Leaving Birmingham

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Leaving Birmingham: Notes of a Native Son is a 1993 memoir by Birmingham-born author Paul Hemphill (19362009). The book follows his family through his childhood in Woodlawn and his visits home as he pursued writing in Atlanta and other cities, interleaved with episodes from the city's economic and social history.

A central theme is the status of race relations, which was a source of conflict between Hemphill and his father, as well as a deeply-ingrained issue for Birmingham at large. Hemphill alternates between the personal and the general, tracing how his love for baseball and the Birmingham Barons got him started as a sportswriter and how, like his father, he chose to work for himself and also, like him, fell prey to liquor. At a broader level, he explores the mindset common to many white Birminghamians who, although striving to be good and decent people, shared a blind spot when it came to racial injustices.

Leaving Birmingham also provides room for socialite Mimi Tynes and 6th Avenue Baptist Church pastor John Porter to contribute their parallel stories of growing up in the conflicted and divided city. In later chapters, Hemphill returns to Birmingham to bury his parents and visits with childhood friends, classmates, and various individuals who labored to improve the city in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement.

Figures interviewed for the book include David Vann, Stan Lawler, Richard Arrington, Jr, Piper Davis, Charles Zukowski, John Rutland, Jim Head and Bob Corley.

The memoir was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. A paperback edition was issued in 1995.


  • Hemphill, Paul (1993) Leaving Birmingham: Notes of a Native Son. New York: Viking Books ISBN 067084778X
  • Ingersoll, John (1998) "Leaving Birmingham: Notes of a Native Son." review. Journal of Negro History. Vol. 83