|Vulcan, the God of Fire, watches over "The Pittsburgh of South" -- in 2013, Birmingham is the "Detroit of the South"|
You know the drill by now -- white people flee a city, say Memphis or Atlanta, when the conditions for raising a family become too difficult to escape from with the rise in black crime and the high costs of private school to make up for the deficiencies black students create in public schools. These whites move to the suburbs and create thriving cities; meanwhile, black political power in consolidated in the major city whites abandoned, but the economy collapses without normal, middle-class white people around.
Eventually, middle-class black families (many times those working in government jobs) decide to move to these suburbs white people created in a bid to escape the low property value found in the city completely dominated politically by blacks.
The trickle of black families becomes a torrent, and soon "For Sale" signs pop up everywhere as white families seek a new community to raise their children in... and the once safe white suburb takes on all the characteristics of the black city, because black people imported with them the very conditions responsible for the demise of a city like Memphis -- themselves.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more hilarious to watch then in Birmingham -- ground zero for the civil rights victory in 1963 and a now 74 percent black city. As Paul Hemphill shared with us in "Leaving Birmingham," black people have created a living, breathing civil rights shrine in Kelly Ingram Park, which sits in the shadow of - in his words - "the white man's skyscrapers":
The majestic statue of the Roman god of metallurgy, Vulcan, the city's logo during its heyday as a steel town, had become a forlorn figure, ironically overlooking a 20 mile valley of battened steel mills and blast furnaces that once were Birmingham's heartbeat but now resembled slain dinosaurs choked by kudzu...
And finally, more germane to the Birmingham that the world knew, there was a black mayor, a black majority city council, black faces everywhere downtown except in the highest suites. The playing field, one might infer, had been made more nearly level.
Birmingham's white flight, for those who could afford it, had occurred southward, literally behind Vulcan's back, "over the mountain," beyond the genteel all-white villages of Mountain Brook and Homewood and Vestavia hills, onward into the lush hills and bottomlands, where not just new towns but new golf communities had sprung up overnight.
What once had been dismissed as "Niggertown," the traditional black business area four blocks west of City Hall where the most visible violence had occurred in 1963, now as being designated the Birmingham Civil Rights District.(p. 2- 6)
Hemphill describes in the book that on the morning of Tuesday, September 15, 1992, a crowd of 850 people (almost all black) would gather in the shadow of the new $12 million Civil Rights Institute in Kelley Ingram Park, to attend "A Salute to the Unsung Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement."
Reverend Joseph E. Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference stepped to the podium and said, "It was Birmingham where spirituality met brutality," then launching into a discussion of the "Rodney King Verdict, drugs, economic inequities ("35 years later, after all the sit-ins, the kneel-ins, the pray-ins, and the march-ins, the median income for blacks is still 60 percent what it is for whites."
He would continue, "heard some fool on the radio talking 'bout how they oughta send all the niggers back to Africa. Well, in the first place, most of us have never been to Africa. But I get over there every now and then - got me some bucks now, you know, I can do that sort of thing. Africa's lovely, all right, but let me tell you something. I don't go over there to Africa without checking my tickets first to make sure it says 'round trip."Folding chairs squeaked on the slick concrete as everyone rose to give the old warrior an ovation, and while they were up they began to sing "We Shall Overcome," ans soon they were leaving the hall and walking toward Kelly Ingram Park, en masse, beneath the white man's skyscrapers..."Since that moment, white people haven't been able to get a word in on the topic of race in America -- it's a one-way conversation with black people pushing and pushing and pushing for more, more and more. Any white person who dares interrupt this conversation with a "but," or worse, "no," is automatically disqualified from participating in this one-sided conversation. But back to Hemphill describing Kelly Ingram Park:
