Civil Rights: 50 years forward

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’” Matthew 5:43-44 reads. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

Jesus’ famous words framed Sixteenth Street Baptist Church’s Sunday School lesson on Sept. 15, 1963. Titled “A Love that Forgives,” it was a message that the predominantly African-American congregation, who were suffering under racial persecution’s climax, desperately needed to hear. Just three months before, Police Commissioner Theophilus “Bull” Connor ordered the use of fire hoses and police dogs against thousands of African-American youths. The atrocious police brutality attracted national and international attention to perhaps the most racist city in the United States.

In a cruel irony, the congregation never heard the lesson on forgiving its enemies. Instead, at 10:22 a.m., a bomb interrupted the service, killing schoolgirls Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair and Carole Robinson and injuring more than 20 other worshippers. Later that day, two more African-American children lost their lives to police and white mobs.

Although that day’s events were horrific, they also served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement’s victory. City officials could no longer ignore the infamous reputation of “Bombingham.” By the end of the decade, African-Americans were vying for and often winning positions as police officers, school superintendents and even suburban neighbors.

Today, Birmingham looks back in reflection and forward in anticipation. The bells of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church tolled in memory of the four girls on Sept. 15, 2013 – exactly 50 years since the tragedy. Their ringing reminds attendees just how much Birmingham has changed. Next to the historic church lies the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which opened in 1992, and Elizabeth MacQueen’s Four Spirits statue memorializing the four schoolgirls unveiled this year in Kelly Ingram Park. An avenue named after Richard Arrington Jr., Birmingham’s first African-American mayor, pierces downtown. Downtown blossoms under the leadership of Mayor William Bell – also African-American – with the construction of Railroad Park, Regions Field and a new entertainment district orbiting the city center, a scene suggesting Birmingham’s best days are yet to come.

‘The blue collar town’
While it may be Birmingham’s most infamous chapter, the Civil Rights Movement is merely one piece of its history, Samford history professor Jonathan Bass said. To fully understand its significance, Bass said one should start at the very beginning—1906, to be precise.

That was the year U.S. Steel bought the behemoth Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company and, in about four decades, built an empire in Birmingham. By World War II’s end in 1945, the city’s iron ores and steel mines were in full production and U.S. Steel had become the city’s largest employer.

“This was a blue collar town,” Bass said, “and that was the heyday of Birmingham’s industrial might.”

But that heyday ended during the 1950s when U.S. Steel found cheaper, higher quality iron ore in Venezuela. The mines closed as quickly as they opened. African-Americans bore the brunt of that change.

“If you go back and look in the city directories, you’ll see African-Americans played a pivotal role in the labor forces,” Bass said. “But [the closures] shifted around jobs a good bit. Unskilled and skilled black labor gets pushed out of the workforce as whites lose their mine jobs and transfer elsewhere.”

That decline in the steel industry, Bass said, set tensions high for 1963.

The Third Great Awakening
During the steel industry’s great leap forward, another factor that would propel the Civil Rights Movement was coming to power—a religious revival.
“[Some] scholars have found ways to interpret the Civil Rights movement without recognizing the role of religion,” Bass said. “But you cannot separate those.”

Bass said that Martin Luther King Jr. is often seen as a political hero but in many ways he belongs with Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney and other American religious powerhouses. The fight for Civil Rights was, in turn, also a religious crusade, nestled perfectly within a spiritual awakening that marked the mid-20th century.

A few years ago Bass attended a Bible study with African-American men ages 18 to 81. He recalls his fellow participants comparing the disciples with local citizens’ sacrifices for civil rights. “That was really eye-opening for me,” Bass said.

Bass continued that, too often, quests for social justice are secularized. That wasn’t the case for African-Americans. “At the center of the Civil Rights Movement was actively practicing your faith,” Bass said. “[The foot soldiers] weren’t out there saying, ‘Bring on the dogs, bring on the fire hoses because I have a secular commitment to social justice.’ If you ask foot soldiers why they were out there, they’re going to say they were putting their faith into action.”

