Here are a few: –
With a metropolitan population of nearly a million people, Birmingham is the largest city in Alabama. No need to pigeonhole Birmingham as serving only fried pies and barbecue. The city is home to “the Oscars of dining,” with James Beard Foundation award winners and nominees. Birmingham is a national leader in urban green spaces. Thousands of wooded acres for biking and hiking are within minutes of downtown in area parks. The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB Hospital is an international leader in health care and one of the top transplant centers in the world. Though iron and steel production gave rise to the city of Birmingham, the area’s largest employer is now the health care industry. Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum has the largest collection of vintage and contemporary motorcycles in the world. Adjacent is Barber Motorsports Park, one of the finest racing facilities in the world and beautifully landscaped in the rolling hills just outside the city. Barber Motorsports Park hosts the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, making Birmingham the only Deep South city on the North American Indy circuit. USA TODAY calls Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival one of “Ten Great Places for a Fabulous Film Festival.” Since its debut in 1999, the festival has attracted filmmakers from around the world to screen their work for fans of independent cinema. The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), the global Catholic Television giant, is headquartered and broadcasts from its studios in Birmingham to millions of viewers around the world. In 1995, Mercedes Benz chose a site just west of Birmingham to build its first assembly plant outside Germany. Their visitors center indoctrinates guests on the automaker’s history. Tours of the plant are available by appointment. Birmingham’s role in America’s Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s placed the city at the center of the most significant domestic drama of the 20 th The city’s Civil Rights District is now designated a National Monument. Birmingham is known as the founding city for the recognition of Veterans Day and hosts the nation’s oldest and largest Veterans Day celebration, Birmingham is the only place in the world where all the ingredients for making iron are present—coal, iron ore and limestone, all within a ten-mile radius. Vulcan, the mythical god of metalworking, is the largest cast iron statue in the world and is second in size only to the Statue of Liberty. The statue sits high atop Red Mountain as a symbol of Birmingham’s birth in the iron and steel industry. Vulcan’s bare buttocks, facing the suburb of Homewood, measure as wide as a Greyhound bus. The Club’s multi-colored dance floor was the inspiration for a key icon in the 1970s movie Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta. The Birmingham Museum of Art houses 10,000 pieces of Wedgwood, the largest museum collection outside England. With the opening of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the state became the “Godfather of Great Golf.” Two of the RTJ courses are in Birmingham. Birmingham is home to the nation’s oldest baseball park, Rickwood Field, which opened in 1910 and hosted baseball greats such as Jackie Robinson, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Lorenzo “Piper” Davis, Willie Mays and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Tours are available weekdays. The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Kirklin Clinic was designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei. Sloss Furnaces produced iron for nearly 90 years during the early days of the city’s emerging as an industrial giant. Today it is a city-operated museum and recognized as a National Historic Landmark, the only facility of its kind being preserved anywhere in the world. Country singing legend and Alabama native Hank Williams spent the last night of his life at Birmingham’s Redmont Hotel before leaving for a New Year’s Day performance January 1, 1953, in Canton, Ohio. Somewhere along the way, Williams’s friend and driver found him dead in the back of the famous blue Cadillac. The Alabama Theatre is one of only a handful of 1920’s movie palaces still in operation. The “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ still rises from beneath the theater floor for live accompaniment to silent movie screenings and other events. The Irondale Café is a home-style cafeteria with strong Hollywood ties. The café was the inspiration for author and actress Fannie Flagg’s successful novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and hit movie of half that name.
What is interesting about Birmingham?
11 Things You Didn’t Know About Birmingham Birmingham is a unique and diverse city; this is our breakdown of the top 11 interesting things about Birmingham that you didn’t already know.1. Celebrations and festivals Every year, the St Patrick’s Day parade takes place in Digbeth, celebrating the death of Ireland’s foremost patron saint, St.
- Patrick. The parade is the third largest in the world celebrating the saint, behind New York City and Dublin.80,000 people attend each year.
- Other multicultural events include the Bangla Mela, celebrating the Bengali new year, and the Vaisakhi Mela – the Sikh new year celebration with a fantastic reputation in Birmingham.
There’s also the Birmingham Heritage Festival – a Mardi Gras-style event in August. Caribbean and African culture are celebrated with parades and street performances by buskers.
- 2. A great place to be young
- Birmingham is thought to be the most youthful city in Europe, with 40% of residents under 25.
- 3. Parks and open spaces
There are 571 parks in Birmingham – more than any other European city – totalling over 3,500 hectares of public open space. Sutton Park is the largest urban park in Europe and a National Nature Reserve.4. British engineering at its finest Britain’s most famous and best-loved plane was built in Birmingham – the Spitfire.
- Local inventor Alexander Parkes was also from Birmingham, he invented plastic.
- 5. Food for thought
- Birmingham is the only English city outside of London to have 5 Michelin starred restaurants.
- 6. A buzzing, vibrant city
- Birmingham is the largest and most populous city in England, outside of London.
- 7. Unique experiences
The Electric cinema is the oldest working cinema in the UK. It is also home to a new wave of quirky and independent cinemas, including The Mockingbird and Everyman Mailbox.8. Selly Oak The area of Selly Oak is named after a great oak tree that stood before being felled in 1909.
A plaque remains on Oak Tree Lane.9. A footballing city The precursor to the Football League was born in Aston in 1885. The first teams to join were Birmingham City, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion.10. Bingley Hall Bingley Hall, the world’s first exhibition hall, opened in 1850 on the site now occupied by the ICC, also the home to Birmingham’s very own symphony hall.
