Now with a new afterword, the Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatic account of the civil rights era’s climactic battle in Birmingham as the movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., brought down the institutions of segregation.
"The Year of Birmingham," 1963, was a cataclysmic turning point in America’s long civil rights struggle. Child demonstrators faced down police dogs and fire hoses in huge nonviolent marches against segregation. Ku Klux Klansmen retaliated by bombing the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four young black girls. Diane McWhorter, daughter of a prominent Birmingham family, weaves together police and FBI records, archival documents, interviews with black activists and Klansmen, and personal memories into an extraordinary narrative of the personalities and events that brought about America’s second emancipation.
In a new afterword—reporting last encounters with hero Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and describing the current drastic anti-immigration laws in Alabama—the author demonstrates that Alabama remains a civil rights crucible.
The story of civil rights in Birmingham, Ala., has been told before from the unspeakable violence to the simple, courageous decencies but fresh, sometimes startling details distinguish this doorstop page-turner told by a daughter of the city's white elite. McWhorter, a regular New York Times contributor, focuses on two shattering moments in Birmingham in 1963 that led to "the end of apartheid in America": when "Bull Connor's police dogs and fire hoses" attacked "school age witnesses for justice," and when the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Church, killing four black girls. Yet she brings a gripping pace and an unusual, two-fold perspective to her account, incorporating her viewpoint as a child (she was largely ignorant of what was going on "downtown," even as her father took an increasingly active role in opposing the civil rights movement), as well as her adult viewpoint as an avid scholar and journalist. Surveying figures both major and minor civil rights leaders, politicians, clergy, political organizers of all stripes her panoramic study unmasks prominent members of Birmingham in collusion with the Klan, revealing behind-the-scenes machinations of "terrorists on the payroll at U.S. Steel" and men like Sid Smyer, McWhorter's distant cousin, who "bankrolled... one of the city's most rabid klansmen." McWhorter binds it all together with the strong thread of a family saga, fueled by a passion to understand the father about whom she had long harbored "vague but sinister visions" and other men of his class and clan.