Towards the light
“Most people really look at the Birmingham story as police dogs, fire hoses, four little girls, end of story,” Bass said. “But that’s only the beginning of the story.”
The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate schools and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 dealt strong blows to segregation, but they weren’t enough. Dismantling segregation was a lofty task, but under the leadership of Mayor George Siebels and city councilwoman Nina Miglionico, it happened.
After three long years, the first African-American policeman, Leroy Stover, was finally hired. Then African-Americans D.M. Jefferson and E.W. Taggart joined the Birmingham Dental Society. In 1968, African-American Leon Kennedy became superintendent of Jefferson County schools.
But Bass said the Civil Rights Movement culminated in 1979 with the election of the city’s first African-American mayor, Richard Arrington Jr.
“That was [the conclusion] of what King began in 1963,” Bass said.

Miles to go
Although the dark days of segregation may be over, the battle for equality continues. Mark Stribling, a volunteer at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, recalls his first visit to Birmingham in 1999 for a job interview at UAB.
“My coworkers said, ‘We want to take you to the Civil Rights Institute,’” Stribling, a native of Pittsburg, said. “‘But we can’t because there’s a KKK march.’ I didn’t know racism would be so public [here].”
But for the most part, racism is more innocent. Stribling highlighted the wealth disparity between African-Americans and whites. “White people just bought a car, and black people still have to ride the bus,” he said. “Segregation’s just in a different form.”
Bass noticed the same phenomenon. “Even before the great white flight had started, people on this side of the mountain look down their noses and over the mountain at what goes on in Birmingham,” he said. “What so many residents don’t realize is that what’s good for Birmingham is good for the rest of the county and these municipalities as well.”
Stribling said that education is the antidote to prejudice and indifference. “[Racists] walk around in ignorance,” he said, describing local teenagers who dressed as Ku Klux Klan members and even carried nooses for Halloween. “You have to teach what things represent,” he said. “People in the KKK [dress] to be the ghosts of Confederate soldiers coming back from the dead to kill black people.” Once teens learn this, they usually stop wearing their costumes, Stribling said.
Likewise, Bass challenges youth to examine the faith of African-Americans. “I think the best way for young people to understand the Civil Rights movement is to really look at what motivated these people,” he said. “They would say they were Christians doing what Jesus called them to do.”
Interestingly, when Stribling described the future of Birmingham, he mentioned little of racial division. Instead, he talked about young urbanites flocking back to downtown, UAB forging a law school and a booming business district.
On Dec. 3, 1963, “Look” magazine published Charles Morgan’s editorial about Birmingham titled “I Saw a City Die.” “Who killed Birmingham?” he said in his introduction. “Not only the hate-filled murderers of four girls, but we ‘nice people’ who did nothing to save our city from race hatred.”
Then the nice people came and resurrected Birmingham so Stribling could say something that 50 years ago would be unimaginable.
“No black person fears walking down the street and getting harassed or called a name.”

The Sweet Southern Sojourn

IMG_9010By Reed Richardson

The downtown radius of Greensboro, Ala. compares to the size of a regulation football field. However, right in the middle of it all is a simple pie shop that sure knows how to make an impression.

PieLab is the sweet spot to stop for any explorer passing through lower Alabama, especially if exceptional pie makes you weak in the knees. Flavors range from the all-American apple pie to the unusual Greek yogurt cheesecake pie.

“But butterscotch pecan is the top seller of everything,” staffer John Wilkerson says.



While the dessert pie is a specialty to the shop, PieLab sells a handful of savory pies like pizza and quiche for hungrier customers. “No matter what day it is, there is always a quiche option,” Wilkerson says.

As customers come and go from the counter, Wilkerson mentions that the shop is often filled with travelers looking for a bite to eat or an afternoon sugar rush. “Lots of out-of-towners are always stopping in as they pass through, but it’s also a place to bring people together through pie and conversation,” he says.

Wilkerson’s comment refers back to the beginning of PieLab, a social entrepreneurship plan started by Project M in 2009, and now sponsored by Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization, or HERO for short.


PieLab is a shining star in Hale County, one of the poorest counties in all of Alabama. In conjunction with HERO and Project M, the business works as a facility for economic revitalization, job training and people-pleasing pie. Their mission: “Pie + Conversation = Social Change.”

