McWhorter's preface provides an overview of her personal perspective of the events of 1963. It is my opinion that, as someone who was born and raised in Birmingham (and a teenager in 1963), she uses these first three pages of the book as a sort of disclaimer to explain that she was there but yet not really. Growing up in Mountain Brook in the elite country club society, her personal exposure to Birmingham's tumult was quite limited. I find myself wondering just how her "over the mountain" position will prove to have impacted her writing.
The foundation for Birmingham's history is laid. Ours is a city created "magically" (hence the "Magic City" nickname) through the quick upstart of the steel industry. It was legalized slavery, commonly referred to as convict lease, that built Birmingham so quickly. These "convicts" were scores of newly emancipated black men who had been arrested for petty crimes such as idleness and indebtedness. The city's leaders saw these men as expendable...leading to their horrifically inhumane treatment. And thus began Birmingham's sad and hate-filled legacy. This continued throughout various elements of Birmingham structure and society even until the 16th Street Baptist Church was blown to bits.
Key characters are introduced in these first few pages...people I really believe we'll see time and again, including:
- James "Jim" Alexander Simpson: an attorney and politician whose campaigns for office were based on overt racism
- Eugene "Bull" Connor: radio/ballpark personality who, with Simpson's influence, eventually became Birmingham's Commissioner of Public Safety
- Martin Luther King, Jr.: Pastor, author, orator, and civil rights' activist from Atlanta who was drawn to Birmingham because the city was the most harshly segregated in the nation
- Fred Lee Shuttlesworth: Birmingham pastor and civil rights' activist who cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. King.
It is McWhorter's final sentence in the Intro that I found to be one of her most powerful statements. "This is a story of Birmingham, of holocaust and redemption in the American citadel of segregation..."
*Answer any, none, or all-whatever makes you feel most comfortable!
1. Who's here? We have a GREAT group of very different folks, and I'd love for you all to give a quick blurb about who you are, where you are, and what you want out of this discussion!
2. Honestly...what do you think so far of McWhorter's style? Of her personal background and how that may or may not affect how she sees and tells this story?
3. What stood out most to you in the Preface and Introduction?