Kelly Ingram Park had been named for a white man, Oswald Kelly Ingram, the first American sailor to die in the First World War, but over the years it had evolved as a buffer between the black and white business areas of downtown Birmingham. it was during the first week of May in '63 that it became the focal point of the war between Bull Connor and his cops and firemen and Martin Luther King and his demonstrators, mostly preachers and students. Every morning 100s of blacks would walk across the street from Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and begin milling about in the park, queuing up for a march on City Hall. Facing them would be Birmingham's all-white police force with their riot gear and paddy wagons and K-9 dogs and the firemen with water cannons capable of stripping bark off a tree at 100 yards. Soon enough, the battle was joined, with network television crews there to record it all for the world to see: chanting crowds... frightened young blacks fleeing for safety from the snarling dogs and the water cannons; paddy wagons being loaded with so many demonstrators that ultimately people were being jailed behind fences at the state fairgrounds. Those days in May created the most chilling television images recorded during the civil rights movement in America. When they were over, on May 10, King had won. A tentative agreement was reached that the city's white leaders would release all prisoners and begin to desegregate public accommodations and hire blacks as clerks and, for the first time, actually sit down and start listening to the black people who constituted 40 percent of the city population. (p. 8)
No wonder then that on this bright summery day nearly 3 decades later the words "hallowed ground" would be heard over and over from the two dozen dignitaries seated in a semicircle before a bandshell in the park... again no more than 10 percent were white. Many of them were black schoolchildren, romping on the newly laid sod, skipping along Freedom Walk, playing hide-and-seek among the sculptures depicting demonstrators cowering before vintage water cannons mounted on tripods and kids languishing behind prison bars (not yet in place was a wall from which would spring sculpted police dogs)... And as always, up on the forbidding ridge of Red Mountain, the natural barrier that is Birmingham's Berlin Wall, there was the sulking statue of Vulcan looking down on it all. (p. 9)
Reverend Abraham Woods would call Birmingham and Kelly Ingram Park the, "Jerusalem of the civil rights movement," "the Mecca of the civil rights movement, the Iwo Jima of the civil rights movement." (p. 10)
"From now on, when we come here and hear the birds sing, the will be singing 'freedom.' When the water runs, it will run 'freedom.' When the crickets chirp, they will chirp 'freedom.' When the wind blows, it will blow 'freedom.'
And yes, after he spoke, the crowd sang "We Shall Overcome" again... the song echoing through a park which contained a granite marker proclaiming it a "Place of Revolution and Reconciliation." (p. 11)
Hilariously, this black city - run by black people in all branches of government, the board of education, and the police, and with a school system that is 95 percent black - is being abandoned by black people.
Just as Reverend Joseph E. Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference spoke in the shadows of the "white man's skyscrapers" in 1992, joking how he always was sure to have a 'round trip' ticket to Africa, black people in Birmingham are abandoning the "Mecca of the Civil Rights Movement" and following white people to the thriving suburbs they created (curiously, in the complete absence and without the divine hand/assistance of blacks) [Birmingham changes as blacks move to the suburbs, Birmingham News, March 27, 2011]:
For the growing cities identified by The News, Theresa Davidson, a sociologist at Samford University, noted that the very large increases in the percent of black residents were often the result of low actual numbers of blacks to begin with.
"This provides a number of interesting possibilities," she said. If those growing neighborhoods and communities can successfully integrate, she said:
- Minority students in integrated schools will gain positive results such as better academic outcomes, higher likelihood of college attendance and lower levels of involvement in delinquent activity.
- The dominant group will gain advantages such as increased tolerance and development of informal networks that are more racially diverse than they otherwise would be.
"If these areas can find positive ways to embrace these changes, welcome diversity and true integration, and build and strengthen neighborhood social capital, the communities and their residents will be healthier for it," Davidson said.
But, she cautioned, some cities that appear to be integrated overall may have a lot of residential segregation in different neighborhoods.What's funny is these formerly all-white suburbs of Birmingham already had strong neighborhood social capital and real communities; the residents were quite healthy because of the lack of diversity (someone needs to send Ms. Davidson a copy of Robert Putnam's work on diversity and social capital...).
Why is it that black people must always follow whites? Why couldn't Birmingham - the "Jerusalem of the civil rights movement," "the Mecca of the civil rights movement, the Iwo Jima of the civil rights movement" - be a thriving city under black rule?
Why is it that the conditions in a community that black people create are always conditions that black people flee from, seeking the solace (and economic opportunities) of the communities white people create?
