Birmingham changed America and my life forever

Paul Kix
Paul Kix

Today’s guest columnist is Paul Kix.

I am a white man from Iowa who married a Black woman from Houston, and we’re raising our three biracial children in suburban Connecticut, and I’m here to tell you: My life is only possible because of Birmingham, Alabama.

From the vantage point of the present day, events in Birmingham allowed me to fall in love with Sonya from Houston in 2004, to get married in Texas, a former Jim Crow state in 2007 and to raise our two black kids today on a shaded street where none of our neighbors, white or black, harass us for who we are.

Birmingham is the origin story of America.

I’m convinced that Birmingham 1963 was the linchpin of the civil rights era and perhaps the most consequential ten-week period in modern American history.

Maybe you know that story and maybe you don’t, but I feel so indebted to Birmingham.

Birmingham, the greatest story of America

Sonya and I knew that the historic events over 10 weeks in Birmingham that year shaped America in ways that no season had before and none had since. What happened during Project Confrontation in Birmingham in that spring of 1963, was more than a great story of the Civil Rights Movement. It was the greatest story of America.

Martin Luther King Jr. and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference went down to Birmingham, financially insolvent, completely afraid, with the intent to break segregation or be broken by it.

King and the rest broke segregation in that most segregated of American cities through grit and perseverance and, above all, hope.

The success in Birmingham then set in motion all that followed: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 and King’s death in 1968 and then a new life for his country. The rise of the Black middle- and upper-class and Barack Obama’s presidency.

I am now telling this story, but through the prism of another story, about my family.

In the summer of 2020, as Officer Derek Chauvin ground his knee absent-mindedly, almost playfully, into the back of George Floyd’s neck, the murder felt almost personal.

You see, Floyd was from inner-city Houston, and grew up in Third Ward, one neighborhood over from where my wife Sonya grew up, in the equally hard up Fifth Ward.

George was Sonya’s age, forty-six, and he’d gone to Yates High.

Sonya’s cousins had gone to Yates. Her cousin Derrick knew George back then, watched him as a tight end on the Yates football team that made the state championship game.

In part because of the overlap between Sonya’s history and George’s, we didn’t shield our kids from the coverage of his death like we had the others, all the unarmed Black men whom police had killed and whose murders had also been recorded by security footage or cellphones.

No, with George Floyd, we sat on the couch and watched him die on CNN.

“That could have been Derrick,” Sonya said as we saw officer Chauvin absentmindedly, almost playfully, grind his knee into the back of George’s neck.

That could be one of our boys.

 Shortly after there were separate killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Jacob Blake.

 Our twins lost their innocence. They saw that footage also.

“Why do they keep trying to kill us?” Walker yelled, running from the room in tears with Marshall following him.

It was a tough time, the latter half of 2020.

I’m a writer and because of those ugly incidents and how they impacted my family, I chose a book project as a means of inspiring our children and others.

Everything in the 21st century is birthed in that pivotal spring in Birmingham, 1963.

I visited Birmingham early this year when my book, You Have to be Prepared to Die Before You Can Begin to Live, debuted.

I fell in love with Birmingham.

I spoke at the Civil Rights Institute and found a city welcoming to all.

Birmingham changed America and my life—and for that I will be grateful forever.

It is not just the most personal story I’ve ever told but one we all share.

Here’s praying our children and grandchildren always remember it.

I know mine will.

Editor’s note: I read Paul’s book and it is one of the best books I’ve ever read–a Birmingham story that reads like a thriller novel. I couldn’t put it down.

Paul Kix is a best-selling author, entrepreneur, and public speaker, who lives in Connecticut.

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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10 thoughts on “Birmingham changed America and my life forever”

  1. Thank you for this contribution to Comeback Town! Thanks even more for writing your incredible book, You Have to Be Prepared to Die before You Can Live. Your book is certainly an accurate history of Birmingham’s contribution to the Civil Rights Movement–but, as importantly, it is written as a spell binding thriller–something lacking in other historical accounts. You breathe life into the stories of the those who did great things 60+ years ago. And, these men and women, changed the world.

  2. What a moving article!
    I remember moving to Birmingham from Iowa to work at IAB. I still remember my trepidation knowing about Birmingham’s past and wondering what might happen to me, a Brown Latina.
    My feats became less intense slowly and I finally decided that I could be happy living there when I met a very nice interracial couple at a local restaurant. They were both Alabamians, and although I could see signs of segregation and discrimination, seeing this couple out in public left me with a glimmer of hope.

  3. Nice article, but you neglected to mention that George Floyd was a thug criminal. Look at his criminal background as I have. OTOH he did not deserve to be killed. He should have been locked up a long time ago. My parents moved to Hoover in 1965. I saw “white flight” from Birmingham. There is now “black flight” from Birmingham. Good Black families are leaving Birmingham everyday. They don’t want their children exposed to the crime in Birmingham. Why do you think the city schools offer large signing bonuses? Teachers are afraid.

