In 1963 I was 13 years old and my family owned a grocery store (Ted’s Big Apple) and home approximately 3 blocks from the 16th Street Baptist Church (6th Ave). The morning the church was bombed I was outside playing in front of my family’s store on 15th Street and 8th Avenue. The blast shook the entire community of Fountain Heights and beyond. The blast and the ensuing emergency vehicles caused me to run the 2-3 blocks towards the sound of the blast. Along the way I stopped by my friend’s house (Fate Morris) and he and I ran to the 16th Street Baptist Church. (more…)
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…)
1963 changed my life. The tensions were growing, and everyone was on edge. Then, Easter morning between Sunday School and church, a couple of us dashed over to the local drug store in Homewood—a block from our very big Southern Baptist Church—to read comics and buy gum. As we walked back to our church, a car filled with African Americans pulled into our front parking lot. They stopped briefly, and I looked up to see what they were seeing. The church deacons were standing at the top of the stairs, their arms locked together as if they were playing Red Rover. Then they slowly walked down the stairs with their arms locked together. Their message was clear—they were not going to allow the African Americans to enter our church to worship with us.
Later my mother said, “Those people didn’t come to worship.” I told her I didn’t think Mr. P and Mr. H came to worship either. They were officers of the large insurance company headquartered in Birmingham, and used their church connections for business. I’ll never forget the look of determination on their hard faces.
In May, the protests began in downtown Birmingham. (more…)
“Another old BBQ restaurant. The ‘Old Plantation’ downtown had great BBQ. Opened in the 20s, it stereotyped blacks and did so until near its demise in 1972 when ownership changed. It stayed open several years after under new management. The “Yes suh, it was cooked in da pit” sign was removed. Too little too late I suppose” (From Hahn’s Historic Birmingham Facebook page, public group).
You can see the words as clearly as I can; as I did every time we drove past the Old Plantation on Birmingham’s First Avenue. The hickory smoke hit you full in the face if you kept your car windows rolled down, which we always demanded when we neared the joint. Such a sweet aroma, tempting, though to my memory, my family never ate there, or at least never went inside.
When I worked for my father at Standard Jewelry Company, roughly six blocks from the Old Plantation, sometimes the elders would order takeout, and that’s my only memory of eating this old style pit barbecue. You know they used a pit and real hickory wood because of the brick chimney you see to the right in the photo, and because I vouch for the smoke aroma and taste.
Though Alabama does wrong so often, people in the state know how to cook real pit, delicious barbecue.
But taste and cooking techniques aren’t the issue here. (more…)