Tag Archives: civil rights

From the Pantheon in Rome to Lawson State Community College

The anti-slavery story of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, is one of the most influential books in American History. First published in 1852, prior to the Civil War, it pointed out the appalling realities of American slavery and subsequently, it was once banned in Alabama. So when a very rare 1880 edition was discovered in Rome, Italy, by Italian lawyer Arlene Rochlin, a descendant of the Blach family department stores in Birmingham, she knew it needed to be housed in an historically Black college in her grandparent’s hometown. (Read the entire article by Kyra Miles on WBHM.org)

Lawson State Community College now has the book proudly on display in their library and it is a part of their permanent collection.

Some modern scholars have called the book condescending but in the 19th century, it was recognized as a best selling novel, second in sales only to The Bible. However, by the 20th century, unauthorized stage plays & films were too often demeaning and insensitive with a political or financial agenda and were loathed by the African American community. The character of Uncle Tom was distorted and offensive. Unfortunately, Stowe had no control over these alterations of her story and the resulting stereotypes. Despite this, today, the original novel is still considered a landmark of ‘protest literature’ and Christian forbearance.

The story of its publication is interesting as well as it’s been in continuous print since 1852, although with ever-changing publishers and controversy. Read more about it HERE and then re-read the novel!

New Book Release! Birmingham’s Dynamite Hill

This is the compelling story of the fight over residential segregation laws as told by the people who lived it. The multiple bombings in the ‘40’s, 50s, and 60’s of the close-knit Birmingham neighborhood, now known as Dynamite Hill, were intended to intimidate residents and discourage their families from building in designated ‘whites only’ zoned areas and attending white schools. But due to the persistence and courage primarily of resident and attorney Arthur Shores, archaic ordinances and laws were changed. In 2011, the Center Street district was added to the National Register of Historic Places, commemorating the fight for fair housing and schools.

Weaving first-hand accounts into the historical narrative, this new book personalizes the struggles and courage of the families whose homes and neighborhood were terrorized. It also tells of the accomplishments of the children of that era, their close ties, their memories, and their hope for the future. Multiple photos of historic events and homes along with personal interviews, makes this history come alive, representing as Arthur Shores’ daughter, Barbara Shores, says, ‘the best and the worst of humanity’. To purchase a copy of the book, please click HERE

Although the neighborhood has seen brighter days, its location, character, and history make it unique. It’s important to know our history and to preserve and renew Dynamite Hill so that future generations may learn of this landmark neighborhood that illustrates the best and the worst of humanity.

~Barbara Shores

New Book Release – Coming Soon!

This is the story of a neighborhood just west of the Birmingham city center. Known since a subdivision in 1887 as Smithfield, North Smithfield, Graymont, and East Thomas, the neighborhood’s current name honors the seminal legal battles for attainment of civil rights that unfolded here from 1946 to 1965. The 88-page book includes photographs, maps and accounts of the legal battles and civil rights fights, reflections of neighborhood leaders and participants in the struggles, as well as the stories of children, who grew up here in the 1950s and 1960s, describing their lives on the hill as they unknowingly witnessed history unfolding before them.

Publication expected mid-November at which time a celebration place and date will be announced. Stay tuned!

88 pages, 126 maps and photographs, $26.95

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

Ancestral Memories preserved in Birmingham’s Oak Hill Cemetery

Oak Hill Cemetery’s tour guide and historian, Wilhelmina Thomas, is featured in a podcast/blog entitled “Love Lives in This Place/The Order of the Good Death”

Death is not frightening, according to Birmingham Historical Society Trustee Wilhelmina Thomas, who leads tours through the historic Oak Hill Cemetery. She is among a number of volunteers who dress in period costumes and portray a deceased character buried there. Ms. Thomas brings to life the stories of Birmingham’s founders, politicians, and civil rights leaders. But she particularly likes to draw attention to the black elitists who are buried there as they are often overlooked in Birmingham’s history.

“The majority of the Black people in the cemetery were business owners, pastors, and started churches,” Wilhelmina explained. “When we’re looking at the Black people buried at Oak Hill, in the late 19th century, they’d have been the elitist. They were defined by the color of their skin and by how much money they had. The Black people who are buried there were very well educated, spoke more than one language, and were trying to build a community.” 

In researching and telling the stories of residents buried there, Wilhelmina Thomas has become a compassionate voice of black history, and along with other volunteers, keeps Oak Hill residents ‘alive’.

Volunteers lead walking tours on the second Saturday of every month. Learn more and get tickets on Oak Hill’s website.