It was built to exhibit all of Birmingham’s wonderful products.11. A hub for business Food brands that started in Birmingham include Cadbury, Typhoo and HP Sauce. Sound like the place for you? Check out our today. : 11 Things You Didn’t Know About Birmingham
Why is Birmingham called the Magic City?
Magic City Modern: A Short History of the Birmingham-Bessemer School As a site of collective memory, Birmingham, Alabama, is commonly associated with some of the darkest chapters in American history. In his famous 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Described the city: There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.
- Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States.
- Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country.
- Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality.
There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts. During the Civil Rights era, the increasing demand by black Americans for some semblance of social and political equity ignited long-simmering racial tensions, especially in the city of Birmingham.
- Demonstrators of all ages put their bodies and livelihoods on the line to protest oppressive Jim Crow laws, which were enforced with particular brutality in the region.
- Jim Crow laws were also known as black codes, as they were the rules that governed black life.
- There were, however, other types of black codes that existed throughout the South.
In this instance, we may think of a code not as rules but in terms of one of its other meanings: a visual system for communicating information, especially in secret. These other black codes were not ones used to enforce subjugation, but were instead personal and collective expressions.
- This text addresses the existence of such alternative codes, made manifest in the way that black artists in Alabama created work embedded with complex layers of conceptual meaning and aesthetic content that appeared in their yards and homes, often hidden from the public eye.
- This essay specifically serves as an introduction to a group of black male artists living in the greater Birmingham, Alabama, area from the period after the Civil Rights Movement through today.
While two of the artists, Thornton Dial Sr. (1928–2016) and Lonnie Holley (b.1950), have achieved relative institutional and academic recognition, the other two members of this group, Joe Minter (b.1943) and Ronald Lockett (1965–1998), remain comparatively underrecognized within the history of art and underrepresented on the walls of museums.
- These four artists lived either in Birmingham, the largest city in Alabama, or the smaller adjacent town of Bessemer.
- They constitute what American studies scholar Bernard L.
- Herman calls the “Birmingham-Bessemer School.” While they did not refer to themselves as such, each artist acknowledges the importance of this small community to their individual practices.
All impacted, either directly or indirectly, by Jim Crow rule, Dial, Holley, Lockett, and Minter made works that are not simply documents of history or illustrations but hidden transcripts, visions of alternative futures, and radical archives of black determination.
- The hard, brutal, and almost unbelievable facts mentioned in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s description of Birmingham—racial injustice, police brutality, bombings—appear in the following works of art but are transformed, abstracted, and coded within the objects themselves. Fig.1.
- Thornton Dial, Monument to the Minds of the Little Negro Steelworkers, 2001–3.
Steel, wood, wire, twine, artificial flowers, ax blade, glass bottles, animal bones, cloth, tin cans, paint can lids, and enamel, 76 x 138 x 46 in. Minneapolis Institute of Art. Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio. © Thornton Dial Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Even though the Birmingham-Bessemer School was active in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, their collective history is rooted in the circumstances surrounding Birmingham’s founding as a city in the late nineteenth century.
In Monument to the Minds of the Little Negro Steelworkers (fig.1), Dial draws upon the history of Birmingham as the steel and iron manufacturing capital of the South; the industry was propelled by black freedmen who worked in the iron foundries and coal mines of the region. Using primarily scrap metal, Dial has carefully manipulated this material into a swirling morass of curlicue forms.
These forms evoke the decorative ironwork (often made by black artisans) seen throughout Southern architecture—reminding viewers that the labor of black Americans is hidden everywhere. Additionally, the rags, bones, bottles, and artificial flowers that adorn the work’s metal structure recall black graveyard decorative traditions, an important phenomenon within the larger cultural history of black Americans.
- Historically, black graveyards were some of the only sites white people dared not enter, allowing them to become some of the earliest spaces for safe visual expression by African Americans.
- Dial, himself a former metalworker, created this monument to, importantly, the intellect of the black workers whose contributions to the technological advancements pioneered in the area have gone unnoticed.
Viewed as a whole, Monument to the Minds of the Little Negro Steelworkers is a powerful visual index to the rich history of black life, love, and labor in the greater Birmingham region. Fig.2. Thomas Duke, Birmingham Alabama city convicts in their sleeping quarters.
- Shackles never removed,
- July 1907.
- Thomas Dukes Parke Collection, Birmingham Public Library Archives Birmingham was historically referred to as the Magic City because its soil contained the three necessary elements to produce iron: limestone, coal, and iron ore.
- This geological condition allowed Birmingham to become one of the most successful industrial centers in the post-Reconstruction South, and by the 1880s, it was the steel capital of the Southeast and one of the region’s most urbanized areas.
Far from any stereotypical vision of a rural Southern hamlet, Birmingham was a city built on its adoption of technological and industrial advancements, instead of relying on agriculture. The steel industry in Birmingham was fundamentally built on the continued violence toward and oppression of black workers.
- Birmingham was unique in the way that the city factory owners exploited a new form of industrial labor that could be equated to a form of slavery.
- The steel industry and local police force worked in concert to create this system of labor.
- Police in the Birmingham-Bessemer region would arrest black men for “crimes,” including loitering, vagrancy, or breaking curfew—essentially, being black in a public space—and then funnel them into the convict-lease system, so that they could be used as free labor for the steel and iron industry (fig.2).
Fig.3. Joe Minter, Chain Gang, 1995. Chains, shovels, picks, and fireplace grate. Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio In order to fully understand a work such as Joe Minter’s Chain Gang (fig.3), it is essential to confront the history of this particular form of oppressive labor.