Customer and out-of-towner Lauren Bates says, “They have a gift when it comes to entrepreneurship. They are using the resources they have in their formula for success. I just wish I lived closer. I would go a lot more.”

With such friendly vibrations, it is easy to see the appeal. Staffers and locals alike welcome customers in with cheer and a quest to get to know you. “You come to the store and talk to someone you might not talk to on the street. It’s amazing what a good slice of pie can do,” Wilkerson says.

With a big bite of lemon icebox pie, Bates confirms, “You never feel like you’re eating alone.”

Located just two hours from Birmingham, Greensboro is a wonderful Southern sojourn for both city and country folk. After a slice of goodness, take a stroll through the square. An eco-friendly bike shop, a quaint little library and a friendly antique shop beg to be explored.


Photos by Reed Richardson


A Future for Dance: Alabama Ballet gives inspiring dancers the chance to learn from the best


Aspiring dancers throughout the state covet a chance to dance with the Alabama Ballet, but with only 33 years of history, the company is relatively new in the world of dance. So what makes the Alabama Ballet so appealing?

Easy. The Alabama Ballet offers dancers the chance to work with outstanding directors. In its beginning, the company followed the artistic direction of Dame Sonia Arova (previously dancing with the Original Ballet Russes, the Royal Ballet, and America Ballet Theatre) and Thor Sutowski, and then 15 years later, the leadership passed to Roger Van Fleteren and Wes Chapman. Today, Tracey Alvey serves as the ballet’s Artistic Director.

“I love everything about it. Everyone is very professional and we all get along very well,” says dancer Christy Delenick.

Studying musical theatre at Samford University, Delenick has been with the Alabama Ballet’s school for two years. In those two years, she has been privileged to dance in George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” and “The Sleeping Beauty.”

As a student, Delenick’s days and nights look much different than that of company dancers, keeping up with academic classes and homework as well as ballet classes and performance rehearsals. But the busy days are worth it. She couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn from the best.

Kelli Murdock, 24, began as an apprentice for two years and has now been a company dancer with the Alabama Ballet for the past six years. Unlike Delenick, as a full-time company member Murdock spends her days in and out of company classes and rehearsals.

It’s an all-day job, but it pays off. Murdock recently danced the role of the Lilac Fairy in the ballet’s rendition of “The Sleeping Beauty.”

“I feel so honored and blessed to have gotten such a role. I felt like I had more of a responsibility with this role because it was a Principal role,” she says. “I needed to always be prepared and it was a great challenge! I had to learn more mime than I was used to, but I loved every bit of it.”

Like Delenick, she shares the same positive outlook on the company.

“I love being apart of the Alabama Ballet. I think Tracey has done a terrific job at building the company’s repertoire and taking us in a great direction.”

Photos by Arik sokol, Billy Brown and Melissa Dooley

Out of the Shadows: How The WellHouse is Exposing Sex Trafficking in Birmingham

WellHouse As a teenager Tajuan McCarty was trafficked from Atlanta, Ga., to Birmingham, Ala., by her boyfriend-turned-pimp. “I was trafficked so much to Birmingham it became home,” McCarty says, which is why 25 years after her first visit as a victim of exploitation, she is back to fight the very system she was once a part of.

In July 2010 McCarty heard God calling her to open a shelter for exploited and trafficked women in Birmingham. She answered that call and opened The WellHouse in January 2011. In the two years it has been open the shelter has rescued more than 50 women.

The WellHouse describes itself as a “place of grace” on its website. Women who are trapped in sexual exploitation can come for rescue and restoration with no questions asked.

“I just wanted to help the ladies here in Birmingham. I know there are a lot of them and there’s no place for them to go,” says McCarty, who holds a bachelor’s degree in social work and two masters degrees from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“I’ve done social work for years so I knew there was a gap, that they had nowhere to go. And so God just laid it on my heart to open The WellHouse.”

While most shelters require women to be drug free or have identification in order to enter, The WellHouse’s only requirement is that they are victims of sexual exploitation who want a way out. The shelter can house up to six women at a time, and the women are encouraged to stay as long as they need to.

“Sometimes they come in and they stay five minutes and sometimes they stay for a year,” McCarty says. “They can stay because there’s really nowhere for them to go.”

