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  • Writer's pictureMarcia Edwina Herman-Giddens

Alabama Book Tour: Birmingham Part II, Middle Days


Late Friday morning, February 24, 2023, with the mist of Shadowlawn Cemetery still hanging in our hearts, we bid goodbye to our gracious host, Mary, and wrangle the twisting interstates that cut through Red Mountain and across the valley to our next destination. Pam and John Powell live many miles east of downtown Birmingham, a journey that used to take more than an hour when I lived there. Now, it is cut to 20 minutes.


We both had met Pam because, as the director of the Bending The Arc Project (bendingthearctojustice.com), she and her colleagues had interviewed me in 2019 and PJ in 2021 as part of collecting material for the Project’s future films. I was in Birmingham in 2019 conducting research for this book. Neither Pam nor I can remember exactly how we connected. I introduced PJ and Pam who then invited her to Birmingham for interviewing and filming in 2021. PJ and I knew about the first released film, The Vote, which I am in. It is available for viewing at the link above. We both had heard that the second film, Origins, was almost finished and that we were both in it.


By the time we arrived at the Powell’s lovely house in the middle of a large wood, we learned that Bending the Arc: Origins was just finished and would premiere that Sunday evening at the Unitarian Universalist Church (UU) where I was scheduled to speak during the morning service and then do a book reading and signing. Since we conveniently happened to be in town, Pam asks, “Would we be willing to be on a panel after the filming?” I suspected that would make for a very long and arduous but exciting day and it did, but that comes later.


The next day, Saturday, was library day for PJ and me, a day for research and another reading, this one with PJ performing at the end of the reading. The rain over, we again traversed the expressways with their tricky exits, parking at the Birmingham Public Library, a place of solace since my childhood. I loved showing PJ the murals on the walls of the former Children’s Room where I spent so much time as a child though my pleasure was muted with the knowledge I did not have as a young child— Black people were not allowed there until I was well grown. The former Children’s Room now holds some of the Birmingham archives. The building is now called the Linn-Henley Research Library.




The librarian, Mary Beth Newbill, who was also helping with the reading, had pulled several textbooks held in the archives that I would have had as a child in the public schools. PJ and I wanted to look at the material in them about slavery and enslaved people. The disturbing, but not surprising, material we found will become part of another project.


Soon it was time to head up to the auditorium. The audience was small, but the interest and questions made up for the lack of numbers. If all those who might have thought of attending and didn’t could have known they were missing PJ’s spectacular performance, I am sure they would have regretted not coming. I was honored by her performance as well as JD Wilson, the Director of the University of Alabama Press being there. Though his presence was a bit intimidating for me, I knew PJ’s execution of her vignette would take his mind off any deficiencies I might have shown.


After the reading, PJ, using the grand piano in the corner as her stage set, performed her vignette In the Garden, comprised of two parts— In the Garden and Under the Cypress Tree, her own creation, which I have written about before.

Every time I see her execute her work, I am moved by the content, the music, and her performance. The audience had not realized what a treat they had in store, and they

were thrilled.



Sunday unfolded before us event by event, not ending until our spirits full, we were in our respective beds at midnight. The morning was at the Unitarian Universalist Church with its perch on the edge of a mountain, children playing in the isles, and piles of my books in the lobby. A little into the service, I noticed we had been joined by two armed Birmingham police officers. Two suspicious men had been spotted at the church. I gave my talk about the civil rights events in the 1960s from the pulpit with the friendly gaze of the minister and congregants following along. (1) Warm handshakes and comments followed as the congregation filed out of the sanctuary. I found myself near tears and filled with nostalgia.

Photo credit: UU Church of Birmingham


Downstairs, after the social hour, people gathered around a large table to hear reading selections from Unloose My Heart. It was so special to have young people there, born after all the violence and protests, who were eager to hear firsthand about it and learn. Nick Shanan, a University of Alabama Press marketing person, had brought in a lot of books. There was much buying and book signing, and I think the books eventually sold out. Upon leaving, PJ looked under our rented car to make sure there was no bomb. Back we went to Pam and John’s to rest and hang out with the folks there for the afternoon.


Origins was floating in my mind, and I am pretty sure in PJ’s too. Even though we knew we were in the film and would see it that evening, we had no idea what parts of our interviews would be used or how we would look. (Is there anyone who doesn’t have some amount of vanity?) I never knew how fun it was to hang out with a film director, a videographer (David Brower), and other film-making folks. Nor had I ever known the sense of curiosity and mild apprehension in anticipation of witnessing a film I was in.


That evening, PJ and I arrived to a full house, the sanctuary of the UU Church serving as an auditorium. She heads straight for J. Mason Davis, a well-known Black attorney in Birmingham’s civil rights struggles and on to the present. He is in the film as well. I learn later that upon hearing her MacAlpine name, he announces, “I knew your people.” PJ, in Birmingham for only the second time in her life, and he proceed to discuss her long-ago MacAlpine relatives. We seat ourselves and watch the film— BENDING THE ARC: ORIGINS. It is not an easy watch. Everyone everywhere should see it, full of its hard and important truths carefully and eloquently presented. As depicted by the film’s name, the brutal history of African people’s kidnappings, transport, and enslavement in this country with images of the Middle Passage, lynchings, the convict leasing system, and more are shown. (2) PJ and I see our faces and hear our voices along with others we know. We view and are viewed by others. The film ends to strong applause and the panel we are on forms—four of us sitting in a line in front of the large audience. The questions begin. We, Black and white, reply and share. These are good moments. At last, we get to bed, very late for me. It was an exhausting and emotional day full of surprising rewards.

Photo credits. From Bending the Arc: Origin


The next morning, we bid goodbye to Pam and John. Memories of their warm hospitality and joyful dinner party they somehow managed in the midst of their film premier keep us company on our way to Hale County, PJ’s and my shared ancestral lands. There we find a lovely 100-year-old house, ladybugs, and a new friend introduced to us by my editor. Julia Walker has graciously offered to put us up. What a treat we had in store. The visit is one of gravitas as well as joy. That story is for next time.


Credits

1. Powell, Pam director, Brower, David videographer.

YouTube uploaded by Bending the Arc: Origins, 26 Feb. 2023.


10am. Herman-Giddens, Marcia E. Message: The Church as a Vessel: Jim Crow Birmingham.

YouTube uploaded by UU Church of Birmingham.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=smuvdFZrHmA. Message starts at 47.21 minutes.



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2 comentários


MKathleen Williams
MKathleen Williams
07 de jun. de 2023

Marcia, your journey of writing and then disseminating your book is an odyssey that is inspiring, exciting, harrowing to take in. Following it, and the good people you meet on the way, is also and maybe most importantly the necessary and heartening reminder that fear and hate and brutality will be overcome by the light of truth and understanding. Deep gratitude for your work.

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Marcia Edwina Herman-Giddens
Marcia Edwina Herman-Giddens
10 de jun. de 2023
Respondendo a

Thank you for your wise words. That people can find meaning in what I write keeps me going. :)

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