A new book about the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham is flying off the shelves. The book "1963" is written by a Birmingham News reporter, and it looks back at that tumultuous year. It took the backing of a paper, that back them largely ignored news about the movement.
Barnett Wright's journey back in time to 1963 begins in the archives of The Birmingham News and The Post Herald. "We started here on January 1, and we went through every one of these. We would take this microfilm, and take it over to this machine," he says carrying the film to the microfilm reader, "put it on here and wrap it around, and when it warms up what you would see was every newspaper article beginning January 1." And one article at a time, this Birmingham News reporter researched page after page, looking back on a time when someone like him would have hardly been covered by the newspaper- much less work for it. He explains his process.
"You had to pay as much attention to these stories on pages 24 and 25 as you did on page 1 because they would bury a lot of the stories on African Americans at that time."
A very small paragraph at the bottom of a page catches my eye as he is talking.
"Here's one," I interrupt, pointing to a headline. "'Negro named postal foreman.'"
"Exactly," Wright says. "That's a perfect example. If you look at what happens here, that story is on page 29. It's so far down, you're apt to miss it." The book looks back 50-years to the Civil Rights Movement, providing a timeline of key events, with all the players: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Bull Connor. Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and more.
This is Wright's first book, and it's about a city that at one time, he doubted. "There are two places I said as a little kid that I would never live in. Johannesburg South Africa and Birmingham, Alabama." 10-years later, this Philly transplant has fallen under the Magic City's spell, and the book is a labor of his love for thE city he never wanted to live in. His employer, The Birmingham News, has backed him every step of the way. "It's important now because we can offer a perspective," he says. "We [the paper] can shine a light on some of the things that we did not do at that particular time. We can own up to our responsibility of what we did and didn't do at that particular time." The paper has even provided pictures for the book that most eyes have never seen. We spoke to Wright's boss, Cindy Martin. "They've never seen the faces of the people that were here, alive fighting the Civil Rights Movement, regardless of their race," Martin tells me. She was just a girl growing up in Bessemer at the time. "I remember the desegregation of the school systems when I was in school." Little did she know, the struggle that began then, would help open doors in Women's Rights, too. She's now President of the Alabama Media Group, the company that owns The Birmingham News. "The book is a very important message, really, that we want to give to the community and to the rest of the country about the importance of the Civil Rights Movement which climaxed right here in Birmingham, Alabama 50-years-ago." Many may not know, that the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church started with a phone call. That's in the book's introduction. "Around 10:20, the phone rang. She picked the phone up, and she heard two-minutes," Wright says, retelling the story. "And about 20-seconds later, the entire church detonated around her and the bomb went off." He says that was the catalyst.
"That's what helped change Birmingham and the world." And a picture in his book marks the exact time it happened. The clock had stopped that day, but time has marched on. 50-years have gone by, and the hope has always been that the deaths, the marches, and the struggles captured in this book were not in vain. A final thought from Wright.
"What happened in 1963 was a global movement. It was a fight not just for Civil Rights, but it was a fight for Human Rights. The sacrifices that were made, both with time, both with lives, for just the movement in general is a significant part of American history." You can purchase a copy of the book at several locations, including:
Barnes & Nobles Alabama Booksmith Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau The Bookseller @ St. Vincents Leaf & Petal at the Botanical Gardens Amazon.com Books-A-Million Birmingham News lobby Little Professor Lamb's Ear BCRI gift shop Solomons Books
You can also take a look at The Birmingham News' Civil Rights page here: al.com/civilrights