In addition to exploiting a systematically unjust criminal arrangement, factory owners fashioned a caste system for paid laborers in which white workers, a minority of the employees, functioned as skilled labor, while the black workers, who represented the majority, were classified as unskilled labor, with little to no opportunity for upward mobility.
The black workers were given the most difficult and dangerous work in the foundries, exposing them to extreme heat, toxic gases, and unforgiving physical labor. Despite these horrific conditions, many African Americans outside of Alabama came to work in these foundries in an effort to escape the pittance of sharecropping.
- By the 1920s, African Americans made up roughly 60 to 80 percent of the steel industry’s workers.
- In Minter’s metal assemblage, farm tools are forever chained together, the tools functioning as stand-ins for human figures, an allusion to the fact that the black body was historically viewed by those in power as valuable only insofar as it can be used for work.
The sculpture is created from metal, which was the final product of so much dangerous and backbreaking labor—then, of course, the metal produced could be turned into tools to facilitate more hard labor. Similar to Mel Edwards’s (b.1937) famous Lynch Fragments series, both artists imbue abstracted metal forms with a sense of malevolence, threat, and history.
- Fig.4. Joe Minter, A Monument: The Birmingham Jail, 2000, part of The African Village in America.
- Photo: William Arnett Chain Gang functions as a standalone work, although it also belongs to a larger project Minter has been working on for the last few decades.
- Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Minter began transforming his property into what he calls, “The African Village in America.” Stretching across the entirety of his one-acre property, it has now become a single-artist museum and art installation dedicated to the history of the black diaspora in the United States.
Minter began building this yard after he heard the city was about to begin construction on what is now the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, located in downtown Birmingham. In fearing that the city would not, in his words, “tell the story of his people that has never been properly told,” he embarked on this thirty-plus–year ongoing project.
As one weaves through his environment—which, as of 2020, can be visited by the public—it is possible to encounter abstract sculptures, such as Chain Gang, as well as found-object recreations of specific sites significant to black history, such as the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, or the Birmingham Jail cell (fig.4) from which Martin Luther King, Jr.
wrote his famous letter (quoted at the beginning of this text). Minter’s yard is one of the best extant examples of a visual phenomenon that used to exist across the South—the “yard show,” a type of site-specific art environment that was erected primarily by black Americans on their properties.
- The yard show was especially predominant in the Deep South.
- Originally defined by Robert Farris Thompson as “the practice of adorning one’s property and living space with objects of aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural significance,” these sprawling installations were filled primarily with found object assemblages, but also paintings and sculptures, and were once commonplace.
Beyond object adornment, these yards also presupposed the presence of a viewer, or a community within which such a practice could be understood. Additionally, yard shows were also a way of announcing ownership through visual expression; this is significant, considering how difficult it was (and still is, in many ways) for black people to own property.
Finally, in creating a massive, impossible-to-ignore art environment where visitors must confront American history, these artists present an artistic archive for oneself and one’s community. With the exception of Ronald Lockett, each artist in the Birmingham-Bessemer School constructed a yard environment.
What makes Minter’s yard particularly powerful, in addition to its content, is its location: perched on the top of a hill, it overlooks two historically black cemeteries, Shadow Lawn and Grace Hill, where many of Birmingham’s black laborers and citizens are laid to rest.
- The phenomenon of the yard show has now, for the most part, ceased, as their makers have passed away and black people have moved away from the South.
- Black flight from the South during the period of the Great Migration greatly impacted the cultural, social, and economic landscape of the region.
- While the Birmingham area was the site of major economic growth in the early half of the twentieth century, by the 1950s, industry jobs began to decline sharply.
By 1971, all the Birmingham iron mines had closed. These closures most sharply affected the city’s black population, who held the vast majority of its industrial jobs. The decline of this industry directly impacted Thornton Dial, perhaps the best-known member of the group.
Dial had spent thirty years working at the Pullman Standard plant, and his neighborhood, Pipe Shop, was named for its proximity to U.S. Pipe, a major employer in Bessemer. After Dial was permanently laid off, at age fifty-eight, he decided to devote most of his time to art making. Working in his “junk house” studio on Fifteenth Street in the Pipe Shop, Dial began to experiment with making things that had no explicit utilitarian value, although at that stage he did not call these objects art.
Later, importantly, Dial would embrace his practice and self-identify as an artist. The early period of Dial’s career (late 1980s through the 1990s) is marked by the consistent presence of animal subject matter. Birds, fish, and, most of all, tigers make frequent appearances.
In Dial’s symbolic universe, the tiger served as an avatar for himself, and more generally, the history of black struggle in the United States. To the uninformed, the use of the tiger could seem like nothing more than a folksy proclivity, or, even more problematically, an indicator of a primitive connection to nature.
In actuality, using the tiger as a symbol for black struggle allowed him to speak about personal and social inequity in a veiled and critical fashion. Fig.5. Thornton Dial, Monkeys and People Love the Tiger Cat, 1988. Rope, carpet, wire, enamel, and Splash Zone compound on wood.
Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo: Gamma One Conversions. © Thornton Dial Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York For example, in the early work Monkeys And People Love the Tiger Cat (fig.5), a blue tiger rendered out of rope is surrounded by abstracted human and monkey figures painted in bold strokes of black and white.
A snake, a biblical symbol for evil, stretches across the top of the painting. Even at this early phase in his career, Dial was skeptical of the approval he was beginning to receive in the mainstream art world. This scene is a coded expression of Dial’s early apprehension, where the tiger is made to perform for people, whose features, while abstracted, are noticeably rendered primarily in white.
