Birmingham—So Much History and Good Times

So Much History and Good Times

By: Linda Milks

After spending a quick but impressive few days in Birmingham, my first thoughts about the city were the history in which we should all be immersed and the food this glorious city has to offer. I was fortunate to travel with a group of fellow IFWTWA members (International Food Wine Travel Writers Association) to learn about this Southern city.

Birmingham is often called “the Magic City.” I had no idea at the time, but the city is a very new city for the South. The name comes from the fact that after the Civil War it magically cropped up one day in the middle of a corn field. This area is rich in all the elements needed to make steel, and after the war people needed jobs to take the place of working as slaves on plantations. Some Union officers recognized the importance of this area for that reason and also because of its location at the conflux of the North-South and East-West railroad and the port of Mobile. The growth from 100 persons in 1865, to a metropolitan area of just over 250,000 people in 1878 was considered magical.

While Birmingham is no longer known for its steel manufacturing, it is known for its world-class medical research and treatment through UA of Birmingham, a thriving automobile industry, and the Millennial Innovation Depot Lab, an incubator space for science, tech and start-up companies for our country.

Birmingham is rich in Civil Rights history.  I would recommend a one-day tour of all the meaningful locations of the Civil Rights District-National Historic Monument through Barry McNealy Tour Services. You will not miss any details so valuable to this experience.

We started at Kelly Ingram Park, a four acre park located just outside the doors of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  The park was vital to the movement because it was the staging area for demonstrations. The children of Birmingham were essential to these demonstrations, and a walk through this park will educate you on how important their role was. “Project C”, a plan of Reverend Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King involved children leaving school to march in the streets. Images of German Shephard police dogs and fire hoses turned on children as young as 6 spread on national television, bringing about mass support of the protestors. Looking from the park, you see the 16th Street Baptist Church, site of the bombing that killed four school girls while preparing a dance for worship.

Extremely important and memorable is a visit to the historic Bethel Baptist Church in Collegeville. Here, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, considered one of the “Big Three” in the movement, served as pastor and organizer of a large part of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. His church was bombed on three occasions. He also played a crucial role in the 1961 Freedom Ride.

Martin Luther King Jr. called Birmingham, Alabama “the worst big city in race relations in the United States. A tour of Birmingham Civil Rights Institute offers a series of galleries showing how dramatically different life was for African Americans versus white people. In one of the final exhibits, life-size figures represent all ages and races portraying the “walk to freedom.”

Even sports were affected by segregation as a trip to the Negro Southern League Museum shows. This museum features the largest collection of Negro League baseball artifacts in the country. On display are 1500 original single-signed baseballs as well as Louis Santop’s (first great power hitter in the Negro League) bat “Big Bertha.”

Even though we spent a lot of time enjoying all the noteworthy Birmingham food and treasured our time learning in more detail about the Civil Rights Movement, fun was also on our agenda.

At The Peanut Place on historic Morris Avenue the wafting aroma of roasting peanuts will guide you towards the antique roasters working each day.

A stop at Reed Books Museum of Fond Memories will overwhelm you with a collection of 50,000 books, magazines, newspapers and movie posters. I doubt there is anything Jim Reed doesn’t have in his collection.

If you are in Birmingham on a Saturday, The Market at Pepper Place, Alabama’s largest weekly market stands awash in brilliant colors of produce, live music, and chef demonstrations.

Vulcan is a name all Birmingham residents know. He stands atop Red Mountain in Vulcan Park and is the world’s largest cast iron statue made of 100,000 pounds of iron. He is the Roman god of fire and forge and symbolizes the city’s iron origins.

If you are up for a little flavor of the most unusual collection of folk art accumulated and fashioned into visionary metal sculptures, check out Joe Minter’s African Village in America. This collection fills an entire side yard where there are two African cemeteries at Joe Minter’s home on Nassau Street. You will likely never see a collection like this anywhere else.

A highlight of our trip was taking the Birmingham Pedal Tour, Birmingham’s first pedal powered tour company.  We were transported to some great local breweries and had a memorable time getting there.

Not to be missed is Gip’s Place Juke Joint, one of the last true juke joints in America. If you are not certain what a juke joint is, a night at Henry “Gip” Gipson’s place will clue you in. Although his spot is about 10 miles from Birmingham, make sure you take the journey. You will probably see Gip (who is somewhere around 95) dancing with the ladies and possibly playing a musical instrument. Such a fun place with the true flavor of the South!

We found our stay during this trip at The Tutwiler Hampton Inn & Suites in downtown Birmingham (a National Historic Landmark) to be luxurious and in a great location for all things Birmingham.

Certainly, good food is a major reason to visit Birmingham—enough so that you can read about all the delectable places in my article at /

Whether you are interested in history, great food, or just having a fun time, we found Birmingham offered it all. For more information, contact the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau or find them on Facebook at @INBirmingham.

Linda Milks is a professional food wine and travel writer.  She is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association.

As is customary in the industry, my trip was sponsored by the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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