It’s not every day that you’re asked to write a book detailing the achievements of Black Americans. As someone who has always wanted to write a book eventually, it was startling to have this opportunity suddenly fall in my lap, or, as it happened, land in my email inbox.
But once the opportunity presented itself, I was presented a challenge. How do I narrow down who I was going to feature in the book? There is so much Black American history to comb through, and all of it is important. While I immediately had questions and concerns about how I was going to tackle this book, I always knew that I was going to make sure Birmingham was prominently featured.
You can’t grow up in Birmingham without learning about the city’s past, particularly its role in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s also especially sobering to learn about that history as a Black Birminghamian, a direct recipient of the gains made only a generation ago. The legacy of those pioneers has been steeped in my upbringing and served as my part of my incubator growing up.
Whether it was the Civil Rights Museum, traveling by the 16th Street Baptist Church, or even visiting former plantation Arlington, I learned of the people who helped me to reach my full potential, from the foot soldiers who still live to tell the tale of marching as children for freedom, to leaders like Ralph D. Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth and Calvin Woods, whose presence can still be felt in the city today.
I’m not going to act like learning about the history of a local plantation and of children being hosed down or killed in a church explosion were pleasant things to try to make sense of. I don’t think anyone can claim they receive joy from learning about how depraved a human can act towards another human. It’s a hard lesson you learn over and over again as you read accounts of enslaved people being abused by their masters, sharecroppers being mistreated by landowners, and citizens being denied human decency due to Jim Crow laws. However, understanding those hardships helped me see how the people of Birmingham have been able to transform the city from a place rampant with racism to a city that aims to achieve better for itself and grow out of its past. It’s a city that is full of history-makers and leaders. It doesn’t always get treated with the respect it deserves in the media, but it’s a place that America should never forget.
It’s because of the history embedded in Birmingham that I am able to be who I am today, a Black woman who is a professional in her own right, going toe-to-toe with others in my field, regardless of race. Becoming something such as a pop culture critic, a job that some might feel is far away from racial politics, wouldn’t have been seen as viable or sustainable for someone like me, a Black woman living in the South, just 50 to 60 years ago. Even through my ability as a Black woman to simply write and live comfortably in Birmingham, a place that had been haunted by the nickname “Bombingham” for killing four Black girls for simply existing, shows just how far the city has come in a short amount of time. Every Black person who is able to happily call Birmingham home is a product of the Civil Rights Movement’s success.
With that said, it’s not as if more work doesn’t need to be done. I still want the city to become even better, even more accepting. Not just of race, but of all people from all walks of life. Therefore, as someone who has been inspired and directly influenced by Birmingham’s dramatic changes over the years, I also hope my book inspires young Birminghamians, too. I will not pretend to be on the same level as a Ralph Abernathy, Calvin Woods or a Fred Shuttlesworth. But I do hope my book will help carry on their legacy of moving Birmingham forward towards a better, more equitable tomorrow. It’s a future Birmingham has been fighting for and deserves.
Original post found here.