When women come to The WellHouse, McCarty makes sure their physical needs are met first. Most of the time they come with only the clothes on their back, but they soon receive all new things.

“They don’t get anything trial-sized because trial-sized says you’re temporary,” she says. “I want them to have the best, and God’s honored that.”

The same goes for how the house is decorated. The walls are colorful and the décor is inviting because McCarty wants the women to walk in and feel special.

But visitors shouldn’t be deceived by the beautiful and pristine condition McCarty keeps the house in. This is not an easy ministry, and the women she works with are fighting deep inner battles.

“There’s no woman who, if she’s healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, would ever sell herself,” McCarty says. “She has psychological chains you can’t see that are worse than anything you could ever think of.”

McCarty is no stranger to the chains binding the women she helps rescue. She used to blame herself for being sexually exploited.

“It took me 25 years to realize I was a victim. This is not something you grow up thinking you want to do.”

She finally found healing in Christ, but it wasn’t easy. “I didn’t believe in Jesus because I was taught growing up that if you did this you were going to hell, and if you did that you were going to hell, and I’d done it all.”

Even now, McCarty admits she still has days of insecurity and doubt. “In the back of my mind, Satan will just get in it and say, ‘You’re just a nothing, you’re just a prostitute. It doesn’t matter how many degrees you have, that’s all you’ll ever be.’”

On those days she finds comfort and purpose in the gospel. “Jesus loves prostitutes. His lineage is from a prostitute,” she says. “He didn’t turn the Samaritan woman away. He loved her, and she’d had five live-ins.”

The WellHouse’s work goes far beyond the women who find protection within its walls. Every Monday, McCarty and others hit the streets of Birmingham to share the gospel and pray with men and women they meet. They hand out Bibles and hygiene items and let women know about The WellHouse.

Spreading the Word

McCarty is also a vocal advocate for trafficking victims, speaking at conferences and using social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to inform the public about trafficking in the United States.

In January, The WellHouse launched an online awareness campaign highlighting trafficking along the interstate that brought McCarty to Birmingham so many years ago. I-20: The Sex Trafficking Superhighway takes a closer look at the major connector between Atlanta and Birmingham. Interstate 20 is the number one roadway for trafficking in the country according to the video.

“This stuff is happening in truck stops up and down the interstate. It’s not just the method of transportation; it’s also the theater in which this thing plays out,” says Executive Creative Director for Lewis Communications Spencer Till.

Till is the creative force behind the video, which has been viewed more than 15,000 times. As soon as he heard about The WellHouse, he knew he had to get involved somehow.

“[At first I thought] there’s no way this could be happening. This is Birmingham,” Till says. “[But then I started asking] ‘What can I do to bring this to light? What can we do to bring this out of the shadows?’”

Over the next year, Till and his team spent their free time researching and filming, talking to victims, truckers and public officials. What they found is that the problem of slavery on the interstate is particularly bad at truck stops.

Girls frequently approach the truckers offering their company while their pimps are around the corner watching. If an unfamiliar vehicle pulls into the station, the pimps signal the girls, and they disappear so quickly that even an observant driver wouldn’t notice that something was amiss.

“It illustrates how we can be so clueless about what’s going on. We drive up and down the interstate every day without realizing what’s happening,” Till says.

Becoming Aware

Awareness is key in the battle to end human trafficking, especially in our own backyard. Victims aren’t just foreign nationals, they’re girls from right down the street.

“It’s mind-boggling how innocent it starts. No matter where you live or what you do or what your upbringing is, anyone can become a victim,” Till says.

“When you’re a teen you go through kind of a rebellious stage, and they [the pimps] are capitalizing on that. And it’s so easy for [girls] to get their heads turned by a guy who starts giving them a lot of attention and giving them gifts or by a girl that always has nice clothes and seems to have a great life,” Till says of the ways that girls are lured in.

Trafficking can happen to anyone because the high demand for commercial sex creates a need for a high supply of women, an important reality to consider when approaching how to end sex trafficking.

“If you can cut off the demand, you can cut off the supply,” Till says. “If you can bring it into the light and make it taboo, then maybe you do have a shot at getting rid of it.”

