Legendary Birmingham lawyer’s daughter recalls her upbringing on ‘Dynamite Hill’
Barbara Shores, daughter of legendary civil rights lawyer Arthur Shores, said she was shielded from much of the horror growing up in the 1950s and 1960s on Birmingham’s ‘Dynamite Hill’ . The community of Smithfield earned its ugly nickname because of multiple bombings carried out by the Ku Klux Klan in an attempt to scare away black families working to integrate the neighborhood.
“We had a lot of fun, despite the things that were going on, and one thing that I think came out of most of the kids was that the parents never talked in front of us about what was going on. You might have had big ears, but you didn’t repeat what you heard,” Shores recalled.
Shores is a reminder of the vibrancy of the neighborhood, barbecues, a movie theatre, grocery stores and an involved Girl Scout troop. She highlighted Christmas morning as particularly memorable.
“Everyone had their bikes and skates, and you could see the kids skating up the hill with little red handkerchiefs on their backs, and you could just see a red trail coming down the hill.”
Shores, with Birmingham Historical Society (BHS) Program Director Marjorie White has captured some of the neighborhood’s history in a book titled “Birmingham’s Dynamite Hillwhich chronicles the community from its origins in the 1850s through its heyday in the mid-1900s as a haven for middle and working class black families, to the present.
A recent book unveiling at the Tabernacle Baptist Church on Center Street included others who grew up in the neighborhood in the 1950s and 1960s, including retired Jefferson County Circuit Judge Houston Brown, Madelyn Coar, Jeff Drew, Gloria Kennon, John Nixon, Denise Barefield-Pendleton, Ernestine Poole, Dwight Sheehy and Victoria Tubbs Williams – all current or former residents.
Writing work on the area began in 2005, according to White and Shores, when BHS nominated properties along Center Street in the Dynamite Hill area for preservation through the National Park Service.
White said the full story of Dynamite Hill “wasn’t told” as in the book. “People want to remember civil rights events. … It’s basically breaking down the racial barrier in housing and in schools,” she said.
Shores said she had wanted to create a book for years and in 2011 the City of Birmingham funded BHS to publish one. Next, the couple hit the road and interviewed 13 people who grew up in Dynamite Hill at the same time as Shores.
People interviewed for the book struggled to talk about the violence they faced while living in the community, Shores said.
“It was even difficult for some of us (who witnessed the violence) to talk about it. I remember one person got emotional, and when I called another friend to participate, she said, “I can’t talk about it,” and it’s been 60 years. It’s hard,” said Shores, who shared that she was among those who struggled to talk about what happened, especially when she remembered a pet she had. had lost in a bombing in 1963, a pivotal year in the civil rights movement.
“When I got home, one of my dogs had exploded, so when I was out, my sister (former circuit judge Helen Shores, who died in 2018) and I were talking and I was choking, and Helen was sort of nudge me and I would pull myself together and keep going, but it was painful,” Shores said.
The Shores sisters, public civil rights figures in the Birmingham community for decades, have co-authored a book about their pioneering father, The Gentle Giant of Dynamite Hill. The end Arthur Shores was involved in civil rights cases in Alabama beginning in the 1930s and represented Autherine Lucia, the first black admitted to the University of Alabama, in 1956, but later expelled by the administration. He also represented thousands of young civil rights protesters in the Birmingham campaign of 1963; that same year, the Shores house was bombed.
The new book on Dynamite Hill features photos of a number of homes in the community that have been regularly bombed. Photos from Barbara Shores’ childhood and current home, which was bombed twice in Shores’ youth, are also featured in the book. Shores, 77, has lived in the neighborhood for about 55 years.
It’s important to keep the area’s history alive, Shores said, adding that she was shocked at how few people knew about Dynamite Hill during a talk she recently gave at an area college.
“I asked…how many people know about Dynamite Hill? None of the young children who raised their hands, who were from Birmingham – they didn’t know anything about it.
“Young people have no idea of the history and the struggles that my father and others (have been through) to make this a better place,” she said.
This story originally appeared in the Birmingham timetable.
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