Learning from Birmingham

White police officers turn a dog on a young Black man
Parker High School student Walter Gadsden, Birmingham police officer Richard Middleton, and Leo the dog. The New York Times, May 4, 1963. Bill Hudson, photographer.

Learning from Birmingham, my latest book in progress, examines the iconic civil rights movement city where I was born. Photographs such as the one taken here freeze Birmingham in memory at a specific place and time: 16th Street and 6th Avenue North in 1963. What happens when one looks beyond the frames of familiar images to examine intersections that are geographical, metaphorical, and even personal?

Detail of map of Birmingham
Detail, AAA Map of Birmingham, with author’s walking and driving routes highlighted. Photograph by Julie Armstrong.

Thirty years after moving away from Birmingham, I returned home as a scholar of civil rights movement literature to look at my hometown from a new perspective. I began with a walking tour of Birmingham’s civil rights memorial complex, branched out to other routes, and began writing about people connected to these places. Some are famous, others are not; some are alive, others have died; some are related to me; others are people I never met. They remind us how the civil rights movement continues “moving” through our lives in ways we often do not recognize or acknowledge. They reveal a city far more nuanced than its historical reputation suggests. They show us the varied ways human beings counter the ugliness of oppression with complexity, dignity, courage, and beauty.

My travels through Birmingham began in the early 2000s. The result of those journeys, Learning from Birmingham, comes out from University of Alabama Press in May 2023. Click here to be notified when the book is ready for purchase.