Looking to the Future

Only four other shelters in the United States do what The WellHouse does, and the need for shelters is great.

“I’m finally wrapping my mind around the United States, that that’s where God’s leading us. Because there are not enough beds,” she says.

She recognizes that there’s a long way to go toward ending trafficking and that it’s a difficult road filled with obstacles.

“This is not nice clean ministry where you go in and feed people and everyone is full and you walk away and [think] ‘Aw I’ve done a good thing,’” she says. “There are many days where I walk off this front porch and go, ‘Oh Lord what am I doing? Have I made a difference?’”

But her faith in God’s provision and the ways that she has seen Him bless The WellHouse keep her going.

“I don’t know how big your God is but my God’s really big. He made all 27 million of those slaves plus all the moons and stars and heavens and earth and everything,” she says. “My God is bigger than that, so if we get together, unified in Christ, then we can make a difference.”


To learn more about The WellHouse visit 

Photos by Rachel Freeny 



Residential Central

For David Averyt, downtown Birmingham isn’t just a work area, it’s home.

For the past three years he has enjoyed the urban lifestyle from his City Central residence.

“It’s growing and it’s very vibrant,” Averyt said about the downtown scene.

Like Averyt, many young professionals have discovered reasons for moving to the heart of Birmingham. The Magic City is experiencing a growth of downtown residents during the dawn of its revitalization.

The Suburban Migration

After the Second World War, the Birmingham steel industry began to fizzle, leading to a decrease in the city’s commercial and residential properties.

As downtown businesses began to suffer, many residents sought a more prosperous life in the outskirts of town.

In the 1950s, suburban shopping centers began popping up, like the Eastwood Mall, which threatened the retail and residential life of downtown Birmingham. Incorporations began to spring up, like Mountain Brook in 1942, Vestavia in 1950 and Hoover in 1967.

The populations of these suburbs began to rise as businesses downtown began to fall hard.

The New South

Now Birmingham is rapidly transitioning from the abandoned steel mill to a super-center of medical facilities, banking operations and telecommunication companies. As Birmingham shifts from its steel mill roots to more technologically advanced businesses, the city can expect a growing demand for residential properties as well.

Recently, downtown Birmingham has experienced a growth of construction and development. Among the new parks and museums is the loft district. This urban residential haven welcomes many young professionals seeking to live the chic downtown lifestyle, close to work and close to the entertainment of the city.

The prices of suburban living are increasing along with rush hour traffic, which makes living in downtown Birmingham more practical and economical for professionals working in the heart of the city. As the demand for downtown living increases, so does the amount of lofts and condos to meet this need. Space is available in the older, unused buildings; all that’s left to do is make this space livable.

The Renovation Project

Some buildings that are getting facelifts include: City Federal, the Phoenix Building and the Blach’s building.

In 1913, the Jefferson County Savings and Loan building opened the doors to the Second Avenue North location and claimed the title of the tallest building in Alabama. In 1963, it was renamed City Federal and still remains the Southeast’s tallest neo-classical skyscraper. Its preservation has made it one of Birmingham’s most iconic architectural structures. The building now houses 84 luxury condominiums.

In 1926, the Phoenix Building replaced a horse carriage service on the corner of Second Avenue North and 18th Avenue. This new construction, built next to a vaudeville house, served as a warehouse with modern storefronts. In 1950, the Southern Bell Co. moved into the building allowing the Phoenix to double in size. The telephone company stayed at the Second Avenue location until 1987.

In 2004, Metropolitan, LLC set out on an 18-month journey to bring the Phoenix back to life. They created 74 lofts with parking and restored the terra cotta façade to its original beauty. Today, 95 percent of residents living in the Phoenix are young professionals enjoying the downtown lifestyle.

More than 130 years old, the Blach’s building on 20th Street North was originally a general store.

In 1910, it became the Bencor Hotel and later renovated into Blach’s Department Store. It was completely remodeled in 2008; but each loft keeps the original hardwood floors.

The City Life

For Averyt, living downtown is a perfect fit for his city lifestyle.

“I just feel drawn down there. It’s a place where I belong. It’s really endeared itself to me,” Averyt said.

