures.

          ~ Ballard from Huntsville

          1. Many universities in America bought and owned slaves like Georgetown University which has reluctantly and publicly acknowledged such! Historically speaking the 1619 Project lays out some hidden nuances about slavery and the Struggle for justice in America. Thanks for Ballard From Huntsville. All voices matter please.

      3. I hear very good people on here who want the beat for Birmingham an Alabama but why we vote for people who want to ban books not teach history every thing about America was great I still haven’t heard 1 MAGA person say which years to go back to that was great????? it’s been massive problems for Americans every yr only people it’s been great for is Rich white men ?????at least acknowledge the truths

        1. “They” are literally afraid of the truth. And we’ve all been raised on myths. Thanks, Will.

  3. This is one of most pragmatic focused arguments I have read with a solution that is doable!
    The Jefferson County Commission and the 33 cities and 13 school systems in Jefferson County are poised for implementation! It will be tough but the County Commission is the spoke and hub and wheel at this moment in time!!
    We must eliminate the poverty in these communities in Jefferson County first .
    Crime might come down?

    1. Thanks, George. I have a great deal of respect for you, so your positive response means a lot. Let’s just see if any movers/shakers are paying attention!

      1. The movers and shakers are us voters !
        Remember the history of America started in 1619 according to some scholars!

      2. Dear Mr. Ivey:

        Good day.

        I was / am greatly impressed with your article.

        It is painfully enlightening and intellectually encouraging.

        Your “Marshall Plan” truly resonated with me.

        When I was at college (a thousand years ago), I read about the Marshall Plan.

        Back then, I also thought Alabama could benefit from a Socio-Economic “injection” of Capital and Optimism.

        Sir, I was born & raised in Alabama (Alexander City).

        For the last 20+ years, I have lived outside of Alabama & operated in the Venture Capital / Investment Banking sectors (NYC, Silicon Valley, Europe & the Middle East).

        Recently, I’ve returned “home” to help manage a family member’s health challenges.

        I’ve decided to stay.

        I’d like to deploy my skills / relationships to contribute to the Growth of Birmingham.

        May I politely ask you for Direction(s)
        (I’ve already spoke to Mr. Sher about my ambitions)?

        I’d like to work with professionals interested to continue to build on Birmingham’s emerging Tech Eco-System.

        Given Alabama’s global relationships (Mercedes, Kia, UAB, etc.), I am confident Birmingham can become one of America’s hub for conducting International Trade.

        Can we discuss Opportunities?


        Mujahid M. Abdullah

        1. Mujahid:

          This is wonderful! And I would love to meet with you. Feel free to contact me at the email below.


          1. Dear Mr. Ivey:

            I thank you for your kind correspondence.

            Unfortunately, I am unable to perceive your provided email address.

            For the sake of Convenience, please allow me to share one of mine:


            Yes, I also look forward to a discussion (Zoom).

            Also, I plan to be in Birmingham in July.

            I do hope you will allow me to invite you to a coffee conversation.


            Mujahid M. Abdullah

  4. I disagree. Be as weary as you want, but
    von Braun had knowledge and connections that made him attractive to the United States. Did we “hold our nose” and accept his past along with his expertise? Yes, I think so. Better us than the Russians, but he was culpable as a Nazi. We do need to remember
    the 6 million who were systematically murdered. The professor turned a blind eye to the atrocities around him.

    1. Mary McGlaughlin…

      This blanket nonsense is what I’m referring to above.

      Mary McGlaughlin…Just how clean are your ancestors ?…How many bones of Native Americans are buried under the foundation of your home ?

      Have you consciously researched your American ancestors, and found them wanting when it comes to owning slaves ?

      Are you volunteering yourself and your ancestors as pristine role models we should all follow ?

      Do you have any idea whatsoever what it must have been like be like to live and work under Hitler’s Germany, under the thumb of true tyranny ?…Any bright sixth grader knows by now that if you EVER said “No” to Hitler, you would be dead before you could remove your uniform !…

      I suggest you read at least one of Van Braun’s bios before you go yapping off-the-cuff about his integrity.

      You obviously have not.

