Moral History

Birminghamians live with their history more than most Americans, and Birmingham's story is linked to the nation's history more than most cities. No one understands this like a native, but to tell the tale of the tragic, traumatic, and transforming events of 1963 takes a journalist's commitment to truth and fairness.

Readers of Diane McWhorter's Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution will be fortunate; she came of age in Birmingham in the '60s and pursues her subject tenaciously.

McWhorter grew up, in the local idiom, "over the mountain," in a household headed by her enigmatic father, Martin. Her suspicion that he may have been in the Klan and partly to blame for the bombings directed at African Americans is the book's impetus. But her quest to determine and come to terms with her father's role in those events doesn't cloud her journalistic judgment.

Carry Me Home is a triumph as social history. To many, what happened in Birmingham in 1963 is a morality play in which Birmingham's infamous Public Safety Commissioner, Bull Conner, unwittingly advanced the civil rights cause when he turned attack dogs and fire hoses on children. But the moral dimensions of the conflict of 1963, McWhorter believes, are deeper and more complicated than some may imagine. The civil rights movement, in her view, is largely connected to the struggle in the '30s and '40s of labor unions and others on the Left to organize steel workers and coal miners into a strong movement for social change. This movement threatened the "Big Mule" industrialists who controlled Birmingham.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2001
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