Black Lives Matter

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Black Lives Matter (#BlackLivesMatter or BLM) is a social justice movement founded on social media in the Summer of 2013, immediately following the acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman on charges related to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. The acquittal was seen by many as indicative of a pervasive disregard for the lives of black people in the United States and especially in the criminal justice system.

The organization began as a vocal, online protest incorporating "#BlackLivesMatter" as a hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. It was initiated by community organizers Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, who knew each other through involvement in the group "Black Organizing for Leadership & Dignity" (BOLD). Garza's posting, "A Love Note to Black People", was shared using the hashtag and set forth the basic premise that the lives of African Americans are consistently undervalued by American society and its institutions. Much of the movement's attention has focused on the issue of racial bias with regard to police brutality. As such, many of the movement's largest protests have been staged in direct response to police shootings of African Americans. Black Lives Matter protests have often involved confrontational tactics, such as blockading public streets or staging "die ins", in which protesters feign death, at public events or crowded spaces. Such protests gained momentum in late 2014, following the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The rapid spread of the hashtag as an online meme made it a rallying cry for hundreds of real-world protests and demonstrations. Initially these were organized independently, encompassing a wide range of beliefs and demands that could be loosely united under the Black Lives Matter slogan. Soon Garza, Cullors and Tometi launched a "Black Lives Matter Network" that provided a forum for organizers and allies and set forth statement of shared principles and goals. The website explains that "#BlackLivesMatter is an online forum intended to build connections between Black people and our allies to fight anti-Black racism, to spark dialogue among Black people, and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement." As "chapters" of the movement organized in various cities, the founders explicitly declined to "police" the degree to which their beliefs and goals were in full agreement with the national network. Membership requirements are left to individual chapters.

The phrase has also provoked backlash from critics and from people concerned for the safety of law enforcement officers. The phrases or hashtags "All Lives Matter" and "Police Lives Matter" have been used in opposition to "Black Lives Matter", prompting public debates about the motivations and racial attitudes of various activists. References to the movement and its concerns played a role in the 2016 presidential campaign, and activists affiliated with the movement interrupted several campaign events for various candidates and staged a large rally that prompted the cancellation of a planned event for Republican candidate Donald Trump in Chicago, Illinois.

Black Lives Matter in Birmingham

A Black Lives Matter Birmingham (BLMB) group was founded in November 2014 to plan public protests near The Summit and the Riverchase Galleria. A number of activists met at Avee-Ashanti Shabazz's Purse Party store on 3rd Avenue West. In the aftermath of those events several participants decided to organize under the "Black Lives Matter" banner.

While many in the group wished to speak through public action, Shabazz and Mercutio Southall emerged as vocal leaders, speaking to the press and to public officials and engaging in individual protests. In 2015 Cara McClure, Shirah Robinson and Kahmille Burroughs led a group of mostly female activists in a break away from that organization, forming a new Magic City Chapter of Black Lives Matter which, unlike BLMB, sought to become an affiliate of the national Black Lives Matter Network.

On August 28, 2015 former cable news commentator Glenn Beck and Bishop Jim Lowe of the Guiding Light Church jointly led a large "Restoring Unity Rally" in Birmingham during which participants chanted "All Lives Matter" and Beck stated "If we can’t say 'all lives matter,' then, honestly, nothing matters."

On September 3 an editorial column by Burroughs was published on criticizing that rally. She found fault with the "sneakiness" by which it was planned with little input from community groups and condemned the "hijacking" of the sites and rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement for a "counterfeit" All Lives Matter event raising funds for overseas aid as "disrespectful."

A few days later, Lowe appeared on CNN to explain his participation in the rally. The Magic City Chapter of Black Lives Matter issued another statement afterward to dispute his characterization of conversations he had with affiliated activists over the issue of condemning violence.

Shabazz and Southall published a statement on their Facebook page explaining that the conversations with Lowe and the published statements did not represent their group, although they similarly condemned Lowe for his involvement in Beck's rally. They also highlighted their recognition as representatives of Black Lives Matter in discussions with local officials and in leading local events.

Subsequently the Magic City Chapter adopted the name Black Lives Matter - Birmingham Chapter in parallel with the naming style used by other chapters affiliated with the national network. They charge that in order to avoid confusion, and to reflect differences in principles between Southall's group and the national network, that he should stop using the Black Lives Matter name altogether.

In July 2016 Southall indicated that he planned to steer away from confrontational protest and engage more in community service. He and one other person were stopped from picking-up uncollected curbside garbage in Fairfield during that city's financial crisis.

Meanwhile, the BLM-Birmingham Chapter, with a core team of eight activists, accepted donated office space in Homewood from the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and meets weekly to plan events and coordinate with other chapters.

