In conjunction with the city’s efforts, the University Of Alabama at Birmingham has begun a year-long schedule of events commemorating and celebrating the 50th Anniversary of pivotal moments in the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement. Called 50 Years Forward, the series of events will include performances, gallery shows, and lectures.
“Our mission is education,” said Dr. Rebecca Bach, assistant dean of UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences. “I’m hoping that people will learn a lot by coming to our events, but we are also celebrating the achievements of the people who were fighting so hard and commemorating some terrible things that happened, but looking towards the great things that came out of it.”
A part of the commemoration will be a historical discussion of UAB’s connection to the city, including during the Civil Rights Movement. “A Celebration of UAB Diversity” will bring together a panel of local historians and educators for a panel discussion from 4 to 6 p.m. January 25 at the Mervyn H. Sterne Library on the UAB campus. Panelists will include James Baggett, archivist for the city of Birmingham and head of archives at the Birmingham Public Library, UAB Professor Emeritus Tennant McWilliams, Ph.D., and Ann Gilbert, local historian, genealogist, and archivist. The panel will be moderated by Odessa Woolfolk, a founder of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and former community relations assistant to the UAB president.
The day before that, January 24, the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center will play host to musician and poet Michael Franti for a lecture and concert. Another concert scheduled for the commemoration will feature Grammy Award-winning musician Common, who will be performing February 25 at Bartow Arena.
Photographer Bob Adelman, the photographer for CORE – the Congress of Racial Equality in the 1960s — will be featured in an exhibition at the UAB Visual Arts Gallery from Sept 27 through Oct. 31. “A good part of it [the collection] is King preaching in 1963, the Baptist Church Bombings and all the response to that,” Bach explained, “but he also has all the photography of the Children’s March, the horrible hosing photographs, the prisons. It is just an incredible set of photographs.”
Guest lecturers will include Eric Foner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Dewitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. Foner, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, will give his talk at the UAB Alumni House on November 22.
Bach said that UAB’s part of the citywide commemoration is developed around a theme derived from part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. That quote, “tied in a single garment of destiny,” really crystallized how the destinies of the university and the city connect, she said.
“UAB is really an incredibly diverse place and it is that place because of what happened here in 1963,” Bach explained. “If it were not for what happened here in 1963, UAB would not be the university it is. The city would not be the city that it is. And really, the country would not look like the way it does.“
Last month, UAB Interim President Richard Marchase and Birmingham Mayor William Bell held a press conference talking about the intertwining relationship between the city of Birmingham and UAB. “If it were not for the dreams that Dr. King and Dr. Shuttlesworth had in 1963, it would not have paved the way for UAB to be able to invite men and women from all around the world to come and work and study and learn here at this facility,” Bell said.
“It is our honor to join together with others to mark the enduring legacy of this incredible and now-storied struggle to achieve equality – and to do so in a way that looks to the future,” Marchase added. “Because as Birmingham goes, so goes the nation. And we as UAB are one with Birmingham.”
Most 50 Years Forward events will be free, although some are expected to have a minimal fee. All events will be open to the general public. For more information regarding events and dates, visit the 50 Years Forward website or UAB’s Civil Rights Movement website.