Fig.6. Jim Peppler, Roadside Sign for the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, 1966. Jim Peppler Southern Courier photograph collection, Alabama Department of Archives and History The tiger’s close relationship to the black panther is no coincidence. The Black Panther image originated from Lowndes County, located just outside of Montgomery, Alabama.
The Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) was formed in 1965 under the umbrella of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), helmed by Stokely Carmichael. As a party, the LCFO had a mission to register the majority black citizens of Lowndes County to vote.
- They chose the black panther as their symbol, and a year later Huey P.
- Newton and Bobby Seale adapted the image for the newly formed Black Panther Party, based in Oakland, California.
- In looking at the roadside sign for the LCFO, as captured in Jim Peppler’s photograph (fig.6), the flattened, horizontal orientation of the panther figure, with its upwardly curved tail, bears a striking formal resemblance to Dial’s Monkeys and People Love the Tiger Cat,
Dial’s selection of the tiger as an avatar, with its proximity to the panther, allowed him to indirectly associate himself with larger movements addressing black struggle without having to explicitly state his politics. Fig.7. Ronald Lockett, Once Something Has Lived It Can Never Really Die, 1996, wood, enamel, graphite, tin, found materials, industrial sealing compound, on wood, High Museum of Art.
- Photo credit: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio.
- © Ronald Lockett Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York The animal avatar shows up with particular prominence in the work of another member of the Birmingham-Bessemer School, Ronald Lockett.
- Lockett was Thornton Dial’s much-younger cousin, who, for a period of time, “studied” under Dial in an unofficial mentor-mentee capacity.
Also living on Fifteenth Street, for years Lockett was the only person allowed in the junk house studio while Dial was working. As his protégée, the most significant concept Lockett appropriated from Dial was the use of an animal avatar as an encoded autobiographical figure.
- As his avatar, Lockett selected not a predator, but prey—a deer.
- The whitetail deer that often appear in Lockett’s paintings and assemblages (fig.7) are commonly found throughout Alabama, in both rural and urban areas.
- In the mid-twentieth century, the Alabama Department of Conservation began cultivating a stock of deer throughout the state.
Hunting whitetail deer was and continues to be a popular pastime in Alabama; the majority of hunters are white men who live in rural areas. Lockett was not a hunter. In choosing the deer as his avatar, specifically, the common Alabama whitetail deer, in effect, he was positioning himself as the locally hunted animal.
- In choosing an animal of prey instead of a predator, Lockett’s deer are meditations on the difficulty of young black survival in the small postindustrial town of Bessemer, where job opportunities were limited, and, for many of Lockett’s generation, leaving seemed like the only option.
- In addition, the male deer that appear throughout his work are also an homage to his mentor, Thornton Dial, who was referred to by loved ones as “Uncle Buck.” Beyond animal subject matter, Lockett was deeply interested in creating works of art related to the collective history of the area.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Birmingham was also called “Bombingham” due to the frequency of bombings committed by white residents, who sought to terrorize the black community and quell any form of uprising and resistance. In Smoke-Filled Sky (fig.8), Lockett takes charred wood, reignited with lashes of red paint, and visualizes this act of violence.
- As the school’s youngest member, Lockett did not personally experience the effects of Jim Crow or the unfolding of the Civil Rights Movement.
- Nevertheless, he felt the need to address this shared history in his own practice. Fig.8.
- Ronald Lockett, Smoke-Filled Sky (You Can Burn A Man’s House But Not His Dreams), 1990.
Charred wood, industrial sealing compound, paint, on wood, Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo credit: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio. © Ronald Lockett Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Born in 1950, Lonnie Holley did live through this traumatic period of American history.
- One of the most significant acts of domestic terrorism, which helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement, was when the Ku Klux Klan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963, killing four black girls who were changing into their choir robes in the church basement.
- Holley was thirteen years old when the bombing happened, almost the same age as the four victims.
Holley’s grandmother worked as a gravedigger for a portion of her life, and, according to him, she dug three of the four bombing victims’ graves. The shovels of Three Shovels to Bury You (fig.9), with their spades turned upright, have an anthropomorphized presence similar to Minter’s Chain Gang.
- Both a personal and historical memorial to the people of his hometown, the work serves as another example of how artists of the Birmingham-Bessemer School confront history in a coded manner. Fig.9.
- Lonnie Holley, Three Shovels to Bury You, 1998.
- Shovels, metal fence, found wood, and fabric.
- Photo by John Bentham, courtesy Souls Grown Deep Foundation and Community Partnership Historically, the consistent use of found materials in the work of the Birmingham-Bessemer School has been attributed to need: with a lack of economic resources, they were compelled to use what was readily available.
While this is partially true, these artists are also making very deliberate conceptual and aesthetic choices to further their own visions and artistic practices. Holley’s use of junk and found materials, in particular, needs to be properly understood within his own radical epistemology and the larger history of other black artists who worked with discards.
What I’m doing here, I think Malcolm said it best: by any means necessary,” Holley states, “We can make art where we have to. Dr. King, if you remember, wrote a sermon on a piece of toilet paper.” In these statements, Holley connects black history to trash: not by lowering this history to the status of garbage, but instead by unlocking the subversive potential of junk through this association.
When Holley states that he makes art “by any means necessary,” he is also alluding to his use of lost or discarded materials. Using junk is a necessary means for Holley as an artist, a practice that grew not only out of a lack of traditional art materials, but also out of a recuperative desire to unlock the historical and aesthetic possibilities embedded in every object.
- The idea that Dr.
