A Tour of Birmingham, AL with Clay Cornelius


If you are anything like me, you like to think of the Civil Rights movement of

 the 1950s & 60s as a movement that helped our country achieve, maybe not the

 entire dream that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described, but at least something 

that was closer to that dream, something that showed we were on the right path

 toward fulfilling that dream. After all, didn’t the Civil Rights Act and the Voting

 Rights Act get passed and implemented by the government? Haven’t we seen

 great strides in the implementation of fair housing and lending? Hasn’t

segregation been relegated to the dark corners of our past?


Unfortunately, this is a mythology that many of us would like to hold on to. 

The assassination of Dr. King in 1968 should have been enough to disabuse 

us of that mythology. And yet that mythology  persists. In more recent years, 

it has been perforated and torn time and again by the abuse and murder of 

Black citizens by police and white supremacists: Rodney  King, Trayvon Martin,

Philando Castille, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Walter  Scott, Eric Garner,

Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice and so many more.

These names represent our collective failure to realize King’s dream of justice,

 equality and equity. Perhaps, if nothing else, these names help those of us in the

 white community to understand just how frayed and fractured that mythology of

progress really is. And there is no place that I can think of that reveals the stark

 contrast between our hopes and their unfulfilled promise than the city of

Birmingham, Alabama. 



Clay Cornelius is the owner and guide of Red Clay Tours in Birmingham, AL. How

 do we get to know cities that we visit? How do we get the lay of the land and find

out what really happened there? Of course, we can visit monuments and historical

 sites, but that doesn’t begin to fill in the canvas of a city. Clay is the sort of guide

 that will fill in that canvas with stories and historical detail that you can’t get

 anywhere else. And that detail is especially important for a city as famous and

 infamous as Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham, as we know, played a huge role

 in the era of the civil rights struggle. It was the place of confrontation with Bull 

Connor, of tragedy with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the

 deaths of four Black children. It was where Dr. King was jailed and wrote one of

 his most extraordinary writings, Letter from a Birmingham Jail. As I mentioned on

 a previous episode, I was part of a wonderful civil rights pilgrimage with a group

 from Westminster Presbyterian Church here in Olympia, WA. And Clay was our

 guide when we were in Birmingham and as you will hear, he is a fount of

 knowledge about Birmingham and its history.


Books mentioned in this episode:

 “Carry Me Home” by Diane McWhorter 

But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights

 Struggle” by Glenn Eskew

A More Beautiful and Terrible History” by Jeanne Theoharris



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