      ~ Ballard from Huntsville

      1. Mr. Ballard – we differ in opinion. I have no idea how I would have reacted to Hitler, and thankfully will never know. Don’t ask sarcastic questions about my family history. I am no “pristine “ role model, I can assure you.
        I maintain that Von Braun was valuable to the US, that’s why he was allowed to come here, despite his Nazi involvement.

        1. Fri., 6/16/23

          Mary McGlaughlin,

          I think I just saw you blink.

          I said nothing about your “family”…It’s not your “family history” I care about. It’s about your ancestral history.

          And Von Braun wasn’t just “valuable to the U.S.” He was valuable to all humanity, and carried himself with dignity and loved everybody. He was a compassionate leader, and always kept his sight on the ball. And when you are literally “under-the-gun”, in a totalitarian state, you don’t always know the traces you are leaving behind…My family & his knew each other well.

          I only wish I had half the patience he had for people in general…That’s what made him a leader.

          And I never listen to the Idiot Wind (the media) Dylan warned us about.

          And, for the record, I rarely deal with “opinions”…I made an exception here, at your expense…Apparently…

          ~ Ballard from Huntsville

        2. I think forgiveness applies here to Mr. Von Braun and others. I agree with Mr. Ballard and the tryanny under which Von Braun had to live. How much did he know to what degree did he willingly participate? I don’t know,we don’t know. What wr do know is that repentance and forgiveness, core to our culture and values is applicable. The good Mr. Von Braun did publicly and privately and the Germans in the rebuilt Germany should be acknowledged and appreciated without the stigma constantly attached. There were ex confederates who wanted a better world after the war. Robert E. Lee and my ancestor MG.James Lawson Kemper( Governor of Virginia after the war) and those who names we don’t know. Yes,we need to never forget the bad we as humans share in our history,but we should not taint the good and change attempted by those who had a change of heart. I embrace forgiveness.

          1. Tues., Sept. 12, 2023

            Delbert Calvert Hiestand,

            Yes…Americans can be so short-sighted and ego/ethno-centric at times when is the most crucial time to call for empathy and demonstrate understanding about what other citizens from other cultures have to go through, just to survive.

            Today’s Americans are spoiled and pampered, and it’s not getting better. Wholesale ignorance, illiteracy in the secondary schools, superstition and escalating dysfunction have become the norm for the past four decades.

            Forgiveness ?…Throughout history, in many failed cultures, there comes a point when there is simply too much to “forgive”.

            When darkness is summoned by a majority, the question of “forgiveness” becomes a moot point, and an enlightened minority are relegated to the back seat.

            Breakdown. Fragmentation. The center does not hold.

            And if anyone doesn’t think breakdown is happening now, then close your doors to the outside, sit in front of your mindless TV, and eat your popcorn. You’ll never know what happened, at any rate.

            ~ Ballard from Huntsville

  5. I agree with Mary McGlauglin absolutely.
    I salute those who remind us of the vestiges of such murdering behavior. Each country must learn to deal with its own history. World history and American history matter.! Never forget these facts.

    1. George Munchus…

      And I say we hold the mirror to ourselves.

      If we truly see ourselves as we really are, there would be little time to turn that mirror on anyone else !

      ~ Ballard fro Huntsville

  6. The 1901 Alabama Constitution does not give us Home Rule and without it change will come slow with many struggles. I see mention of lifting up poor folks and providing opportunities for educated employees. Why not create opportunities for uneducated/unskilled labor? The best way to lift someone up is to provide opportunities to succeed and thrive. Manufacturing is declining and unskilled labor jobs as well. What your plan failed to mention is addressing some of the root causes of the “white flight” that has plagued Birmingham for decades. Creating new high tech jobs and recruiting fortunate 500 companies is great but if those employees and executives decide to live in the suburbs rather than the city, aren’t we continuing the white flight drain on city tax$ and resources? Whites and educated minorities left the city for many reasons but chief among those was education opportunities and safety. Without addressing the root causes BHM will continue to metro dominated by it’s suburbs.

