United We Stand: Improving Race Relations in Birmingham

In 1963, Birmingham was anything but a shining example of race relations. From dogs to fire hoses, George Wallace to Bull Connor, Birmingham found itself the very face of the Civil Rights Movement. But over 50 years later, with parts of the nation seemingly divided as ever, Birmingham has found a way to prove that the past does not have to define the future.

 Birmingham has come a long way from the divisive days of the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, the city that was once filled with violence and racial tension has been relatively quiet compared to others across the nation. The recent success that the city has seen can be greatly attributed to the leadership displayed within the Birmingham and Jefferson County Police Departments by Chief A.C. Roper and Sheriff Mike Hale. Together, they have emphasized the importance of community policing. Both police departments can be seen engaging in their communities on a regular basis. Police officials make it a point to meet with community leaders such as government officials, church leaders, and organizations to talk about how the police department can better serve the people in these communities. As a member of a panel at the 2016 NAACP convention, Sheriff Hale praised this idea of community policing by saying, “These kinds of relationships are encouraged as a way of life… in Birmingham, we communicate. It’s a wonderful community.” In order for Birmingham to continue the success it has seen, communication is key.

This communication led to a significant decrease in crime rates in Birmingham. In 2006, there were 110 homicides reported in the city, compared with just 63 in 2014. The state of Alabama as a whole has seen a significantly lower amount of hate crimes than the national average. These statistics show what can result from a good relationship between police and the communities they serve. However, other factors have contributed to these results as well. Birmingham has seen some of its lowest unemployment rates in years as job opportunities continue to grow in the technology and manufacturing sectors. Efforts have also been made to revitalize the city, with small businesses taking over many of the street corners, and providing jobs for people of all ages and races. Finally, in addition to Roper and Hale, Birmingham and Jefferson County boast a diverse group of community leaders. The Jefferson County bench is one of the most diverse in the state, proving that community leaders are willing to improve race relations in the community.

The movement that has recently defined race relations across the country is the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement has been able to gain momentum by capitalizing on police brutality throughout the country. With a victim mentality, many Black Lives Matter protestors seem to be driven by fear more than a want to make a change. While they claim to be protesting against violence, many of these rallies turn violent themselves. Perpetuated by constant news coverage, these protests have managed to enrage an entire generation and cause deep-seeded divide across the nation. Instead of inciting violence to fight violence, there needs to be a coming together across the nation. As the old adage says, “United we stand divided we fall.” It seems we’ve taken a big turn from the 1960’s where the protestors led by Martin Luther King were such staunch proponents of peace.

While the movement has been able to have a significant influence in cities such as Ferguson and Dallas, Black Lives Matter is almost non-existent in Birmingham. There have been some small, peaceful protests in malls and streets, but nothing like what other cities have seen. It may be surprising that the center of the Civil Rights movement remains so quiet when it comes to the violent protests seen today, but it is that history that may play such a vital role in keeping violence away. Citizens of Birmingham, and Alabama in general, have grown up knowing that many of their parents and grandparents were simply on the wrong side of history. They know and have heard stories of those who were victims of the violence that plagued so many. They have no desire to go back. It is this desire that as brought about the progress that this city has made in the past 50 years.

Despite its turbulent past, Birmingham has become somewhat of a shining city on a hill. While it still has its flaws and is by no means perfect, race relations in Birmingham have significantly improved. For years, Birmingham has been populated largely by one race or the other. When one was in charge, the other was driven out. However, for the first time in decades, men and women of all colors and backgrounds can be seen walking the downtown streets, eating together in brand new local restaurants, and shopping in local small businesses. Birmingham is a revitalized and thriving city, and offers all who want to come a safe place to live and a prospering place to work.

About the Authors: This article was cowritten by Brianna Gwin and Daniel Bruce. Brianna is an intern at the Reid Law Firm. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Accounting and Business Administration from Auburn University. She may be reached at Brianna.reidlawalabama@gmail.com. Daniel is an intern as well and student at Auburn studying Political Science and Economics. Daniel may be reached at Daniel.reidlawalabama@gmail.com. For more information about the Reid Law Firm and its staff, please visit www.reidlawalabama.com.