Back from Bombingham
Posted by James McPherson on October 15, 2009
Spending most of last week in Birmingham, Ala., center of several key events in the Civil Rights movement, was a good reminder of how far we’ve come in the struggle for fairness in America. For someone who spends most of his time in the Pacific Northwest, the visit–and several of the papers and panels presented at the American Journalism Historians Association convention–also provided a good reminder of how far we haven’t come in dealing with race issues. (The ongoing health care debate also serves as a reminder of American inequities, of course.)
Known for a time as “Bombingham,” the city saw several church bombings during the 1960s. The most famous explosion killed four girls in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church (which I visited last Friday). And though I knew much of the story of the four girls, until Friday I never knew that two African American boys had been killed–one by a police officer–in race-related attacks on the same day.
Still, as LZ Granderson reminds us, the issue of equality is complicated and goes far beyond race. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (which will inevitably be killed, eventually) and the issue of gay marriage (which eventually will be approved in most, if not all, of the United States) provide current examples.
There is no denying that much remains to be done, and sometimes it may seem that the nation is becoming more polarized in the discussion of difficult issues. Thankfully, despite our many differences, we seem to keep working on it. Nowadays the most important race-baiting bombthrowers such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh typically lob their explosives figuratively, out in the open, rather than burying them beneath church steps.
Below is an interesting student-produced video history of the 1963 bombing. And lest you think race problems are behind us, note the most recent ignorant comment, “black people are dumb lol.”