Public demonstrations and rallies

  • December 10, 2014: Several protesters marched through Railroad Park and Five Points South.
  • Friday, December 18, 2014: 50-100 protesters convened on the grass slope above U.S. Highway 280 at The Summit at 3:00 PM. Planners hoped to block traffic on the highway, but most participants kept away from traffic. Several officers from the Birmingham Police Department were on the scene to keep order and protect public safety. A few protesters who blocked traffic for a short time were escorted off of the highway peacefully. At 4:30 PM on the same day, a "die in", in which protesters lie motionless on the floor for a period of time, was held at the food court at the Riverchase Galleria. Officers from the Hoover Police Department kept watch over the peaceful protest and urged spectators to keep moving. The "die-in" was followed by processions through the mall with participants chanting slogans associated with the movement. Conflicting press reports and wild rumors about the potential for rioting were blamed for keeping many shoppers away that afternoon.
  • December 26, 2014: Approximately forty people participated in a protest at the Wal-Mart at Wildwood. They assembled at Lakeshore Parkway and processed through the parking lot and into the store before quickly dispersing. A few protesters remained in the parking lot. Two of them, Randall Anderson of Georgia and Southall, were arrested at the scene. They claimed they were in the process of leaving when they were confronted by Homewood police. Southall resisted arrest and was subdued with a Taser. He was charged with criminal trespass, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana.
  • April 14, 2015: A dozen or so protesters attempted to block traffic on First Avenue North in front of the Birmingham Police Headquarters. Though the group had no permit, police did cordon off an area, re-routing some traffic to allow the protest to go on. Some members moved to an area on the next block to continue impeding traffic and shouting back and forth to drivers. Southall, Shabazz and one other protester were arrested at the scene with a minimum of force.
  • November 21, 2015: Southall and two other protesters attended a political rally for Donald Trump at the BJCC wearing "Black Lives Matter" shirts. Southall continued disrupting the event during Trump's speech and was assaulted by members of the audience before he was removed by Secret Service agents and police officers.
  • July 8, 2016: A large rally was held at Kelly Ingram Park in response to the police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in St Anthony, Minnesota. Speakers at the rally included Birmingham City Council president Johnathan Austin, Birmingham Police Department chief A. C. Roper, activists Carlos Chaverst Jr and Frank Matthews
  • May 2020: Black Lives Matter was heavily involved in large-scale protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Eric Hall was described as a "core leader and founding member" of Black Lives Matter in Birmingham. Jilisa Milton co-signed a letter to the city on behalf of the organization.

Public representations

Public representations of the phrase "Black Lives Matter" gained new popularity in the wake of George Floyd's death in May 2020. At the suggestion of Cara McClure and Shawn Fitzwater, Birmingham officials undertook the installation of a massive street mural reading "BLACK LIVES MATTER" on the 1600 block of 1st Avenue South, adjacent to Railroad Park. The work was completed by June 19, a day observed as "Juneteenth" to remember the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas finally learned that they had been emancipated.

Birmingham City Council president William Parker announced that the Council would take up a resolution to renamed 16th Street North, from 1st to 6th Avenues as "Black Lives Matter Boulevard." Many activists opposed the resolution. A joint letter expressed their objection, on the grounds that it would erase a name already associated with advancing civil rights, that "16th Street North is already the home of Black Lives Matter," and suggesting that it would be preferable for the city to take the opportunity to adopt more substantive policies to advance racial justice. Parker accepted the criticism and withdrew the resolution, stating that, "As city leaders, we want to show that we stand in lockstep with the current movement for justice. We are committed to not only honoring the current movement, but also to enacting policies that improve the quality of life for every single resident; policies that instill a sense of confidence in our institutions and prove that we are continuing the mission of those who marched before us."


  • Ostroff, Jamie (December 19, 2014) "Inside the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations at Riverchase Galleria."
  • Reed, Jon (December 19, 2014) "'Black Lives Matter' protesters march, chant, hold 'die-in' at Riverchase Galleria." The Birmingham News
  • Phillips, Ryan (December 19, 2014) "Black Lives Matter protest slows business at The Summit." Birmingham Business Journal
  • Cleek, Ashley (December 20, 2014) "“Black Lives Matter” Protests at The Summit and Riverchase Galleria."
  • Stein, Kelsey (December 27, 2014) "Black Lives Matter protester tased, 2 arrested during event at Homewood Walmart." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (April 14, 2015) "3 Black Lives Matter protesters arrested after confrontation with police during downtown protest." The Birmingham News
  • Burroughs, Kahmille (September 3, 2015) "Glenn Beck rally was insulting to Birmingham and black lives." The Birmingham News
  • Garrison, Greg (September 8, 2015) "Black Lives Matter group rips All Lives Matter march leader for joining 'right-wing attacks'." The Birmingham News
  • Garrison, Greg (September 10, 2015) "Black Lives Matter group splits: Who speaks for BLM in Birmingham?." The Birmingham News
  • Dunigan, Jonece Starr (July 9, 2016) "Emotions raw during Birmingham's Black Lives Matter protest." The Birmingham News
  • "Black Lives Matter" (August 3, 2016) Wikipedia - accessed August 3, 2016
  • Beahm, Anna (June 19, 2020) "Birmingham council to vote on renaming 16th Street ‘Black Lives Matter Boulevard’." The Birmingham News
  • "Don’t rename 16th Street North to Black Lives Matter Boulevard, activists tell Birmingham leaders." (June 21, 2020) The Birmingham News
  • Johnson, Roy S. (June 22, 2020) "Johnson: Symbols matter; now, let’s create substantive, sustainable change." The Birmingham News
  • Beahm, Anna (June 22, 2020) "Birmingham won’t rename 16th Street for Black Lives Matter." The Birmingham News

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