- Ing was not above using toilet paper in his own work, that in times of need even the lowliest of household objects was a worthy vessel for a sermon, clearly appealed to Holley.
- If toilet paper can contain a sermon, then anything can be used to create a work of art.
- The South, so often considered the backward and antimodern underbelly of the United States, was nevertheless a site of industrialization—especially the city of Birmingham.
As its history reveals, this modernity was built through the continued abuse and oppression of black Americans, a counter to any romantic notions of progress. To fully understand the work of the Birmingham-Bessemer School, Birmingham’s exceedingly violent modern history must be confronted.
- In this same vein, one must also confront the many unrealized promises of the Civil Rights Movement and the effects of deindustrialization, which led to the economic collapse of the area in the 1970s.
- It is plausible that part of the resistance to accepting these artists into the larger narratives of modern and contemporary art is due to the ugly historical circumstances that led to the group’s formation in the first place.
Their exclusion represents the general resistance in the United States to fully acknowledging the social and political realities that black citizens faced and continue to face. The city of Birmingham set the stage for the emergence of artists such as Holley, Minter, Lockett, and Dial.
With its systematically unequal, exploitative, and racist labor practices, its association with the most violent tragedies of the Civil Rights Movement, and its continued economic challenges, Birmingham exists as a constant reminder of the casualties of economic development and how racial equality is far from having been achieved.
Each artist of the Birmingham-Bessemer School uniquely addresses this history through varying media and conceptual orientations. Collectively, they have turned this difficult and challenging past into difficult and challenging art; the school’s story is ultimately one about black self-determination.
To borrow a quotation by the historian Robin D.G. Kelley, perhaps the history of Birmingham can best be characterized as: “Here you are watching Western Civilization. It emerges as Modern as can be, but is the best example of Barbarism you’ve ever seen.” Speaking in eloquent and subversive visual languages, the work of the Birmingham-Bessemer School reveals the barbaric underside of modernity—but only to viewers willing to crack the codes.
Cite this article: Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander, “Magic City Modern: A Short History of the Birmingham-Bessemer School,” Panorama: Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art 6, no.1 (Spring 2020), https://doi.org/10.24926/24716839.9831.
PDF: Notes About the Author(s): Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander is Assistant Curator of American Art at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
: Magic City Modern: A Short History of the Birmingham-Bessemer School
Is Birmingham Alabama a nice area?
Are you considering a move to Birmingham, Alabama? Make sure you know these seven things about living in Birmingham! Birmingham is a city in the north-central region of Alabama, This city is in Jefferson County and is considered Alabama’s most populous county.
The population is about 197,575 residents, and it is regarded as one of the top 100 places to live in the United States and one of the best places to live in Alabama, Birmingham is known as the founding city for the recognition of Veterans Day and hosts the nation’s oldest and largest Veterans Day celebration.
The Veterans Day celebration is usually held during the first two weeks of November. This celebration has an awards dinner, a parade, and so much more! Since this city is known for its historical significance, you must attend these annual gatherings. This city is also the only place in the world where all the ingredients for making iron and steel are found – coal, iron ore, and limestone- all within a ten-mile radius.
What makes Alabama famous?
What Is Alabama Known For? – Alabama is known for its Southern hospitality, its history of civil rights struggles, and as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. It is also a large producer of two commodities in the United States and is a significant home to space discovery. Here are some of the interesting things that Alabama is known for.
What was the Birmingham Alabama controversy?
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|Birmingham riot of 1963|
|Part of the Civil Rights Movement|
|Location||Birmingham, Alabama, United States|
|Date||May 11, 1963|
|Perpetrators||Ku Klux Klan (alleged)|
The Birmingham riot of 1963 was a civil disorder and riot in Birmingham, Alabama, that was provoked by bombings on the night of May 11, 1963. The bombings targeted African-American leaders of the Birmingham campaign, In response, local African-Americans burned businesses and fought police throughout the downtown area.
The places bombed were the parsonage of Rev.A.D. King, brother of Martin Luther King Jr., and a motel owned by A.G. Gaston, where King and others organizing the campaign had stayed. It is believed that the bombings were carried out by members of the Ku Klux Klan, in cooperation with Birmingham police,
Civil rights protesters were frustrated with local police complicity with the perpetrators of the bombings, and grew frustrated at the non-violence strategy directed by King. Initially starting as a protest, violence escalated following local police intervention.
The federal government intervened with federal troops for the first time to control violence during a largely African-American riot, It was also a rare instance of domestic military deployment independent of enforcing a court injunction, an action which was considered controversial by Governor George Wallace and other Alabama whites.
The African-American response was a pivotal event that contributed to President Kennedy’s decision to propose a major civil rights bill. It was ultimately passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson as the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
What is the main culture in Birmingham?
The culture of Birmingham is characterised by a deep-seated tradition of individualism and experimentation, and the unusually fragmented but innovative culture that results has been widely remarked upon by commentators. Writing in 1969, the New York -based urbanist Jane Jacobs cast Birmingham as one of the world’s great examples of urban creativity: surveying its history from the 16th to the 20th centuries she described it as a “great, confused laboratory of ideas”, noting how its chaotic structure as a “muddle of oddments” meant that it “grew through constant diversification”.
The historian G.M. Young – in a classic comparison later expanded upon by Asa Briggs – contrasted the “experimental, adventurous, diverse” culture of Birmingham with the “solid, uniform, pacific” culture of the outwardly similar city of Manchester, The American economist Edward Gleason wrote in 2011 that “cities, the dense agglomerations that dot the globe, have been engines of innovation since Plato and Socrates bickered in an Athenian marketplace.
