Birmingham, Alabama: The Most Racist City in America

Why do we know so much about some terrorists, but not about the ones who lived in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960's? Because the Birmingham terrorists got to write the official history.

"We found a way to live normally in highly abnormal circumstances," wrote Condoleezza Rice in her autobiography entitled Extraordinary, Ordinary People. "But there was no denying that Birmingham eclipsed every other big American city in the ugliness of its racism. Birmingham would shortly become [in 1963] 'Bombingham'."

As a result of his having been an "associate" of Barack Obama, we have heard a relatively lot about William Ayers, who, as a member of the Weather Underground, orchestrated a series of bombings of public places in the early 1970's. Pointedly, in almost every case, the Weather Underground publicly identified the places that were to be bombed in order that human life would not be in danger.

The same cannot be said of the bombings that took place regularly in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960's.  Why don't we know very much about the people who committed these bombings, which were much more devastating than anything that Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground ever committed. If the Weathermen were--rightly--called terrorists, then why weren't those men also called terrorists who committed far more mayhem in Birmingham called terrorists?

Because they were white, and the victims of terror were black, and the white man got to write the official version of history.

Condoleezza Rice, in her book Extraordinary, Ordinary People writes that
...if you were black in Birmingham in 1963, there was no escaping the violence and no place to hide.  What I remember most from this time is the sound of bombs going off in neighborhoods, including our own. The white "night riders" and the KKK cared little about the role you played in the [civil rights] struggle; they were content to terrify any black family they could.

To make things even more poignantly worse, Ms. Rice explains that among the Birmingham terrorists were actually those who had been entrusted to keep the peace--the Birmingham police. Rice explains one such terror event, wherein she and her parents had just returned from an outing one evening when a bomb blast occurred nearby. had been a gas bomb, hurled into the window of a house about a block or so away. My father hurried my mother and me back into the car and started to drive off. Mother asked where he was going. "To the police," he said. "Are you crazy?" she asked. "They probably set the thing off in the first place." Daddy didn't say anything, but drove to [a friend's] house in Hooper City instead.

Rice describes the enhanced terror tactics that were used in this and other episodes
Several hours later we returned home and learned that a second bomb had gone off. As terrorists still do today, bombers exploded the first device in hopes that a crowd would gather. They detonated the second bomb--filled with shrapnel and nails--in order to injure as many innocent onlookers as possible.

The struggle for civil rights in many cases was not just about who got to go to which schools. In many cases, it was a matter of life and death. Nowhere was this more evident than in civil-rights-era Birmingham, Alabama.


  1. You would think that someone growing up in this environment would object strenuously to imposing the same kind of violence and ethnic division on another country, but not Condi Rice. She enthusiastically supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the torture of prisoners of war, and the fomenting of ethnic violence in the name of counter-insurgency. Telling us she had a fear-filled childhood is hardly an excuse for her complicity in war crimes.

  2. May I simply suggest that you change your title to Birmingham WAS the most racist city in America? As someone who was there last year (and I claim no other experience), they seem to have embraced their history, warts and all, like no other American city I've been to.

  3. Charles:

    Excellent pointing out of irony.

    Anon: I'm glad to hear that things are dramatically improved. Nonetheless, Birmingham can't (and probably should not want to) escape its history.

  4. Just a few years ago in Tennessee, at my mother and father-in-law's home they were trying to sell (they lived in UT at the time), the dining room floor was covered with diesel fuel and a cross was put in the window and lit on fire. The reason? My mil and fil were going to sell their house to a white family who had adopted a black child. Prejudice is alive and well in some areas of our country today.

  5. I have a friend who grew up in the Jim Crow South. She remembers being at a family party one evening and they heard car engines roaring by, her grandmother said, "Get down," and everybody jumped out of their seats and lay on the floor and shotgun fire came through the front window of the house. Violence against African-Americans was part and parcel of every day life in the world of the Jim Crow South. B-Ham was just the worst for a while.

  6. It sounds so horrible to me that I even can't believe such pointless brutality. I remember I watched a movie in which a black policeman told he grew up on the floor.


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