Why is it the conditions that white people create in their communities are always more desirable than the conditions black people create in communities they have complete control over -- and, more importantly, where the "hallowed grounds" of Kelly Ingram rest?
Of course, race discussions/debates in America are only a one-way street of perpetual black victimology/grievances, so asking why black people must follow white people wherever they go is out of line.
There's a new book out by Tanner Colby called, "Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America." In it, this confessed, unapologetic lover of all things Barack Obama attacks the white citizens of Birmingham for turning their back on the city. He attacks the school system white people (and white students) built and sustain in places like Vestavia Hills, while whining about the poor academic conditions of the Birmingham City School (BCS) system - a 95 percent black system (run by black people) that is merely a reflection of the type of school system blacks create:
Vestavia Hills sits just south of Birmingham, the largest city in Alabama and, at one time, the largest industrial center in the South. Together with the neighboring towns of Mountain Brook, Homewood, and Hoover, Vestavia forms the nucleus of “Over the Mountain” – the catchall term for Birmingham’s suburban sprawl, so named because you go “over” Red Mountain to get there from downtown. (p. 5)
In the wake of the 1963 Civil Rights campaign, Martin Luther King sat down and wrote Why We Can’t Wait, a personal remembrance of the monumental events that transpired here. “I like to believe that Birmingham will one day become a model in Southern race relations,” he wrote. “I like to believe that the negative extreme of Birmingham’s past will resolve into the positive and utopian extreme of her future; that the sins of a dark yesterday will be redeemed in the achievements of a bright tomorrow. I have this hope because, once on a summer day, a dream came true.”
Came true for some. As wonderful as life in the New South may seem, there is still the matter of those left behind. There is still the matter of Woodlawn. Vestavia may not be the bad guy anymore, but the fact of Vestavia – the gross racial and socioeconomic divide its existence created between city and suburb – remains very much the problem. In Birmingham, the dropout rate is over 20 percent. In Vestavia, 99 percent are walking out with diplomas. While 80 percent of the city’s schoolchildren hover at or below the poverty line, not one student in the entire Mountain Brook system is poor enough to qualify for an assisted lunch. As city schools go without working bathrooms, Homewood has jut built a brand-new, green-certified middle school. I walked through it. It’s like going to eighth grade in the future.
Actually, Mr. Colby, white people created the property values in places like Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook, which are only a reflection of the neighborhood and community that white built - and sustain- in these cities. Black people inherited a city built by whites when they assumed control of Birmingham, and if these neighborhoods/communities have low property value, then it's merely a monetary reflection of the types of communities black people create.
White have deserted the city schools for good. In the 2008-2009 school years, out of the 27,440 students enrolled in Birmingham city schools, only 263 were white, less than 1 percent. Out of 1,157 students, Woodlawn has ten white kids. (p. 67)
White folks took the tax base, the property values, their collective social and intellectual capital. They all but ripped out the plumbing. But there’s at least one thing they left behind. During desegregation, historically black school may have been stripped of their names and their mascots, but white weren’t. At Woodlawn, even as the student body got blacker and blacker, out on the athletic field they were and still are known as the Woodlawn Colonels. By which I mean Colonel Reb. By white I mean Woodlawn has the exact same Colonel Reb mascot we have at Vestavia. Only he’s black. He’s got the same cocked hat, the same angry mustache. Someone’s just pained him in blackface to match the building’s new occupants.
Vestavia can’t run away from Woodlawn, because Vestavia is Woodlawn and Woodlawn is Vestavia. Different schools, different districts, yet bound by a DNA they’ll always share. (p.69)
Why is it black people always follow white people to the communities they create when "white flight" occurs? Why can't black people create thriving communities with the absence of white people, especially when they control the police, the city government, the school system, and the judiciary?
Birmingham should be a thriving black city -- but it's not. The white suburbs of Birmingham are thriving, and black people are flocking to them.
All the while, Vulcan watches the hilarity unfold from his perch high above Red Mountain.... He has seen Birmingham, once known as "The Pittsburgh of the South" become the very city where white people lost all moral authority and from which white guilt was exported to every corner of the world... but he has silently watched over the city since 1963 as well, noticing the collapse of black-controlled Birmingham into... tragedy.