The streets of Florence gave us the Renaissance and the streets of Birmingham gave us the Industrial Revolution”, concluding: “wandering these cities, is to study nothing less than human progress.” The roots of this distinctive cultural trait lie in Birmingham’s unique social and economic history.
By the early 1600s the area had already developed a reputation as one where the traditional power of the aristocracy and the established church was weak, becoming a haven for incomers who did not fit in with established thinking elsewhere: religious non-conformists, scientific and literary free-thinkers, industrial entrepreneurs and political dissenters.
The Midlands Enlightenment that followed in the 18th century saw the town’s growth into an important centre of literary, musical, theatrical and artistic activity, and the emergence of an unusually tolerant, secular society, characterised by “unfussy conviviality,
- Lack of dogmatism,
- And a sponge-like ability to absorb new ideas”.
- This openness and cultural pluralism was further encouraged by the town’s broad-based and entrepreneurial economic structure.
- The “city of a thousand trades” was made up of a wide variety of highly skilled specialists operating in small workshops, producing a constantly diversifying range of products in response to changing market conditions and collaborating in a shifting, fragmented web of overlapping and informal groupings.
The result was the development of a culture that valued variety, adaptability and change more than uniformity and continuity; whose need for cooperation and trust bred an innate suspicion of boastfulness and pretension; and which was characterised by the remarkable capacity for “accommodating difference” that has been an enduring theme of the city’s history.
- The historian William Hutton, noting the diversity of Birmingham’s culture as early as 1782, remarked that “the wonder consists in finding such agreement in such variety”.
- Over two centuries later in 2008 the philosopher Sadie Plant could still describe “the city’s unique, almost declassé mixture of individualism and co-operation”.
This inherently non-conformist culture has tended to set Birmingham apart from the London-dominated English cultural mainstream. The Independent wrote in 2012 of Birmingham’s “intangible sense of the other, of being different despite being the bullseye of Britain”.
The poet Roy Fisher called it an “off-shore island in the middle of England”. Writing in 1945, while the poet W.H. Auden was arguably the dominant figure of English literature worldwide, the American critic Edmund Wilson could still note how his “Birmingham background” meant that “in fundamental ways,
he doesn’t belong in that London literary world – he’s more vigorous and more advanced”. However the same characteristic that sets Birmingham apart can also make it difficult to characterise and understand from outside. Disjunction and incongruity lie at the heart of the city’s identity, and Birmingham often lacks the superficial unifying aesthetic of more homogeneous cities.
Writers, artists or musicians cooperating in socially close-knit groups but producing work with little stylistic unity have been a characteristic of Birmingham’s culture from the Lunar Society of the 1750s, through the Birmingham Group of the 1890s and the Highfield writers of the 1930s to the B-Town music scene of 2013.
The city’s “tradition of the untraditional”, of moving forward through “waves of creative destruction”, has also led to what the novelist Catherine O’Flynn has called the city’s “complicated relationship with its past, where it’s always trying to burn photos of itself”.
Why Birmingham is so good?
1) The youngest city in Europe – Birmingham is a great place to live and work for youngsters and our city has the youngest population in the continent, with under-25s accounting for nearly 40% of our population. There are over 400 schools, 15 universities and three University colleges within one hour’s drive of the city. Celebrity chef Glynn Purnell
What is Birmingham known as?
Nicknames: Brum. City of a Thousand Trades.
Why is Birmingham called black country?
|Black Country Living Museum Black Country Tourism The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.|
|How to pronounce the term “Black Country” – The correct way is to link the two words together. For example Blackcountry rather than Black Country.|
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|The Black Country was famous for Thick Coal|
The region was described as ‘Black by day and red by night’ by Elihu Burritt, the American Consul to Birmingham in 1862. Other authors, from Charles Dickens to William Shenstone refer to the intensity of manufacturing in the Black Country and its effect on the landscape and its people.
Today the Black Country is described as most of the four Metropolitan District Council areas of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton and the term is used as a marketing tool to sell and promote the West Midlands region to the north of Birmingham. Despite this industrial past the Black Country has a long association with the arts and literature.
The poet William Shenstone lived in Halesowen as did the writer Francis Brett Young who consistently celebrated the industrial Black Country and city of Birmingham in his novels. Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938), the poet, was the son of the vicar of St.
|The Black Country is renowned for its production of iron and steel goods|
The region also has its celebrated links with historical events such as the restoration of Charles II to the throne and also the Gunpowder plot. On the evening of November 7,1605, a group of the fleeing plotters arrived at Holbeche House near Dudley. Holbeche was owned by the Littleton family who had been involved in many of the Catholic uprisings, and it was to be the last stand of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. That evening, several of the plotters were injured by an accidental explosion which occurred while they were drying powder in front of an open fire. Between this evening and morning of the following day, several members of the group fled, while others still tried valiantly to rally support from the surrounding area. Just before midday on the 8th of November, the Sheriff of Worcester arrived with a posse of men and surrounded the house. After several attempts to have the conspirators surrender, a skirmish developed. Several were fatally wounded and the remaining known conspirators were apprehended.
What is the ethnicity of Birmingham Alabama?
|White alone, percent|| 25.1%|
|Black or African American alone, percent(a)|| 68.7%|
|American Indian and Alaska Native alone, percent(a)|| 0.2%|
|Asian alone, percent(a)|| 1.4%|
Is Birmingham Alabama worth visiting?
Top Tourist Attractions in Birmingham – A vacation to Birmingham is an absolute delight. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a tourist visiting from another state (or country!) or a newly-arrived local looking to get to know the town better, there’s something for everyone in Birmingham,
Is Birmingham a walkable city?