Averyt grew up in the suburbs of Birmingham and has since lived in various cities around the country. Yet through all his experience, he still finds Alabama’s largest city appealing.

“It’s the people of Alabama, in particular Birmingham, that I really love,” Averyt said.

Like Averyt, people who live in downtown Birmingham can experience the culture and lifestyle of the urban chic. The loft district is walking distance from some of the best restaurants, shops and entertainment venues in the city.

“It’s cool, not just the lofts themselves but the whole downtown scene,” said Kim Mason, site manager at The Phoenix Building Lofts. “There is such an eclectic mix of people, something you don’t get in the ‘burbs.”

The downtown loft district is a community of neighbors from all walks of life who share one thing: they love the city and love living in the heart of it.

3 women

The Lovelady Center

Story and photos by Leah Jane Henderson

Starting over and getting back on your feet is anything but simple. The women residing in the Lovelady Center bear first-hand knowledge that the next chapter of their lives entails seeking relief from adversity.
3 women

Despite facing adversities, women at the Lovelady Center still find reasons to smile.

Sitting at the corner of 79th Street and Second Avenue South, the Lovelady Center serves the community by providing shelter and assistance to women and children.

The Foundation

The shelter offers a life-changing program with the goal of providing tools necessary to overcome obstacles and start over. Many of the residents were homeless at one point or have been released from prison and are unable to provide for themselves or their family.

The nine- to 12-month program is designed to rebuild lives and give hope to the 378 women and approximately 100 children currently residing at the shelter.

Basic care includes housing, clothing, medical care and hygienic products. The staff provides nearly 1,200 meals daily. In-house psychologists provide counseling for substance abuse and drug rehabilitation.

Available transportation is provided for work, school and doctor appointments, as well as the in-house KidZone daycare center open to the public.

The center partners with Jefferson State Community College and Tennessee Temple University for women to gain higher education and job skills.

The Workforce Development Program trains them to find sustainable jobs for a more hopeful future.

Jennifer White is one of many graduates that have advanced to working on staff.

“If it weren’t for this place I wouldn’t be nearly as successful as I am now. I thank God every day for showing me this place. It really is amazing,” White said.

In the Beginning

Brenda Spahn possessed determination and a huge heart when she single-handedly began what is now one of the most thriving shelters in Birmingham. Five women inhabited Brenda’s home and quickly became 40 after local press coverage. The shelter opened in 2004 and currently holds a plethora of mothers and aunts, daughters and wives.

Because of a lack of state or federal funding, the center relies predominantly on donations. Bright pink donations bins are planted on the sidewalk. They accept clothing, linens, baby items, and small appliances. Food donations, volunteer work and tutors are also essential segments of the center’s success.

Road to Success

The Lovelady Center is no day camp when it comes to the requirements that serve as the foundation for advancing toward graduation.

Every occupant and visitor must sign in and out at the front desk, residents must complete drug tests upon return from any outing and curfews are stricly enforced.

b miller

Outreach coordinator, Bonnie Miller (middle), oversees rules and regulations that provide an environment for success.

Outreach coordinator Bonnie Miller administers the stern policies that are monitored by all staff members.

“It’s strict. There are mandatory church services and mandatory devotions. You have to take a certain number of classes, no rated R movies or secular music. It is strict, but there is a lot of structure,” Miller said.

The women have an option to participate in work contracts associated with the shelter. Businesses include Dunkin’ Donuts, Piggly Wiggly, the Blackwell House and the Lovelady Thrift Store.

Rent costs $150 per month and covers room and board, transportation, classes and meals. A total of 20 credits are required for graduation and departure. Twenty to 25 women are taken in each week including repeated returns.

“If someone transitions out and they feel they’re about to stumble, or even if they do mess up, they know they can come back. They always have a place to stay,” Miller said.

Numerous volunteer opportunities await any who are willing to help at the center. Opportunities involve group and individual work including prayer warriors groups, room makeovers, mentors, church services, devotionals, teachers and tutors.

For more information about volunteer work and donations contact the Development Department at (205) 833-1064 or The Lovelady Center is located at 7916 Second Ave. S in Birmingham.

2 girls

Nearly 400 women of various ages currently reside at the shelter in Birmingham.