Saturday, February 21, 2009

Early Influences in Birmingham

Childhood was for the most part pretty nifty in Birmingham. We had the zoo with this cool train to ride.

Up on Shades Mountain stood the Temple. You could see it from Shades Valley or from Red Mountain looking south. What a site. I believe it was the spiritual counterbalance to Vulcan.

It was torn down by the Vestavia Baptist Church people who built their church there. One day I hope someone rebuilds the Temple.

When I was very little, drive-ins had swingsets where we could play in the warm summer night, then fall asleep in the car while our parents watched the movie. As teenagers, we went to the drive-in to watch past first run movies cheap. We would fall asleep and have to be waked up by the drive-in staff telling us "time to go home". Innocence.

Kiddieland was the best place ever. Bumper cars, the Twister, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Octopus, the Mad Mouse, the Swings.

Fair Park

Life was good.

Beautiful surroundings, family friendly places like Kiddieland, and --what happened?

My family was returning from 5 Points West one Sunday after eating out at a restaurant in the area. There were few places to eat "over the mountain" back then. Out of nowhere someone was throwing bricks, and it was pretty clear that something big had happened. There was a riot going on, and we got out of there in a hurry. That moment was when the reality of Birmingham broke through. I found out that four little girls had been killed by a bomb while they were at church that Sunday morning.

That morning remains one of the most compelling events of my life. I was the same age as the girls who were killed. I had not yet contemplated human mortality, but I understood my own mortality in a very personal and visceral way that day.
All this to say that although I grew up in Birmingham, and lived through the entire civil rights movment, most of it was unknown to me as a young child and teen. Television and newspapers were careful to air only what was permissible. If a national broadcast or movie was objectionable, it was not shown in Birmingham.

I was lucky that my mother and father were not particularly racist. My father sold homes to middle class blacks families and had good relationships with all sorts of people. However, no one could escape the pervasive atmosphere of fear that enveloped Birmingham. So much hatred. So much paranoia. Our high school band could not go to the Macy's Day Parade that we were invited to due to racism and stupidity.

I tried to forge ahead and be a liberated woman and all that.

When the women's liberation movement hit me I was going to college at Auburn University. I had been politicized by the anti-war movement, and even made the front page of the Auburn-Opelika newspaper carrying a protest sign. I got a shock of reality when I tried to get fellow female students at Auburn to sign a petition to stop the school from keeping us locked up in the dorms. No one was interested.

I was a free spirit, so I threw myself into the mix of the happenings of the day looking for salvation and inspiration. Politics became art form in the food coop and organic foods movement, the anti-nuke movement, black power, consciousness raising groups, underground newspapers, the downward mobility movement, the back to nature movement, native American awareness and spirituality, and of course through music and performance. We had street theatre back in the day. More blogs later on all this stuff!

I know now that a wonderful Alabama photographer named Spider Martin was present to the events that were hidden from me during the Civil Rights era. He took many memorable photos that have become iconic images. I remember seeing his studio in 5 Points South at Cobb Lane. I was not a part of that art scene, but I would like to know more about what was happening then.

It helps to grasp the things that have shaped me, and to expose the not so pretty past. I want release from those binding traumas, and as a citizen of Birmingham, Alabama, freedom from unnecessary anxieties and learned ashamedness about this place. That is a large part of what this blog is about for me.

1 comment:

  1. I did a google search for "Native American Spirituality, Birmingham,AL and your blog was among the results. Not what I was intending to find, but I liked it anyway. Sounds like we grew up here around the same time, and have many of the same memories. Thanks for the pics...they brought back memories of old times. The list of music is hard to read w/blue on green, but it looks like a list of what I listened to then (and now). I am glad to know that there are others who grew up here who didn't fit into the prescribed mold, who sought a more enlightened way of being, and tried to encourage others to break free of the restrictive mind-set. It can be a lonely path.