Trip report--Birmingham, Alabama


Sep 25th, 2016, 12:51 PM
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Trip report--Birmingham, Alabama

Earlier this summer, decided to head to Atlanta to see a baseball game (the 19th such franchise at which I've attended a game) at Turner Field before the Braves move way out into a new ballpark in the far northwest suburbs (where there may be no public transport and which may prove to be a traffic nightmare). Good game, good stadium, sorry it's closing. Anyway, as part of the trip, decided to go to Birmingham, Alabama, an easy day trip by bus from Atlanta.

There's plenty enough to see in a day there, with a good bit of it downtown within easy walk of the Greyhound terminal. Began down at the civil rights district, where some of the most violent confrontations occurred during the 60s, in part thanks to the city's intractable public safety commissioner of the time, Bull Connor. Kelly Ingram Park was a focal point here, where black children were arrested for peaceful marching, and marchers of all ages were set upon by police dogs and water cannon, much to the horror to the rest of the country who witnessed this shameful treatment on TV news back then. There are several commemorative plaques and sculptures at the park as well as along the marching route demonstrators usually took between the park and city hall.

Alongside the park is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which tells the story of the civil rights struggles well in addition to the city's history of segregation in general. There's a brief film to start followed by a somewhat rushed tour that tells the story passing by various artifacts both reproduced and original along the way. A little hectic at times but still very informative and interesting.

Nearby at one corner of Ingram Park is the 16th Street Baptist Church, where the worst outrage of all occurred in 1963, a bomb blast that wrecked part of the church during services and killed four teenage girls at Sunday school. As attractive as the church is (with especially nice stained glass in the main sanctuary), the main reason to come here is for the church's history in general (it has had a prominent place in the city's Black history) and information on the bombing in particular. A video was shown during the tour which was heart-wrenching (some folks on the tour wept) -- most illuminating and effective. A children's choir from Texas made up part of the tour group, and they very much wanted to sing in tribute afterwards, which was enthusiastically encouraged by the tour guide. It proved to be a really nice moment to experience, both warm and unexpected.

After all the foregoing depth and intensity, the restorative strength of a worthy art collection was most welcome. And the Birmingham Museum of Art delivered well. Its holdings are strong, moderate in size and broad in scope, taking about half a day to see. There are works by brand name artists like Botticelli, Tintoretto, Rouault, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Guston, Stella, Bierstadt, and Sargent, but the bulk of the Western art collection consists of strong pieces by those less well known. Paintings, sculpture, ceramics, and glassware are often interspersed. There's also Asian, African, and Native American art as well as an outdoor sculpture garden. And if your passion is Wedgewood ceramic pieces, you've come to the right place -- they have a huge and astonishingly varied collection of the stuff.

In sum, this was a really memorable day trip, a must to experience.
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Sep 28th, 2016, 09:02 AM
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Hi Bachslunch,

Thanks again for another interesting trip report, knowing that we travel in similar (although not identical) ways with public transportation. I'd considered in the past visiting Birmingham as a stopover as it's on the Crescent Amtrak train from NYC to New Orleans, but had been discouraged from certain quarters. Your post is making me re-assess (especially what you have to say about the Birmingham Museum of Art).

Best wishes, D. Williams
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Sep 28th, 2016, 03:34 PM
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Thanks, Daniel. Birmingham has one of the best art museums in the South, at least to my experience. I think the New Orleans Museum of Art is number one, though Birmingham's is arguably next, with the High Museum in Atlanta close behind.

For me, one day in Birmingham was sufficient.
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