“The Tragic City”—Birmingham AL After 50 Years. Coming To An America Near You?

“What is the city but the people?” asked Shakespeare in Coriolanus. In The Tragic City: Birmingham 1963-2013 , author Paul Kersey examines the city of Birmingham, Alabama.

One of the major battlegrounds of the Civil Rights movement, Birmingham now has a special place in the hearts of those who fought for and support what the author calls Black Run America (BRA).  Every American schoolchild now learns that peaceful, put-upon blacks in that city faced down insurmountable odds in overcoming segregation, white racism, bombings and Bull Connor’s fire hoses and police dogs.

But Kersey looks beyond that popular myth at the reality of post-civil rights era Birmingham.

In this age of rapid demographic displacement of whites, it is remarkable to note that Birmingham’s racial balance was stable from 1890 to 1960. Throughout those 70 years, the demographics remained steady at 60% white, 40% black. Not only was the racial balance stable, Birmingham was prosperous as well. It vied with Atlanta for the title of business capital of the South. The city was home to six Fortune 500 companies even into the 1990s. (It now has only one).

Birmingham worked because it was a segregated city whose institutions were all run by whites. The brutal, unmentionable fact is that both working class and wealthy whites could live in safe, orderly neighborhoods with good schools because blacks were legally barred from living there. (If The Tragic City has a flaw it is that the author does not spend more time documenting life in the pre-Civil Rights era).

But with the success of the Civil Rights revolution in the 1960s, many whites saw the writing on the wall and fled. By 1980, blacks were 55% of the population.

This demographic shift was key to giving Birmingham its first black mayor in 1979. In what was essentially a racial headcount, black Democrat Richard Arrington beat white Republican Frank Parsons by 2,000 votes. Arrington received 98% of the black vote and Parsons garnered 88% of the white vote.

This marked the beginning of black political control of Birmingham—and thedecline of a once great city into a blighted, crime-plagued disgrace.

Birmingham is now 74% black and lives up to the name of Kersey’s book. Blacks have complete control of city leadership including the Mayor’s office, Police Chief, School Superintendent and seven of nine seats on the City Council.

The results are predictable. Though Birmingham’s nickname is “The Magic City” it is now in actuality “The Tragic City:

  • Birmingham has the eighth highest crime rate in the nation. U.S. News & World Report ranked Birmingham as the third most dangerous city in the nation for 2011.
  • From June 2012 to May 2013, 100% of those arrested for homicide in the city were black.
  • Population has declined from a high of 340,887 in the supposedly benighted days of 1960 to 212,237 in 2010.
  • The Brookings Institution found that 29% of Birmingham residents live in poverty—the eighth highest among America’s 100 largest cities.
  • The Alabama Department of Education had to take over the city’s failing schools (98% black) and now run the day-to-day operations. The school system faced a $30 million dollar budget shortfall in 2011.
  • Jefferson County—home to Birmingham—is $5 billion in debt and filed the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in 2011.
  • In 2008 alone, the city spent $750,000 tearing down abandoned, blighted homes.
  • The city has the highest sales tax in the nation at 10 cents on the dollar.

Despite these massive failings, Birmingham’s black leadership focuses on things like spending taxpayer money to advertise in a book called “Who’s Who in Black Alabama” and banning the growth of new payday loan and check-cashing stores. In 2012, the City Council made Trayvon Martin an honorary citizen after he attacked George Zimmerman and was shot for his efforts.

Votes on the council are regularly 7-2, with the two lone white representatives the only dissenters from black race advocacy disguised as politics. Why do these two whites even bother?

Black political control of Birmingham also meant a massive increase in Affirmative Action. One of Mayor Arrington’s major goals was to increase the number of black city workers. He did this by implementing strict quotas. Kersey documents several cases of whites successfully suing the city for anti-white discrimination.

A case study of how bad Affirmative Action is in Birmingham: the Fire Department. Arrington implemented a one-to-one hiring and promotion rule in 1981 to bring more blacks into the department—one black had to be hired or promoted for every white that was hired or promoted. Since promotions are based on test scores, this has resulted in numerous white firefighters being passed over for promotion despite being better qualified. In 1983, the city promoted five lieutenants, with two being white and three black. This resulted in 76 whites being passed over as the highest scoring black came in at 79th . (The top two white test takers did get promoted).

Kersey quotes a black firefighter defending this discrimination against whites:

“So whites are saying … ‘it wasn’t our fault. I wasn’t here.’ Well, okay, if it wasn’t your fault, and if you weren’t the recipient of what your forefathers did, or whatever, then, why when we [blacks] take a test, do you [whites] always come out number one?” Second Class Citizens, by Stuart Taylor, Jr, American Lawyer, September 1, 1989


The result: white and black firefighters routinely file lawsuits for discrimination, never socialize with each other and even have separate unions to represent them.

So much for integration.

So where did the whites go to escape black rule? Prosperous suburbs like Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, Woodlawn and Hoover were the prime destinations for white flight. Unlike Birmingham, these towns have good schools, responsible government, low taxes, friendly neighbors and crime free streets.

But for how long? As Birmingham declines under black rule, some blacks are starting to relocate there. For example, Hoover was only 3 percent black in 1990. It is now over 15 percent black. Unsurprisingly, crime is starting to rise.

Paul Kersey continues to document the decline of once-great cities such as Detroit, Atlanta, Chicago and now Birmingham.

But whatever the city, the formula is depressingly similar. Whites create and sustain a prosperous, clean and well-run city. An influx of blacks leads to high crime and poor schools, which starts white flight. Blacks eventually become the majority and assume political control. This intensifies white flight, the city becomes blacker and there is even more crime, blight, corruption, poverty and destruction.

At some point, whites are going to have to make a stand against this trend—unless they want to keep moving on every decade or two until they run out of America.

Perhaps this was why Bull Connor, George Wallace and the white people of Birmingham fought so hard against “Civil Rights.”

If enacted, the Schumer-Rubio Amnesty/ Immigration Surge Act will bring even more dramatic demographic change to the U.S. If Birmingham is “The Tragic City,” American will be “The Tragic Country.”

Peter Bradley (email him)  writes from Washington D.C.