Julie Buckner Armstrong is an internationally known expert in civil rights movement literature, who grew up in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement. In her new book Learning from Birmingham: A Journey into History and Home, Armstrong unravels the standard Birmingham narrative, seeking to better understand a more complex local history, its connection to broader stories of oppression and resistance, and her own place in relation to it.
Thirty years after moving away from Birmingham, Armstrong returned home to look at her hometown from a new perspective. Beginning at the center, with her family’s 1947 arrival to a housing project near the color line, within earshot of what would become known as Dynamite Hill, Armstrong works her way over time and across the map. Weaving in stories of her white working-class family, classmates, and others not traditionally associated with Birmingham’s civil rights history, including members of the city’s LGBTQ community, she forges connections between the familiar and lesser-known. The result is a nuanced portrait of Birmingham--as seen in public housing, at old plantations, in segregated neighborhoods, across contested boundary lines, over mountains, along increasingly polluted waterways, beneath airport runways, on highways cutting through town, and under the gaze of the iconic statue of Vulcan.
Among the discoveries she finds in America’s racial mirror is a nation that has failed to recognize itself in the horrific images from Birmingham’s past and to acknowledge the continuing inequalities that make up the Civil Right’s Movement’s unfinished business. Learning from Birmingham reminds us that stories of civil rights, structural oppression, privilege, abuse, race and gender bias, and inequity are difficult and complicated, but their telling, especially from multiple stakeholder perspectives, is absolutely necessary.
Join the author for a book talk on Learning from Birmingham. Books will be available for sale, and Armstrong will be signing books after the presentation.
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