LEAVING BIRMINGHAM by Paul Hemphill

LEAVING BIRMINGHAM

Notes of a Native Son
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Timed for the 30th anniversary of Birmingham's infamous summer of racial violence: a memoir from Birmingham native son Hemphill that's as much about two men--his father and himself--as about the mind-set of a particular city. Interweaving the history of a city founded only in 1871 with the stories of himself and his family--working-class whites who moved to Birmingham in the 1920's in search of jobs--Hemphill rounds out these ``attempts to make something positive of his past'' with two other voices: those of Mimi Tynes, a member of Birmingham's white elite, and John Porter, the son of black house- servants. As a child, Hemphill adored baseball and lived for the weekends when his beloved father--a legendary trucker who once drove six thousand miles in ten days to Portland, Oregon, and back- -would take him to games. Back then, Birmingham not only hadn't ever quite lived up to its boast of being the ``Pittsburgh of the South,'' but it was rapidly being overtaken by rival Atlanta, which had an enlightened leadership and a diversified economic base. Hemphill describes the almost universal acceptance of segregation and racist attitudes among whites, attitudes that were to harden in the late 50's as the civil-rights movement grew and Bull Connors and his cohorts brutally fought back. It wasn't until he spent a year in France with the army that Hemphill began to appreciate the cruel realities of racism--an understanding that would lead to bitter quarrels with his father, alienation from Birmingham, and a sense that the city was irredeemable. But in 1992, after his father's death and during a lengthy visit back to Birmingham, Hemphill had a cathartic encounter with the new black owners of his childhood home that suggested that ``justice had finally prevailed.'' A moving record of a painful personal journey toward acceptance of a deeply flawed parent and place. (Sixteen b&w photos)

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-84778-X
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1993




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