You know when you go on vacation, you try to do and see everything you can that is unique to that city? Well, when I moved to Birmingham over six years ago I had a long list of things I wanted to do, see and experience while I was here (not knowing that this might be my final stop). Over the years I have done many of the things on the list, but one thing that remained was Birmingham's Civil Rights Institute. Last week I got the opportunity to go, and to top it off I went with some elderly black women who have lived through the civil rights movement here in Birmingham.
As I toured the museum alongside of these women, I learned so much about Birmingham's history, as well as the civil rights movement. It is truly amazing to be living in a city where SO much history has taken place to further the rights of black people. Today I wanted to share some of those things with those who read this (and may not know it).
Back in the 1920s Birmingham had two baseball teams, the "Barons," and the "Black Barons" since the teams were segregated. The "Black Barons" started in the early 1920s, and were very good for the 40 years they were around, and ended up having five of their players inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They played at the historic Rickwood Field, the oldest ballpark still in use today. Both whites and blacks enjoyed watching them play (even though they had segregated seating), especially in the late 1940s when Willie Mays played for them and they competed for the Negro National Championship.
The astonishing pace of Birmingham's growth through the turn of the century earned it the nicknames "The Magic City" and "The Pittsburgh of the South". Much like Pittsburgh in the north, Birmingham's major industries were iron and steel production. 30% of those laborers were white, while 70% of them were black. However, it was the burial business which led to the success of a few black men in Birmingham.
It is hard to imagine that from 1940 to the mid 1960s, there were 50 unsolved bombings, giving Birmingham another nickname: Bombingham. Then on 12/1/55, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a crowded bus in Montgomery. It was that defiance that led to continued violence between the blacks and whites for the next couple of decades, but also the beginning of laws changing. A year after Ms. Parks famous move, the Supreme Court said that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional.
Laws continued to slowly change over the years, so I was shocked to read that in 1990 (just 20 short years ago), a burning cross was put in the yard of Huntsville, AL couple (a city 1.5 hrs north of Birmingham) because the white woman was dating a black man. That is pathetic! So, as we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr Day today, I hope you all know the reason we celebrate this day. It is because he fought to end racial discrimination in a nonviolent way. So in observance of him, teach your children to love everyone equally. If we can end racial discrimination, perhaps we can make this world a safer, happier place with less war and turmoil for their future.