Birmingham: The Reality of a New South Experience

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Birmingham: The Reality of a New South Experience was the title of an address given at the August 1985 UAB Honors Convocation by Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, Jr.

In the speech, Arrington described the recent growth and progress of Birmingham in the period from the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s, which he called a true "New South" experience. He began the speech by placing Birmingham's history within the post-Civil War South which repeatedly promised to reinvent itself, but also saw repeated failures.

He noted that since Atlanta journalist Henry Grady first called for a "New South" in the 1880s, that most Southern development had been aimed at industrial development and that, despite great progress in education, public health and justice, that the biggest gains were concentrated among a small number of beneficiaries. Natural resources were developed at the expense of people, leaving the region's greatest resource untapped.

The effect of inequality and cyclic economic bursts affected Birmingham in the extreme. The city's boom periods outshone any other American city, but its busts also hit harder than elsewhere. The Great Depression imperiled Birmingham more than any other city and the de-industrialization of the second half of the 20th century resulted in the loss of more than 25,000 jobs in the District's steel industry alone.

Despite these setbacks, however, Arrington described a city that had learned that it must pull together in trust and cooperation in order to survive and prosper. He explained that Birmingham's progress in expanding its economic base and overcoming social injustices was possible because leaders were determined to move forward for the benefit of all citizens and with understanding of the lessons of the past.

The result of a concerted effort at economic diversification was a transition from heavy industry as the predominant employer to a balanced mix of health care, education, research, utilities, telecommunications, finance and insurance. He singled out the presence of UAB as a cornerstone of the city's economic development.

At the same time, social and political changes of national importance were constructed through Birmingham's experience in the Civil Rights Movement. He claimed that the successes of the movement in Birmingham stood as "a tribute to its people", and that the true legacy of those events would be borne out in the city's "forward-looking attitude".

In closing, he specifically addressed UAB's honor students in the audience, congratulating them for their individual achievements which would serve as the foundation for community and national successes. He challenged them to dedicate their talents to a philosophy of life founded in compassion for the well-being of society as a whole -- to apply the lessons of the true New South to the problems of American and of the world, and to fulfill the promise of the region's greatest resource: its people.


  • Arrington, Richard, Jr (August 1985) Birmingham: The Reality of a New South Experience. Birmingham: University of Alabama at Birmingham.