Though Birmingham is my home and a place I love, I've been transplanted here by way of marriage. My roots have been down for 11 years, but I still remember noticing that among the numerous quirks and eccentricities of the city was everyone's seeming obsession with Vulcan. Have you been to see Vulcan yet? people would ask me time and again. Um, no. I'd just like to make it to Target without getting lost, thankyouverymuch.
I get it, though. Vulcan is a big deal to the city. McWhorter's historical reference to the great statue's history and relevance in the "City of Perpetual Promise." (pg. 13) As sluggish as it can be at times, one of the great gifts this book presents is the ability to step back and take in the big picture of Birmingham. We're a mess in a lot of ways, but it sure is interesting to time travel for a few pages and survey lesser known plot points in Birmingham's story. Which, by the way, contains significantly more references to communism than I ever could have dreamed.
Speaking of story, Bull Connor's life is an all-out head-shaker. Just where else in this grand old US of A can a man go from entertaining baseball fans to regional politics in one fell swoop, pray tell? Sweet home Alabama, that's where.
The strong-pulling and manipulation between business owners, public figures, and politicians are so complex it's hard to sort it all out. Hugo Black is one person introduced as a another major player in Birmingham's screenplay. His details surprised me, though I have lightly studied him in the past along with students researching famous Alabamians. The Encyclopedia of Alabama has more about him here. Bull Connor's article, by the way, is here. James/Jim/James Alexander/Sunny Jim Simpson does not have any entries, which is a fact worth noting. Nor does Joseph Gelders, the German-Jewish Communist who met with President Roosevelt in a New York park to discuss the takeover of the South.
It is disgustingly appalling that "trainloads of black Reconstruction Republicans" were brought to Birmingham for the sheer purpose of stealing their votes, abusing them as a labor force, then stripping away all rights to and of citizenship in Birmingham. How incredibly cold, calculating, and sickeningly cruel...which is also a fitting description of the wrongly accused and murdered Scottsboro Boys (I remember tweeting about how beyond reason it is that it took more than 80 years to posthumously pardon the wrongly accused and apologize to those men's/boys' families).
Just one of many quote-worthy lines in these two chapters: "Few white people would have suspected that a revolution was being hatched in a place that they saw as a joyful urban version of the cotton fields where happy slaves had sung their hearts out." (pg.40)
1. Which "character" has stood out to you most in these two chapters, and how do you see their role playing out in the summer of 1963?
2. I feel as though McWhorter assumes a certain level of background knowledge in the reader about communism...was it the labor unions or general socialism? I will admit I haven't ever given that much thought. Can someone explain?
3. How fun does Eleanor Roosevelt sound? What is your knowledge of her apart from this book?
*Thanks for being a part of the discussion. All of your thoughts and comments are helping to process an otherwise difficult work! Is anyone feeling ready to sign up for a summary post one week? Let me know!