By Jim Hunt
A city steeped in history and a critical player in the United States Civil Rights movement,
Birmingham, Alabama is a city of nearly 200,000 citizens. I recently visited Birmingham to
attend the Alabama League of Municipalities Conference and got some time to enjoy the sights
and sounds of this beautiful city. The conference had over 700 attendees and a full schedule of
meetings and learning opportunities for Alabama’s municipal leaders. Alabama League
Executive Director Greg Cochran and his staff did a great job of putting on an enjoyable event
and one that attracted dozens of vendors, who gave attendees a peek at the innovative services
and products available to Alabama cities.
Joining me at the conference was my colleagues at Bearing Advisors, Phil Riley, Tabitha Riley
and Jesse Matthews. Jesse recently joined Bearing Advisors to assist with introducing Alabama
cities to the Attentive Preventive Health Care Program. He is a longtime Councilmember in
Bessemer, Alabama and is a Past President of the Alabama League of Municipalities. Josh
Kirkland, CEO of Attentive was also on hand to answer any questions about Attentive’s
I had not been to Birmingham for several years and it has changed a good bit since my last visit.
I took an afternoon off to visit the 16th Street Baptist Church, the site of a bombing in 1963 that
killed four young girls. The bombing was the work of the Ku Klux Klan and brought the nation’s
attention to the civil rights movement. The 16 th Street Baptist Church attracts visitors from
throughout the world and there were several people visiting while I was there. An older
gentleman came up to me as I stood outside the church and explained that he was a young
child when he heard the explosion at 10:22AM. His family lived across the street from the
church, and he has continued to visit the site and explain his perspective to tourists and other
I walked through Kelly Ingram Park and saw some of the most impactful public art in my life.
The park is a beautiful place that invokes the raw emotion of the times in Birmingham’s history
when African American citizens struggled against the forces of the KKK and the prejudice of the
times. The metal statue depicting police dogs attacking the protesters was chilling and put you
in the mindset of those who stared down the gnarling mouths of these vicious animals. The
“Freedom Walk” that winds through the park also passes the water cannons, that were used to
fight the protesters. Videos of the powerful streams of water hitting innocent citizens are
burned into many who watched these on the evening news in the sixties.
Another memorable part of Birmingham is the Civil Rights Institute, located across the street
from the 16 th Street Baptist Church. The affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the Civil Rights
Institute is a cultural and educational research center that promotes a comprehensive
understanding for the significance of the civil rights developments in Birmingham. The institute
is a very well-done display of the history of the civil rights movements and takes you on a
journey to a time in history when freedom was deprived for so many. As you enter the exhibits,
you are hit with two stark water fountains, one says, “Whites Only” and the other “Colored”. A
moving depiction of the state of race relations that happened during my lifetime.
I ended my trip to Birmingham with a lovely dinner with my cousin, Martha Bains and her
husband, David at a wonderful Italian café. David is a professor at Samford University and gave
me a walking tour of one of Birmingham’s beautiful neighborhoods. It’s always good to get to
visit family and it was the perfect end to a productive and informative trip.