Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Brown, June 17, 2005. Interview U-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Segregation persists, but may be eroding

Brown asserts that segregation persists in churches and neighborhoods in Birmingham. However, she sees wealthy black families leaving historically black neighborhoods and white families returning to city centers to live in restored condominiums.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Brown, June 17, 2005. Interview U-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KIMBERLY HILL:
From observation of seeing how much suburbanization has happened in Birmingham, there are so many people who are living in communities. Either they've moved out or they're still in the city and yet the city is mostly black now. So generally everybody is living at least residentially segregated lives. So what do you think the whole desegregation process means to them knowing that most of their lives are still segregated?
ELIZABETH BROWN:
We still have segregated churches, and we still have segregated neighborhoods. Most of the whites that are have money are on south side Birmingham. At one time that was going really down fast and then it was a renewal of getting these hundred year old houses. Well, Birmingham is a relatively young city compared to what I'm used to in Kentucky. But a house that I at one time could've bought for like 17,500, it had like four or five bedrooms. I probably just as well I didn't know it was for sale because I could have never kept it up. One of these big barns. But now it's probably worth three or four hundred thousand or more. But I think, as the blacks become more influential, they're going, they're moving out into these other areas. At one time you wouldn't find any person of African American descent in Vestavia, which is probably at one time was the up and coming white area and they, there's now regularly we have families-. When I phone, use the phone or black families I realize it's Vestavia. Mountain Brook at one time would not allow anyone in there that was Catholic or Italian and certainly not blacks. It was one of and now it has a few wealthy-. That's the old wealth of Birmingham. Homewood where I live, I was, it always, when they integrated, they integrated something called Hollywood and Edgewood and there was another wood somewhere, and they all argued about what name they should take. So they finally ended on Homewood. At the time they formed this city, they took in a black section of Homewood called Rosedale and so, Homewood, the city of Homewood has always been integrated from its earliest days in that sense, but that neighborhood is traditionally black. But now I'm beginning to see kids walking to school. Homewood is great because it actually has sidewalk. Kids can walk to school, and they can walk home and they-. So I'm beginning to see some black kids that are not in my immediate neighborhood but obviously close enough around the corner or somewhere. Across the street I see black kids playing with, there's a family of them that has two kids, and they moved from a very wealthy district to Homewood because they wanted to have a middle class background. So I see those kids playing together, and the problem with Homewood though, this little house that I bought for 17,500 is now taxed at 200,200, $220,000, and I haven't anything to it except keep it up. I did add a room and a second bath. Very few starter families can afford that kind of housing when you're starting out. I don't like that because I don't want it to be, I tell my neighbors across the street who are psychiatrists, I said I hope they never find out my salary or the neighbors will petition to get me out of here. Teaching in a school like that. Rosedale, the thing I don't like about Rosedale, and I sort of course belong the association that serves as a watch dog for these council is the community of Rosedale has been divided by two highways. One of them going through Homewood and across the 280 also. So as a result they're fractured into three or four areas, and they don't have as much of a community. Now it's all integrated. They used to have their own swimming pool, and now they don't. They just integrated. They still have a community center that, but all the activities at the two centers are integrated. But it has gone down, and it's not just because, it's not totally planned that way. It's just a very wealthy man owned a lot of property, a black man owned, and he was in his eighties. He owns about nineteen houses, and he didn't fix them up. He let the relatives live in them. Well, now the houses are owned by people who don't live in the state. This is high commercial property because these streets have, as I said, blocked it off and they want, they're not fixing the houses up. The people who still live in Rosedale want the neighborhood not to go commercial, but when you get, half a million dollars for this property and it's just a house on it. So they're encroaching a little bit into the community, and this association is trying to save it by making a historical thing and keeping all these big companies out that want to buy out this property and be on this, it's an entrance to a highway rather than a highway. So right now it's a fight because they, it probably is older than the Edgewood and these other cities, but we feel like that we should make these homeowners, we're trying to keep them from selling their property to the commercial. I'm not actively involved. I just get the newspaper and keep up with it. And trying to keep them from being able to sell it and go commercial, and maybe they will now be interested in fixing up these houses. I couldn't understand why the people who wanted to move out the inner city why they didn't move into Rosedale because they'll get into a nice community school, and then I began to realize they can't buy into it because all these family members living elsewhere won't sell the property. I think they were waiting for it to go commercial before they sell it.
KIMBERLY HILL:
And maybe the property value is too high.
ELIZABETH BROWN:
The potential, the property value is relatively high if they were to, but it's pretty reasonable as far as that particular area is concerned. The friend of mine that taught here that was black, I often thought, why doesn't she, wonder why she doesn't try to get into Rosedale because she would get into the school system, and it's very convenient. To me it's the best part of the city to live in because you can go to these outside areas and you could also go downtown if you want to. The downtown area, there's hope for that because of white flight is now coming back in the way of condos and lofts and stuff like that. That shows some promise to reintegrate the city as far as the whites are concerned. Some of these huge buildings have been vacant for ten years. They're now selling them and turning them into condos, into lofts, and so that's a, that's also good, but I think as the blacks move up in money, they're going to go into the places. There doesn't seem to be the opposition as far as trying to keep them out at one time I'm sure it was. I remember one of my students whose father was a doctor, he loved yard work. So he was out doing yard work and one of the persons stopped and asked him if he could do their yard work. They were, the persons were really embarrassed, and he said, it was their, it was his house. He was just doing yard work for his own. He was a doctor down at UAB in there. That was in a very high priced area that I could never think about living in frankly, near a golf course. You know how you put a golf course in that, how that-
KIMBERLY HILL:
A gated community.
ELIZABETH BROWN:
Yeah, right. So I think and a lot of that left before integration have moved back into-. You often see a piece in the paper about a person that left during that time because he or she couldn't get ahead, and then the parents were getting old and they felt like they had to move back to help take care of them. They found a totally different atmosphere here now and quite happy about it. I don't know how much of that goes on. Maybe not a lot. Sometimes when you see things in the paper about that you know it's unusual to be in the paper. So you can't say a blanket situation where thousands are moving back or whatever. It might be because it's so unusual. But the big companies now feel free to send, to integrate into the city because, or go into the city, because now they can move their black employees in as well as their white. Don't have to worry about color and what they're going to be associated with.