The Birmingham Historical Society’s Annual Meeting for 2023 has been scheduled for February 27, 2023 at 7 p.m. at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. (Free and open to the public)
Our speaker will be Kari Frederickson, professor of Southern History at the University of Alabama, speaking on The Bankheads of Alabama and autographing her recently published book Deep South Dynasty: The Bankheads of Alabama.
“Deep South Dynasty: The Bankheads of Alabama is a deeply researched epic family biography that reflects the complicated and evolving world inhabited by three generations of the extremely accomplished—if problematic—Bankhead family of northwest Alabama. Kari Frederickson’s expertly crafted account traces the careers of five members of the family—John Hollis Bankhead; his sons, John Hollis Bankhead Jr. and William Brockman Bankhead; his daughter, Marie Bankhead Owen; and his granddaughter, Tallulah Brockman Bankhead.”
Note that the Heritage Cake & Pie Competition will happily return to the BHS annual meeting February 27 at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. More info to come in early ’23. If you’re not familiar with this popular annual event, please click HERE!
At its annual meeting on February 28th, the Birmingham Historical Society celebrated its 80th year. James White first shared a report on its financial history and its founders, as well as the current safeguards that protect its financial future. The Society’s stated goals of research, publication, and education often provide new owners with information that can enhance their property with unexpected historical perspective. Slossfield Maternity Center is an example of just that and three speakers highlighted its importance from their unique perspectives.
Slossfield is a complex of concrete buildings at the Finley Avenue exit off I65, built in the 1930’s and surrounded by industrial facilities including ACIPCO, Sloss, US Pipe, coal mines and quarries. One of the buildings, The Slossfield Maternity Center, was constructed in 1939 by WPA labor to train black physicians and nurses and improve prenatal care and delivery in one of the most underserved and poorest areas of Birmingham at that time. Under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Boulware, Jr., Slossfield became the most successful of four demonstration centers built by the U.S. Public Health Service in the late 1930’s.
The first speaker, Sharon Holley, is Director of the new nurse-midwifery program at UAB School of Nursing, and is passionate about the role that midwifery can continue to play in providing safe births and healthy babies. In researching Slossfield via UAB archives, she presented statistics illustrating that Slossfield had become a model of good prenatal and obstetric care reducing the infant and mother mortality rate in that area by up to 92%.
At that time, blacks could only be admitted to hospitals in Birmingham by white physicians. The few black doctors were not able to admit patients to hospitals until 1952 when Holy Family Hospital was built in Ensley. Consequently, most black births prior to that time were at home, assisted by midwives, as the Slossfield Maternity Clinic was reserved for high risk deliveries, or first time mothers. Holley spoke about how we can use Slossfield’s historic example in creating a program for today’s mothers.
Dr. Thomas Boulware, Jr. came to Birmingham from Missouri in 1929 to serve in Norwood Clinic (soon to be known as Carraway Hospital) under Dr. Charles Carraway. He was quite young and immediately became interested in caring for the underserved communities of Birmingham. Dr. Boulware established the first indigent maternity clinic at Hillman Hospital (UAB), and served as medical director of Slossfield Maternity Clinic, training all the doctors and nurses on staff there.
The second speaker, Dr. Boulware’s son, Thomas Boulware, III, told stories of his father’s commitment to his patients, in one instance, traveling back & forth from North Birmingham to Woodlawn to deliver two babies born on the same evening. He told of his father delivering three generations multiple times, and another in which he had delivered eighteen members of the same family. And he highlighted many of the achievements of his father over an esteemed 60-year medical career in which he delivered over 26,000 babies.
The last speaker, John Stamps, is Director of Operations at the Salvation Army. He pointed out that the Salvation Army is actually a Christian outreach church despite being known primarily for their humanitarian efforts. The Salvation Army purchased the abandoned and deteriorating Slossfield in 2018. They have taken on the challenge of restoring it as a core community center, bringing back many of its original services. John Stamps outlined their plans, and with his new understanding of its origins, hopes to re-establish its significance to the community.
The annual BHS cake/pie competition was a huge success with eighteen entries and just one more cake than there were pies. Oh my! It was hard to choose! There were pound cakes, there were tea cakes, chocolate, caramel, and even a büche de noel. The stories behind them were as good as the cakes! But the clear winner was Don Sweeney’s “Friendship Cake” – a cake which takes 50 days to make – and which was first presented during the Civil Rights Era and over 200 times since then, personally baked by Don himself!
According to Carolanne,
“It was introduced to his family by Gertrude who had worked with the family for years before requesting “time off” to go participate in the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham—she became known as the Rosa Parks of Rosedale for her mighty works. Don Sweeney’s dad had assured Gertrude that her job would await her and, in gratitude, she made this cake for the family. She must’ve also shared the recipe because Don has made it more than 200 times over the years since. It begins with a starter of fruits, sugar, and brandy which (I believe) must be tended to daily for about 3 weeks..then come other steps before the final baking. It was picture perfect in presentation—and wow’d the judge before he even knew about the process or the backstory.”
The 2020 annual meeting focused on a portion of Shades Valley originally developed for the South & North Alabama Railroad which is now in the Ross Bridge community. A beautifully designed stone culvert, c. 1864, which bridged Shades Creek is all that remains of the original railroad causeway designed to bring iron ore from the Oxmoor Furnaces to Confederate arsenals.
A project of one of Birmingham’s important pioneers, John T. Milner, his railroad led to the founding of Birmingham in December of 1871. Several descendants of Milner’s attended the meeting along with an audience of over a hundred. The history of the area was presented by BHS Director, Marjorie White, and the construction of the bridge was illustrated and discussed by Birgit Kibelka.
The meeting began with a presentation of the strategic plan for BHS by Joe Limbaugh, and was followed by a ‘taste testing’ of eighteen cakes and pies based on a memorable family recipe, organized by Carolanne Roberts. Each entry was accompanied by a family history or story, and many had been baked annually for special occasions or presented as gifts for years!