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Birmingham Alabama

 

On our way east to Atlanta we had a rest stop in Birmingham Alabama.  Birmingham is a town that is familiar to my generation for often being in the headlines marked by freedom riders, rioting, and white police and vigilantes killing those black people incautious enough to stand up for their human rights. This was where Martin Luther King Junior was jailed for just such impertinence.  I had just started University and remember these events quite clearly.

 

Birmingham campaign for racial equality Birmingham campaign for racial equality
Birmingham campaign for racial equality Birmingham campaign for racial equality

Birmingham campaign for racial equality - to see more click on the ML King Memorial image in Atlanta (below)

 

Birmingham was once as industrial as any town in the Confederacy, a hub of iron making.  But after the Civil War was lost the South was economically devastated and  Birmingham was competing with the likes of Pittsburgh. It remained a place of dark satanic mills and union unrest.  It was here that black activists chose to oppose the Jim Crow Laws that replaced slavery to keep black people in their place.  These imposed strict segregation of the races, ensuring that poor undereducated whites would not be socially or materially outclassed by upwardly mobile blacks as they had already been in the north. For years these whites had resisted any change to these laws and the Ku Klux Klan and others were seen on our black and white TV, dragging black men on ropes or chains behind their utes. Billie Holliday's Strange Fruit recalls mass hangings by the Klan or informal southern militia.

In the sixties, as a result of Northern outrage and black activism, segregation was at last outlawed but in Birmingham the social fabric was seriously damaged and for three decades the city shrank as a result of 'white flight'.  It's now recovering but has a long way to go.

We were there for one night and needed to find somewhere to eat.  Google maps suggested a place.  The restaurant was well appointed with excellent food'. There was a slight pause when we asked to see the wine list.  Wine by the glass featured in the cocktail menu but we could buy an entire bottle our waitress supposed, she would have to check with the manager.  It was about then that we realised that there was not a single white face apart from ours.  But it was fine.  The manager turned up to ensure that we were happy and everyone was charming.  We could only guess what would have happened to a black couple turning up in a good white restaurant in Birmingham just half a lifetime ago, when we were young adults.  So much has changed for the better but when you drive around the back blocks you realise there's a long way to go.

 

 

 

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