Category Archives: Birmingham Landmarks

Colored Masonic Temple – A Step Back in Birmingham’s Civil Rights History

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.

Video courtesy of Hunter Stone, Leeds Sign

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.

Lodge Room – photograph by Lewis Kennedy

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.

The building was closed in 2011, but current renovation plans are underway and, upon completion, hopes to once again become the hub of the 4th Avenue business district. Read more about renovation plans HERE and the fundraising campaign HERE

Slossfield, Midwifery, and Birmingham Historical Society – Then & Now

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.

The Slossfield Community Center was added to the National Trust of Historic Places in May of 2008. It was purchased in 2018 by The Salvation Army with plans for it to be once again used as a core community center.

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.

Research and history once again come full circle.

ANNUAL MEETING – Monday, February 28th, 7:00PM, BBG Auditorium

Featuring Early Healthcare, Obstetrics, and Midwifery for the underprivileged and poorly served in Birmingham in the 1940s.

A Local Landmark
A Legendary Leader
Slossfield & Dr. Boulware, Jr.
A Pioneering Obstetric Leader

The Slossfield and the Slossfield Maternity Center, center and center left, view looking toward North Birmingham across the slag dump, bottom right, of the Sloss- Sheffield Steel & Iron Company’s North Birmingham Furnaces. Sloss’ beehive coke ovens appear center right. Photograph, c. 1939, Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives.
INSET PHOTOGRAPH TOP: Sloss Coke Ovens and Housing. Oil, c. 1939, Rosalie Pettus Price. Collection Birmingham Historical Society.
INSET PHOTOGRAPH BOTTOM: Sloss Furnaces and Slag Pile along Village Creek, Oil, Sterling Worthen, Collection Marjorie L. White.

Celebrating 150 Years of Religious & Civic Growth: A Panel Discussion

“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

Panelists:

  • 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

Participating Congregations:

  • 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..

View the reprint of the 1997 newsletter with MAP here

The Life and Legacy of the Olmsted Family by Laurence Cotton, Historian

Celebrating Olmsted: BRINGING NATURE TO THE CITY AND CREATING BREATHING SPACE FOR DEMOCRACY

As part of a series of nation-wide, year-long events celebrating the legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted and the Olmsted family of landscape architects, historian Laurence Cotton presented a lecture detailing their impact at The Birmingham Botanical Gardens on February 16th.

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:

  • Niagra Falls
  • The Biltmore Estate
  • Central Park in NYC
  • Yosemite
  • 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.

Niagra gorge circa 1901

Cotton ended his travel log in Birmingham, drawing upon the resources written by The Birmingham Historical Society and Marjorie White, with a special recommendation for Shades Creek, Flowing Through Time. Related artifacts assembled by The Southern History Department of The Birmingham Public Library, were part of a special exhibit and reception following the lecture. Books by The Birmingham Historical Society on Olmsted were available, and a reading list assembled by Laurence Cotton is available HERE.