I still live in my hometown. It was infamous in the 1960’s for being the site of racial unrest and the horrific bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. I was a child at that time and my parents had moved to Birmingham from Atlanta in 1958. Both of my parents were progressive thinkers and believed in civil rights and integration. My father had worked for the Federal Reserve Board traveling around the country examining banks. My mother’s father was an IRS agent and she lived in New Orleans as a child.
My parents joined other progressive thinkers and I know they participated in things in Birmingham- they attended a meeting on integrating the schools at the City Hall. My dad tells the story of a white teacher standing up to an angry racist man and telling him that she would rather teach negro children than his children. He tells the story of other men getting angry and threatening the meeting. He went to the phone and called the police department which said, “ we can’t come right now.” My father said “give me your badge number and your name.” He said that there was a policemen sent over after that.
This does not make my father a hero in the sense of heroism like Dr. King or Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth but it gives me the sense of pride and belonging here in Birmingham. My father worked in banking in Birmingham and he influenced the hiring practices of the bank trying to bring in minorities and women. I know the stories of the heroes and the sacrifices that they made. I have learned about their sacrifices so that I won’t forget.
I think the idea of this city in the midst of Alabama is a good metaphor for feelings about hometowns. I know I struggle with the dichotomy of being from this city that symbolizes healing in the midst of a state that has such a poor record of taking care of the least of its citizens and is so egregiously focused on football.
Pride, love, familiarity, horror and embarrassment are all a part of the stew of a hometown. Jesus was not recognized as important in his own hometown according to the gospel. I had friends who loved where they lived and didn’t consider living anywhere else and a son that has moved out west and doesn’t want to return. I lived for 5 years in a small town in Alabama and I was considered an outsider from the big city. Perspective is in the eye of the beholder.