Birmingham’s Black History


Happy Black History Month!

It is no secret that Birmingham, Alabama is rich in history and even richer in Black history.

I remember as a young girl, eyes wide with fear and intrigue, watching the documentary series The Eyes on the Prize, “Mama, they said Birmingham! This was in Birmingham?!” Although these documentaries and textbooks seemed to highlight most of the negative Black history, my family made sure that I was also aware and well versed in the many wonderful and positive things that African Americans had done, have done, and will continue doing. This education included many trips to Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to visit and explore the exhibits. At one point my great- Aunt Nora Ezell’s handmade quilts were a key exhibit. But the historical monuments and places extend beyond Downtown Birmingham.

Take a look below at some of the historical places and little-known Black history facts found in our own backyard!

The Birmingham Civil Rights District – Stationed in Downtown Birmingham this is an area of blocks where many historical and monumental Civil Rights events took place.

Carver Theatre  (Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame) – One of the first movie theaters where African Americans could go watch first-run movies.

Kelly Ingram Park – This park was often a meeting place for many of the protests held for the Civil Rights Movement. Currently, there are a few statues and sculptures related to the movement.

Birmingham Black Barons/Rickwood Field – professional Black baseball team centered in Birmingham from the 1920s to the 1960s. They played most of their games at Rickwood Field (The country’s oldest baseball field!) in West End

A.G. Gaston Motel

A. G. Gaston Motel – (1954)  One of the first high-class service hotels in the segregated South that was safe for black visitors and included dining options and entertainment. Aretha Franklin and Duke Ellington are said to have stayed there. It was also a meeting place for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It closed its doors in the late 1970s but still stands. Currently, there is talk of restoration. 

The Penny Savings Bank – The first black bank in the state of Alabama. It was black-owned and black-run. The building still stands today in downtown.

Tuggle Institute

Tuggle Institute & School – One of the 1st orphanage homes in Alabama for African American boys opened and run by a black woman, Carrie Tuggle. Although the school closed, Tuggle Elementary is named in her honor. *Fun Fact* She is buried on the original school grounds. 

Richard Arrington Jr. – 1st elected African American mayor of Birmingham (1979)

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church – The first black church in Birmingham, organized in 1873. Site of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing during the Civil Rights Movement where four little black girls were killed and many others injured.

Bethel Baptist Church – Now a National Historic Landmark located in the Collegeville neighborhood in North Birmingham, this church served as the home of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. It was bombed 3 different times.

Southern Museum of Flight – includes a wonderful exhibit about the Tuskegee Airmen

Negro Southern League Museum – Originally established as a way for African American males to play baseball that served as a route to move to the national level. This museum is a collection of the League’s history.

Smithfield Neighborhood/Dynamite Hill – During the Civil Rights Movement it served as home to many of Birmingham’s middle-class Blacks including A. G. Gaston and Angela Davis. Dynamite Hill was an area in the neighborhood that received its name due to the many bombs thrown in the area as a way to intimidate civil rights pioneers. At one point Smithfield was highly segregated with Whites on the west side of Center Street and Blacks on the east side.

Tuxedo Junction – in the 1920s and 30s, it served as an entertainment district for Blacks. It is located in Ensley, and there is only one remaining landmark at this time. Most of the area was revitalized in the 1950s to make room for Tuxedo Housing.

Birmingham Jail – This is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his infamous Letter from Birmingham Jail. This also where many of the foot soldiers during the Civil Rights Movement were taken and held, including children and teens.

Kelly Ingram Park

So, let’s chat. Were any of these places/facts new to you? Will you try to visit them? What are some historical places or people that I may have left off?