Attached is exclusive video from inside the Colored Masonic Temple, also known as the ”Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Alabama”, courtesy of photographer Hunter Stone at Leeds Sign. He has been working with the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Alabama, for several weeks on a historical documentary project of the Lodge prior to its planned 2022 renovation.
See the Temple filmed in full prior to its planned renovation in 2022. Click HERE to view video if link doesn’t appear below.
The Temple is located at 1630 4th Avenue North, among the black owned businesses of the 4th Avenue North historic business district, one of the few areas in Birmingham where black business owners were encouraged in the early 20th century. It was designed by Tuskegee University architect, Robert R. Taylor (who was the first black student to attend MIT), and was completed in 1924 at a total cost of $658,000, debt-free. At the time of its completion, it was the largest, most state of the art facility built and paid for entirely by African Americans in the entire world.
It quickly became the hub of Birmingham’s black community. In addition to housing offices for fraternal groups and business professionals, it included a 2,000 seat auditorium, and housed the Booker T. Washington Library, the first lending library open to black citizens of Birmingham.
In 1932, it was the setting for one of the first major civil rights events in Birmingham in response to the Scottsboro Boys trial. Also known as ”the black skyscraper”, it was designated part of Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument by the National Park Service in 1963 as part of a city-wide desegregation effort.
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.
“Sacred Spaces, Civic Places, and the Building of a Magic City”
February 27, 2022 3:00PM to 4:30PM First United Methodist Church Sanctuary 518 19th Street North Birmingham, AL 35203
Pam King, Assistant Professor of History and Historic Preservation, UAB Dept of History (retired)
Jim Baggett, Head, Archives Department, Birmingham Public Library
Barry McNealy, Historical Content Expert, Birmingham Civil RIghts Institute & Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Historian
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1869
First United Methodist Church, 1872
Cathedral Church of theAdvent, 1872
First Presbyterian Church, 1872
The Cathedral of St. Paul, 1872
First Baptist Church, 1872
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, 1873
Temple Emanu-EL, 1882
This event is free and open to the public and childcare will be available
In 1871 the City of Birmingham was incorporated by the Elyton Land Company on farmland that would soon be the juncture of two major railroads. The location had everything – coal, iron ore and limestone, all necessary for the soon to be thriving industrial city.
At that time, there existed an African-American Methodist congregation that, according to church records, began meeting in tents in 1869. In 1872 Elyton gave five land grants to establish houses of worship for white congregants of five major denominations – Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, United Methodist and Baptist.
In 1873 the first Black Baptist church was established downtown. Then in 1882 the first temple was built for the growing Jewish community. These eight congregations comprise Birmingham’s earliest houses of worship, and they are still thriving today and have over a hundred years of sacred and civic commitment to the Magic City..
Consulting producer on the PBS film, Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America, Cotton had not only visited, but was often intimately familiar with many of the Olmsted projects he discussed. His slides traveled the audience across America, giving the history, motivation, and importance of each of the parks and green spaces. Many are well-known and include:
The Biltmore Estate
Central Park in NYC
The Capitol Grounds and The Washington Mall
The Great White City – Chicago
Boston’s Emerald Necklace
Prospect Park in Brooklyn
Cotton emphasized the social importance of the Olmsted legacy. The green spaces and parks were designed to be available to all walks of life, to enhance the health and well-being of visitors, to encourage social engagement across economic & cultural divides, to provide forestry and landscape experiments, and to stand the test of time. As he stated, Frederick Law Olmsted and his sons were true artists of the landscape, while working on a vast scale, in FOUR dimensions, with the fourth being time…to allow their design visions to mature over decades.
However, their public spaces were not always green, as Cotton illustrated by Olmsted’s plan for the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C. There, Olmsted’s step design again encouraged democracy and provided an open forum for public engagement.
As another example, their design for Niagra Falls restored and enhanced the beauty that was already there. Before and after images were startling.