Pam Powell

Pam Powell

Pam Powell was born in Birmingham, Alabama and grew up in the western part of the city during the 1950s and 1960s; she was a student at Brooke Hill School during the turbulent events of 1963. After graduating from Birmingham-Southern College in 1970, Pam worked for 32 years as a feature writer, university magazine editor, and director of publications and periodicals at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. In 2009, she retired from UAB and began telling stories via video, audio, and photography; she has produced several multi-chapter biographical films (life stories captured through video interviews and archival media) and has produced numerous short video features. In 2015, she began interviewing foot soldiers and allies of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham; as of 2022, she and her team have completed more than 100 interviews, which form the foundation of the ongoing Bending the Arc film project (https://bendingthearctojustice.com/).

Worlds Apart: Growing Up in a Bubble in Birmingham

A large Confederate flag filled most of one wall of my grandfather’s study in his Birmingham home during the 1950s and 1960s. It was always the first thing I noticed when I walked into the dimly lit room—a startling shout of hot red and star-studded blue against a dark stone wall.

On the opposite wall was a painting of the Princess Pocahontas, who, according to genealogical research by my great-grandmother, was said to be our direct ancestor. I heard once that my grandfather, proud of being related to royalty but uncomfortable with the darkness of the princess’s complexion, had Pocahontas’s skin lightened a bit before he hung the painting.

My grandmother used to take me with her to the grocery store in her old Dodge. When I was about six years old, I remember getting into her car one day and asking her the name of a Black lady we had seen earlier that day. She quickly reprimanded me, “Pam, you never call a colored woman a ‘lady.’” Actually, she probably didn’t say “colored woman,” but something else. I remember feeling smacked down by the reprimand. And I was careful not to repeat that grave breach of etiquette in the following years. (more…)