    1. Frankly, I think you are a bit off base here. George Floyd had a drug problem. Now I know that there are lots of people that think that someone who has or had a problem with addiction, well they are worthless. This simply is 100% fundamentally wrong. ALL of us know someone who has battled drugs and/or alcohol. If one says they do not know someone with these issues they are being honest with themselves or anyone else. What happened to Mr. Floyd was one of the cruelest most vicious, and yes, intentional acts that has occurred in our modern history. It only takes a second or two of thought to make an already heinous act Premeditated First Degree Murder. George’s killer’s knee was on George Floyd’s neck for OVER NINE MINUTES. If that does not convert to Premeditation, then what does?
      It is far far past time that we needed to have the very serious, very blunt conversation and get to the bottom of this asinine abhorrent race relations problem we have in our nation. Communities of color have long been ready to talk and start some change. For whatever excuse, White people are just too busy to take on a role in this effort. WELL, IF SOME WHITE PEOPLE WERE ABLE TO PROPERLY CONDUCT THEMSELVES OUTSIDE THEIR HOME AND DID NOT INSIST ON DIPPING THEIR NOSES IN STUFF THAT HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THEM, THEN MAYBE, JUST MAYBE WE MIGHT GROW A WEE TINY LITTLE BIT.
      I end with this. I am LGBTQ. I was in line at the grocery store last week, when some still wet behind the ears barely 30 something bigot simply could not resist pulling out of his bag of tricks, using not one but three hate speech slurs in the same sentence, over something so petty and stupid it was. This guy made another most tactile error. He attacked me on MY TURF. I was in the neighborhood I live in, and more than a few people that I know and live close to were also in the store at the time. When that guy spoke the words he chose to say, everything came to a complete halt. I did not get mad or upset, but many other people did, so much so, that I finally had to speak up before all out bedlam started. I told them, I got this. I asked this guy a series of questions – Do you provide any portion of my income? NO, Do you live in my home, NO, Have we ever met? NO, Do you sleep in my bed? NO, Do you perform any functions in any manner, be it large or small that have any relevance in any way to my life? NO. For the record I too answered NO to all of these questions. There was a box next to my neighbor on the floor. I asked if she was using it, she said No. I asked her to please pass it to me. I gave the box to the guy and asked that he do two things ; 1, Go and spent some time in the LGBTQ area in Midtown, with an open mind. I promise you within 15 minutes, you will learn a very valuable lesson. and 2. This is your new box of BIDNESS. Yes I said BIDNESS. Going forward, you are only allowed to work with what you have inside this box. The lives of strangers and those you do not like are never permitted inside this box. Anytime you encounter other people, try saying Hello as you pass them. 99% of them will speak back and say hello.
      For a good many years, I was an educator.; I taught Special Education students that were in a behavioral homebound program. One thing that I promise you that you have not seen and I highly doubt you ever will see is any teacher anywhere that is afraid of anything. We have literally seen it all, heard it all, coped with it all – doing so on the fly. See kids smell fear better than any bloodhound on this planet. If a teacher is in fear of anything, the second the first kid smells that fear, that teacher is toast. And there is not a single solitary kid that any teacher worth their salt that will beat that teacher on their turf. And that sir, you can take to bank. Thank you for listening.

  4. Back in the day – before Interstate Highways – Downtown Birmingham was Alabama’s Central Business District!
    On every corner, in full view, were Uniformed Police Officers directing traffic, protecting pedestrians and properties, spreading good-will and maintaining Law and Order. Where are they today? Out of sight-out of mind!
    In my view, fighting CRIME must be pro-active – show off “ Birmingham’s Finest “ – put them on the streets, in the parks, in the business communities, at high-traffic locations! Maybe thugs and the likes will have second thoughts?

  5. Paul, Bear with me there is a bit of a method to my madness. I very much appreciate your viewpoint on what happened in Birmingham in 1963, though honestly, for different reasons, I think I can honestly say that the entirety of the United States would be so much better if the year 1963 had never happened. And, part of this “never happened” would include my not coming into this world, for the order for me to enter this world was placed with the Stork in the last week of July 1963, a fact that actually I am ok with.
    I really wish that other people had the same thoughts you have and saw Birmingham as the Greatest City in America. Instead, it was the opposite that filled people’s minds. I lived in Birmingham for 43 years and I saw the city and its metro population suffer because of the senseless useless hate carried by Bull Connor and at the time, George Wallace and far too many others, over a person’s whats – the very things we cannot do a damn thing about. Black / White Male / Female Gay / Straight Short / Tall Fat / Thin and more that all fall into the category of Born This Way. Not a single one of us can do a thing about a single one of the whats, no matter how much we would like to change things, it ain’t happening. For some stupid excuse, too many people refused to understand this back then, just as far too many people refuse to accept these facts today. I know that I am lucky in that I do not understand hate and I pray I never ever understand it.
    Still, to this day, 60 years later, Birmingham still feels the pain of 1963. I saw that pain each and every time I bumped into Chris McNair – one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known. His daughter died in the church bombing in 1963. One thing that hit me the other day. A large problem that I have noticed with people who express bigoted views has a lot to do with the fact that people never learned the art of minding one’s own business. I have three questions when people try to hate on me because of what they think I am. “1. Are you wearing a ring I gave you in a ceremony? NO, 2. Are you living under the same roof as I am? NO and 3. Are you sharing my bed? NO These answers all being NO, I tell the person then you can hate all you want to, for I do not have a right to tell you or anyone else how to feel. However, I do ask that you not expose the rest of us with any further hate speech slurs. None of them work on me today and no one else here left home this morning to be subjected to such abhorrent behaviors.” After that, I turn around and walk away. The walking away part is what so many people never learned. They need to do something about that because they have a what in their life that if the secret got out they would want to be hated because of it. Thanks for following me to the end.

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