|Notice the population of not just whites, but black people since the election of Birmingham's first black mayor in 1979; Birmingham went from being 61% white in 1960 (58% white in 1970) to being 22% white in 2010|
The saga of African American liberation is perhaps the most thrilling in our country’s history, biblical in its subtexts and angles of moral instruction. But even though this book traces the Movement through its prime in Birmingham (an offers a somewhat unorthodox, pre-glory view of Martin Luther King), it is not merely about the civil rights struggle. I hope it also sheds insight on the segregationists and the respectable underpinnings of their violent resistance. Because of the city’s industrially stratified demographics, the influence of class was more pronounced there than in other places in the South. The conflict made Birmingham America’s racial Armageddon in 1963 was the “class warfare” that had always threatened the confidence of a young nation founded on the preposterous principle of equality. (Carry Me Home, p. 17, Diane McWhorter, New York City, September 2000)
My three daughters couldn’t be more different from each other. Lisa, at 30, is married to a co-worker in the Family Ministry of the Crusade for Christ, sort of a feel-good yuppies-for-Jesus organization; once her husband finished seminary in Dallas, they’ll settle in Little Rock and start a family where it’s safe. Molly is turning 21 and about to graduate from Rhodes College in Memphis, in sociology and anthropology, and she won’t be long for Birmingham; she’s a liberated woman, tall and beautiful – made a beeline to Dachau when she arrived in Germany to study… And then there is Martha, the most fortunate of them all dude to her parent’s marriage; 14, slim and quick, being educated at one of the best schools in Atlanta (private, but 25 percent minority), absolutely color-blind when it comes to race. (p. 329)
|A white liberal writes about his proudest moment in Birmingham: knowing a black family had purchased his late father (who was a 'racist') last home...|
Hemphill pays the Baylor’s a visit, and we get a glimpse into the “Soul of White Liberal Folks”:
My father would have been interested to know that the Baylor’s had fled their rapidly decaying neighborhood across town in West End because, although they certainly didn’t put it that way, the “niggers” were taking over. They had integrated that neighborhood, too, in fact, in the mid-seventies, but it had steadily declined and now had become a place of drugs and crime and poor schools.”
“We had our share of West End” is how Lawrence Baylor put it. (p. 348)
If there was a single moment of my entire stay in Birmingham when I felt that the struggle had been worth it, this was it… but now, as my parents’ last house faded away in the rearview mirror, I felt an elation – a feeling that all of the blood and the tears shed over all of the years had been worth it, that finally justice had prevailed. It appeared to me that the new owners of the house at 403 North Eighty-ninth Street had found peace there, had taken their rightful place in the world, and that they weren’t likely to be leaving Birmingham any time soon. (p. 351)
Birmingham’s public schools are 95 percent black and 90 percent on free or reduced lunch. The system has been under state control since June and has been hemorrhaging students for decades. And at this point, it’s certainly not just white flight: many poor black families do what they can to enroll their kids elsewhere. To put it mildly, Birmingham schools have a stigma.
So it was unusual when Laura Kate Whitney enrolled her four-year-old, Grey, in pre-K at Birmingham’s Avondale Elementary.
“Our neighborhood school hosted an open house, and we were completely shocked, in a good way, as to what we saw,” says Whitney.
She and her husband are white middle-class professionals and part of a group of two dozen similar families who are not buying the conventional tradeoff — that if you live within city limits and have means, you send your kids to private school, period.
Whitney’s friend Elizabeth Brantley also enrolled her four-year-old at Avondale, which last year was four percent white. But Brantley grew up in nearby Mountain Brook, one of the whitest and wealthiest communities in America. Her impressions of Avondale might come as a surprise:
“The minute we walked in, we were like, ‘this is just a normal school. This feels like the kind of school that I went to when I was little.’”
These parents want convenience and higher property values, but they also really believe in diversity. Whitney says she’s not concerned with her child being in a place where he looks different from the other kids.
“I feel like at this age, they don’t really see color,” she says. “They go straight to playing together, and learning about each other and talking and sharing snacks. I want him to have those types of experiences. I mean, we live in a city that is extremely diverse.”
White students bring more fiscal resources, parental involvement, and subconsciously, higher expectations, say researchers. And according to Tondra Loder-Jackson, Associate Director of the Center for Urban Education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, integrated schools confer many other benefits.
Summarizing a body of research, she says, “White graduates from those schools believe that they’re more open-minded about race and less likely to stereotype. The black graduates, they’re more confident about competing with whites, and they’re also not as likely to see whites as being categorically racist.”
But the white parents coming to Avondale aren’t counting on a love-fest. One possible stumbling block is that inner-city schools tend to be more authoritarian, more “old-school,” relying on teacher-centered models of instruction as opposed to more progressive methods favored by many middle-class parents, methods that involve kids initiating more of their learning.
|The saga of African American liberation in Birmingham always ends in 1963 -- what happened afterwards?|
Alabama is near the bottom of the country's academic rankings. The state has problems with test scores, school improvement ratings and dropouts. But the district in Birmingham has a different kind of issue. The state recently took over the school board because of infighting on the board. The move has triggered cries of racism.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
Now, to Birmingham, Alabama, where the state has effectively taken over the local school board. It's not because of academic issues, but because the board is widely seen as too inept to function.
As Dan Carsen of member station WBHM reports, the intervention has triggered cries of racism in a city with a long history of racial tension.
DAN CARSEN, BYLINE: Do an Internet search on Birmingham school board and dysfunction, and you'll find more reading material than you know what to do with. Board members have assaulted each other, police have gotten involved, and now armed security guards are fixtures at meetings - not just to protect board members from the public, but from each other. There are allegations of secret gatherings. And even in public meetings, the infighting is intense.
In Birmingham, the number of students living at or near the poverty level is nearly twice the national average and well above the state average. What's more, as students have left the school system, the percentage of students living at or below poverty level has climbed.
In Birmingham, the number of students who will move from one school to another in a given year is 25.3 percent, meaning teachers and principals have trouble establishing relationships with many students.
In Birmingham, test scores have fallen and student achievement has faltered. The average ACT score among students is 18. UAB requires a score of 21 from its applicants to enroll, Froning said. The school system has a high school graduation rate of 55 percent.
More than 7,300 students have left the Birmingham City Schools since 2000. The system faces school closings and hundreds of layoffs to cope with plunging enrollment.
The city touches four of the state’s five top-per- forming school districts: Hoover, Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills and Homewood. Yet Birmingham lags significantly behind its suburban neighbors. It is one of 19 school districts across the seven-county metro area, 12 of which are in Jefferson County.
Birmingham’s average ACT assessment score was 17.3 in 2005-06, compared with 23.7 in Vestavia Hills, 22.8 in Hoover, Homewood’s 22.3 and 25.4 in Mountain Brook. A perfect ACT score is 36.