Birmingham has an average Walk Score of 33 with 212,237 residents.
Are Birmingham people friendly?
Making friends – The people of Birmingham are generally very friendly and welcoming. So, don’t be a stranger and you’ll be sure to meet plenty of great new friends. There are a number of free meetups that focus on various interests, as well as local events where you can get involved with the community.
What famous person is from Alabama?
Famous people from Alabama This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated. The Yellowhammer State is home to many well-known activists, musicians, athletes, and actors. Country superstar Hank Williams was born in Mt. Olive in Butler County, and his family scuttled across several small towns in the region throughout his childhood. Although he later moved to Montgomery, it was Butler County where Hank got an itch for playing music. Joe Louis from Butler County Joe Louis — known as the “Brown Bomber” — was one of the most-regarded boxers of all time. Louis was inducted in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and had a career record of 68 wins and 3 losses, according to Encyclopedia of Alabama. He was honored with an eight-foot statue of his likeness in his hometown of Lafayette in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Everett Collection) Helen Keller from Colbert County One of the most famous Alabamians is Helen Keller, the deaf and blind child who learned sign language from teacher Anne Sullivan in her early years. She was the first deaf and blind person to attend and graduate from college, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom. You can visit her childhood home, Ivy Green, in Tuscumbia. Warren Henry from Conecuh County Dr. Warren Elliot Henry was a renowned scientist who earned the 1st Annual Golden Torch Award for Lifetime Achievement in Engineering and was nominated for the National Medal of Science. He was born in Evergreen and attended Tuskegee University. Channing Tatum from Cullman County Channing Tatum is a bonafide A-list celebrity, with roles in “Magic Mike,’ “Foxcatcher” and “21 Jump Street.” And he has Bama roots — he was born in Cullman and cheers for the Tide. (Photo courtesy of Paramount) Mia Hamm from Dallas County Mia Hamm — born in Selma — helped make soccer popular in the U.S. in the 1990s. She won two Olympic gold medals and was named to the National Soccer Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy of johnmaxmena via Wikimedia Commons) Evander Holyfield from Escambia County Former boxer Evander Holyfield is a five-time heavyweight ch — and he’s also well-known for Mike Tyson biting his ear. Holyfield was born in Atmore. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Shelka04 at English Wikipedia) Courtney Cox from Jefferson County America first fell in love with Birmingham native Courteney Cox during Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” music video, and then the whole world fell in love with her even more as Monica Geller on NBC’s ultra-smash hit “Friends.” Jesse Owens from Lawrence County Jesse Owens won the Olympic gold medal four times and the New York Times called him”perhaps the greatest and most famous athlete in track and field history.” He was born in Oakville. Rosa Parks from Macon County Macon County is full of notable people, but the top spot has to go to civil rights activist Rosa Parks, who is known for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery public bus. She was born in Tuskegee and raised in Montgomery. Tallulah Bankhead from Madison County Tallulah Bankhead was one of the 20th century’s greatest theater actresses, and was equally known for her off-stage antics.
What food is Alabama famous for?
These recipes showcase just some of the foods that Alabama is famous for. Alabama is known as the “Heart of Dixie” and was the 22nd state to join the United States of America. Montgomery, Alabama was home to the Civil Rights movement and where Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat on a bus in 1955.
- Alabama is known for its barbecue, like many southern states, and even has it’s own unique White BBQ Sauce,
- But it’s also well-known for many other southern and soul food favorites like Fried Green Tomatoes, Classic Southern Smothered Pork Chops, Collard Greens, Fried Chicken, Shrimp & Grits, and Tomato Pie,
Popular desserts include Classic Southern Pecan Pie and Homemade Banana Pudding, which can be served warm or cold, with whipped cream or meringue on top. Alabama even has an official state dessert, the Lane Cake, which was mentioned in “To Kill A Mockingbird” set in the fictional Alabama town of Maycomb, and a state fruit: the blackberry.
Why did Birmingham decline?
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email – Already registered? Sign in The Midlands boom was nothing new: ancient pottery shows a manufacturing hub since the Bronze Age, and throughout the Middle Ages it could compete with the south in terms of wealth: in the 14th century, the West Midlands were among the richest places in Europe.
William the Conqueror’s favourite, William Peverel, doubled the size of Nottingham soon after the Conquest, and much later Daniel Defoe was to call it one of the most beautiful towns in England. The area was central to the Industrial Revolution, among its heroes of innovation being Abraham Darby, who smelted iron using Black Country coke rather than charcoal, and James Watt and Matthew Boulton, who began to commercially develop steam engines,
But this growth and prosperity would continue into the 20th century, as other industrialised areas of Britain fell into relative decline. From 1911 to 1954 the West Midlands grew real output per person faster than any other region, to reach the highest outside the South East.
- Leicester, which dates back to an Iron Age settlement predating the Roman invasion, was by the 1930s the second most prosperous city in Europe; it later had Britain’s first local radio station,
- Meanwhile Coventry, which was already a substantial settlement before the Norman Conquest, with a monastery founded by Leofric, Earl of Mercia — although his wife is better remembered for an altogether different reason — was the fifth wealthiest town in England by the reign of Henry VIII, beaten only by Bristol, Newcastle, Norwich and London.
Again by the mid-20th century it was booming, with the fastest population growth of any British city both between the wars and from 1950 to 1965, In the 1930s it was such a magnet of prosperity that two-fifths of its residents were from other parts of the country.
- In 1953, unemployment fell to 0.8%; a 1959 Times article called it a “powerhouse of technical progress” and “an Eldorado for its workers”.
