Birmingham, Alabama – The Magic City, a city full of history, much of it tainted, but preserved just the same. Interesting to see a city embrace what was once wrong and expose it, no cover ups here, more pride in seeing things righted. They say that history is rewritten by the victors, it is unusual to see the history here not covered in sugar.
Sunday was fun day for us, the race was over, we have an extra weekend before our next event, and, of course, it is raining. We see that a lot. When asking the locals where we should go – the first suggestion was Sloss Furnace, without hesitation.
Sloss Furnace is an incredible place, it is where the city of Birmingham grew up. In the late 1800’s, early 1900’s – all of the jobs were in iron. The city was surrounded by mines, all of the ingredients necessary to make pig iron, which in turn makes goods were right there, ringing the city. The mines were company owned, the mills were company owned, even the people became company owned. You know the song, “I owe my soul to the company store…” Everyone worked in industry, everyone paid the price – the hard work, the dangers, the long hours, the heat. Sloss Furnaces was just one of many to ring the city. In 1971, Sloss was given over to the City to preserve, to hold on to the history from whence it came. It is an impressive industrial park, every part is laid out as it once was, no big safety lines to keep you off the structure, just some common sense applied. The big rusting towers, the brick work, it is fascinating architecture wrapped up in industrial know-how. The structure celebrates the lives of all who worked there, lived there, died there. In the rainy atmosphere, you could feel the purported ghosts who gave their lives to raise, not just a city, but a grateful nation.
Our next stop was the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, built in the city that saw so much violence grow from simple things that those of us in the west never really understood. Fifty years ago, the world in the south was a different place. There was separation and segregation in all things, from neighborhoods to schools, to drinking fountains and buses. Simple ideals that we take for granted were fought for, were died for. We talk about the wars fought around the world for freedom, we forget that once everyone in our own nation wasn’t free. The Civil Rights Institute is someplace that needs to be visited by everyone, regardless of how you feel about race, creed and color. As I watched the film of Martin Luther King’s “dream” speech, tears came to my eyes, I imagine I would have felt the same listening to Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address. All men are created equal, truer words have not been spoken, let us pay heed to them now.
We ended our tour of Birmingham at the Vulcan statue. Vulcan is the Roman god of fire, he represents the history of the start of the city. They have stood Vulcan on a high pedestal overlooking the city, he was forged of cast iron in the early days of 1906 for the St. Louis World’s Fair. At one time the local Jaycees had used Vulcan for a campaign to end traffic fatalities, today he has been rebuilt and stands proud above a proud city. I thoroughly enjoyed our play day, I especially like it when it comes with so much history and look forward to the opportunity to spend time in Birmingham again