    1. Good observation John ! The earth real estate in Jefferson County is value added and many folks are maintaining it very well! I understand the 33 cities in Jefferson County are not all in love with the City of Birmingham and the population that lives in poverty but change is indeed slow. I remain bullish on the 13 school systems in Jefferson County and the 33 cities in Jefferson County and the County Commission. Lots of moving parts and people are interacting in there own quiet way. The County Commission is robust!! The County Delegation is strong!
      Notice how they got the State of Alabama to agree to make Birmingham Southern College a 30 million dollar very low interest loan over the objections of the Governor! Do not bet against home rule as the Jefferson County delegation rules when it chooses to rule!

      1. Yes, George! I believe the local delegation could kick the state’s teeth in if they really wanted to…

        1. You have to give the local delegation a reason to kick the state’s teeth! Birmingham Southern College is an real time example!

          1. George, you are an experienced and pragmatic man! Thanks for taking a personal interest in this piece…

    2. True, John. And I think your key point is an education-to-jobs system. No reason it can’t be done.

      And I would love to see the lack of home rule challenged in court…

      1. In the federal courts ? I think home rule is an excuse sometimes but hey what do I know about the law?
        Nothing except litigation is Alabama it seems !!
        Notice the recent United States Supreme Court decision on how Black voters are treated ?
        There is also a similar lawsuit against the Jefferson County Community regarding gerrymandering! That is home rule in the affirmative!

  7. Mr. Ivey:

    Do you know where the records for TCI in the period 1880-1900 are held today? I have reached out to the Birmingham Public Library Archives to learn if any are housed there. Although we live in Nashville, we return frequently to Birmingham, where I might make time to investigate those records.

    My reason for doing so is to determine how and to what degree the company provided medical care to the leased convicts who worked the mills and mines around Birmingham. For several years my wife and I have conducted on-again-off-again research on her fascinating family history. (I hope to be presenting it soon to interested groups under the auspices of the Alabama Historical Association. The story ranges across more than 200 years, from Rhode Island slave trading, to Louisiana chattel slavery, to the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras and beyond.) The Birmingham piece of her family history focuses mostly on her great-grandparents, who moved to the city from Louisiana in the 1880s for him to serve as a company physician for TCI. They lived on 6th Avenue North, were active in establishing the Cathedral Church of the Advent, and are both buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. His office was in a building at the corner of 6th Avenue North and 16th Street North. It was heavily damaged in the 1963 bombing, although the building had passed out of the family years before. I feel confident he treated all TCI workers, including the incarcerated ones, perhaps throughout the years until his death in 1901. But I’d like to be able to confirm that.

    Thanks for any information you can offer.

    1. Such a wonderful human interest story this reminds us of the good people in Jefferson County who treated the Black community when the white power structure refused to do such.
      You might contact the reference department at the UAB library regarding this question or the Birmingham Historical Society! Please continue to share three facts with the world at large.

    2. Thanks so much for sharing a small piece of the family’s story. I’ll do my best to find out where those record are stored. Micro: Your wife’s great-grandfather. Macro: U.S. Steel has historically denied their role in this saga, but the practice continued after they purchased TCI.

      Are you aware that there’s a mass grave in Pratt City that has never been “tended to?” Bones are literally exposed there. USS won’t do anything to help fix that.

      I hope I’ll be able to help! Thanks.

      1. Not yet. Jim Baggett, head of the Archives, has been recuperating from surgery. I’m not sure if he’s back to work yet. Jim is also immediate past president of AHA. He’s indicated that I’ll be added to the AHA speakers bureau but again has been unable to do so yet because of his surgery. Once I’m officially on the AHA website, I’ll mention that here, although the Birmingham piece is only a small part of the entire story. I know I’ll be presenting it at St. Martins in the Pines, but no date has been set.

          1. I had the same vague recollection. In my correspondence with Jim, as recently as May 23, he still identifies himself as “Head, Archives Department.” I hope to hear from him again soon. If time permits I hope to drop by the BPL Archives when we’re in Birmingham visiting family next week.

      1. Thanks. I read in Blackmon’s book (but not in its entirety) when it was published. It would be a real revelation if I could find Dr. Robert Cotten’s name in the TCI records. Robert was a Confederate veteran who met Eliza (Lida) Davenport in her hometown of Mer Rouge, Louisiana. My wife’s maiden name is Lida Davenport Beaumont. Eliza was born on the family slave plantation in 1842. There’s far, far more to the story than can or should be shared here. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to do so for Birmingham groups in the near future.

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