- Birmingham, seen by guidebooks as ” the cradle of England’s industrial greatness”, grew from 8,000 people in 1700 to over a million in 1931 — overtaking Manchester in 1861 and Liverpool in 1881.
Strongly Liberal and run by Joseph Chamberlain, in 1890 it was described by Harper’s as “the Best-Governed City in the World”. The 1911 Greater Birmingham Act made Birmingham three times the area of Glasgow and twice that of Manchester, Liverpool or Belfast.
- The city was famous, above all, for its industry.
- From the 1600s to the 1800s, enterprising locals dug 35 miles of canals — more than Venice — to carry Birmingham’s huge trade, these barges first powered by England’s uniquely strong shire horses and then by England’s coal deposits.
- Between the wars, Birmingham’s products included a coining press for Tibet’s mint, rolling stock for electrified suburban lines of Buenos Aires, and pipelines for oil through Iraq.
From 1923 to 1937, its formal working population grew nearly twice as fast as the country as a whole. Historian Lord Briggs wrote that “Birmingham was more adaptable and succeeded in retaining its industrial supremacy” even though its initial advantages — coal, iron ore, and limestone — were lost.
- The city became a global powerhouse, with the terminus for the world’s first two long-distance railway lines — the Grand Junction railway to the North and Robert Stephenson’s London and Birmingham Railway.
- It saw the invention of compact cavity magnetrons for radar, and the first design of a practical nuclear weapon.
It remained Britain’s most prosperous city after London as late as the 1970s. But national government saw the success of the Midlands as damaging other regions. The Distribution of Industry Act 1945 sought to stop industrial growth in the “Congested Areas” — the Midlands, East Anglia and the South East — and to push industry to declining “Development Areas” in the North and West.
- Entrepreneurs had to get an “Industrial Development Certificate” (IDC) before building a new factory.
- The 1956 West Midlands Plan even set Birmingham a 1960 target population far lower than its actual 1951 population — so people would have to leave, and industry shrink.
- The controls made it difficult to regenerate businesses or add new ones, and the economy became less diverse, focused on the motor industry.
That left it vulnerable to the recession of the 1980s, which badly affected the Midlands. The Certificates failed even to work as the planners intended. Of the projects refused, a study found that only 18% instead went ahead in an area approved by the government, and many of those were in the South East.
Half of the refused projects were just reduced in size to escape IDC control; 31% of refusals led to closure, reorganisation or abandonment. So IDCs prevented or destroyed several jobs for every job successfully moved. Those requirements blocked most post-war growth in Midlands factories. But for 20 years, there was no limit on service businesses, and so Midlands entrepreneurs turned to those; despite the planning madness, the Midlands flourished.
From 1953 to 1964, service sector employment around Birmingham boomed, with major British and international banks, professional and scientific services, finance and insurance, adding three million square feet of office space. In the decade from 1951, Birmingham created more jobs than any city except London, with unemployment generally below 1%.
- But then in 1964, the Government declared Birmingham’s growth “threatening”, and banned further office development for almost two decades.
- To add insult to injury to the region, its cities suffered among the worst architectual destruction of that decade, with much of old Victorian Birmingham torn down and medieval Coventry destroyed.
What would have happened without these disastrous policies? The size of a country’s cities normally follows a rule called ‘ “Zipf’s law”, by which the second largest city is half the size of the largest, but Britain is an exception. By one estimate, Birmingham should have twice as many people, and Nottingham a third more.
- Those shortfalls, perhaps also due to years of transport neglect, are staggering.
- The deliberate strangulation of the booming industries of the Midlands and other high-wage places by London planners was partly why, in the late 1960s and 70s, we became the “sick man of Europe” as average earnings dropped behind our continental friends and rivals.
Adjusted for purchasing power, British spending per head was overtaken by West Germany, France and Italy, and ever since we have been playing catch-up. We have now again overtaken Italy and France, but Germany is still about 17% higher, Germany had no equivalent to IDCs; France and Italy’s were much more flexible.
Blaming bad planning for low growth is no pie in the sky. One of Britain’s most respected economic historians, Nicholas Crafts, says we could raise average annual growth by two percentage points for an entire decade by fixing our planning system: if we had done that earlier, today’s GDP would be more than one-fifth higher.
That would mean plentiful jobs with higher wages. We would have more money for education and healthcare. To grow and overtake Germany again, we need to unleash the Midlands and other regions — giving them more power to grow, with world-class transport.
Why did King choose Birmingham Alabama?
Causes – In January 1963, Martin Luther King announced that he would lead a demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama. He chose Birmingham specifically as it was one of the most segregated cities in the USA. It was notorious for police brutality and the local Ku Klux Klan was one of the most violent.
What happened at Birmingham jail?
|A police officer arrests Martin Luther King|
What are some fun facts for kids about Birmingham?
Bronze Age, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon communities all existed in the area now known as Birmingham. It was also recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086. The settlement grew slowly. By the 1500s there were still only about 1,000 inhabitants. However, it had become a successful market town and center for trading.
- Over the next two centuries, the population expanded to 15,000 as people arrived from nearby villages to work in the new metal industries.
- During the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham became famous for engineering, ironworks, and the manufacture of steel.
- Throughout World War II (1939–45) the people of Birmingham produced ammunition and aircraft such as Hurricanes and Spitfires.
German air raids destroyed many factories and fine buildings. After the war, parts of the city had to be rebuilt. Population (2008 estimate), 1,010,400.
How old is Birmingham city?
|City status||14 January 1889|