Carl Carter

Carl Carter

Carl Carter is a Birmingham native, storyteller, and author of, which originally published this story. He was born at the old South Highland Hospital on Birmingham’s Southside, raised in Crestwood/Woodlawn, is a former Birmingham News reporter, occasional meddler, woodworker, dad, grandparent. Professionally, he’s a public relations consultant with NewMediaRules, helping his clients throughout the United States navigate today’s changing media landscape. He blogs about ways to better use media at NewMediaRules.Net.

How separation and language distort our perceptions

[Alert: This piece includes language that may be offensive to many — the “N” word. We have retained the author’s original language, which reflects the ugliness of the Jim Crow years, since this is an eye witness account. The story contains important information on redlining, segregation, and the effects of these policies that persist today.]


My buddy and I had ridden our bikes several blocks to the northwest – farther than we were supposed to. The sun was going down, and we knew it was time to head home. But we looked at the forbidden land just a hundred feet or so away.

That was where they lived, and it was pretty much where they stayed. From years of hearing stories, I imagined streets where chaos ruled. Where knives flickered in every direction, and people lived in ramshackle huts. Where a white man would be dead in minutes if he dared stepped over the line. In my imagination, there was an eerie glow over the neighborhood.

“Color guards” with no flags

Dad had color guard duty, but there was no flag.

It was a pretty simple task: You stood around in the front of Woodlawn Baptist Church to make sure nobody of the wrong color wandered in by mistake. Dad let me stay outside with the men. He liked having me around, and maybe he figured I’d learn something.

Color guard was an important job, because colored folks trying to attend a white church were bound to create trouble. We had one try every now and then – not when I was out there, but I heard about it – and they were advised to go worship with their own kind.