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VARIOUS TEXTS: BIRMINGHAM - After the 1960s Troubles (From 'Fried Green Tomatoes..')

THE MARTIN LUTHER
KING MEMORIAL
BAPTIST CHURCH

1049 4TH AVENUE NORTH
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA
SEPTEMBER 21,1986


Text:
Evelyn1 had promised Mrs. Threadgoode that she would take her troubles to the Lord and ask the Lord to help her through these bad times. Unfortunately, she didnt know where the Lord was. She and Ed had not been to church since the children were grown, but today she felt desperate for help, for something to hold on to; so she got dressed and drove over to the Highland Avenue Presbyterian Church, where they used to be members.

But when she got there, for some reason she just drove on by and, all of a sudden, found herself across town, sittng in the parking lot of the Martin Luther King Memorial Baptist Church - largest black church in Birmingham - wondering what in the hell she was doing there. Maybe it had been all these months of hearing about Sipsey and Onzell. She didn't know.

All her life she had considered herself to be a liberal. She had never used the word 'nigger'. But her contact with blacks had been the same as for the majority of middle-class whites before the sixties - mostly just getting to know the maids or the maids of friends.

When she was little, she would sometimes go with her father when he would drive their maid to the south side, where she lived. It was just ten ninutes away, but seemed to her like going to another country: the music, the clothes, the houses ... everything was different.

On Easter they would drive over to the south side to see the brand-new Easter outfits: pinks and purples and yellows, with plumed hats to match.

Of course, it was the black women who worked inside the homes. Whenever a black man was anywhere nearby, her mother would get hysterical and scream at her to run put on a robe because, "there's a colored man in the neighborhood! " To this day, Evelyn was not comfortable with black men around.

Other than that, her parents' attitude about blacks had been like most back then; they thought most were amusing and wonderful, childlike people, to be taken care of. Everyone had a funny story to tell about what this maid said or did, or would shake their heads with amusement about how many children they kept having. Most would give them all their old clothes and leftovers to take home, and help them if they got in trouble. But as Evelyn got a little older, she didn't go to the south side anymore and thought little about them; she had been too busy with her own life.

So, in the sixties, when the troubles began, she, along with the majority of whites in Birmingham, had been shocked. And everyone agreed that it was not "our colored people" causing all the trouble, it was outside agitators who had been sent down from the North.

It was generally agreed too that "our colored people are happy the way they are." Years later, Evelyn wondered where her mind had been and why she hadn't realized what had been going on just across town.
After Birmingham suffered so badly in the press and on TV, people were confused and upset. Not one of the thousands of kindnesses that had taken place between the races was ever mentioned.

But twenty-five years later Birmingham had a black mayor, and in 1975, Birmingham, once known as the City of Hate and Fear, had been named the All-American City by Look magazine. They said that a lot of bridges had been mended, and blacks, who had once gone north, were coming back home. They had all come a long way.

Evelyn knew this, but nevertheless, as she sat in the church parking lot, she was amazed at all the Cadillacs and Mercedeses driving up and parking all around her. She had heard that there were rich blacks in Birmingham, but she had never seen them before.

As she watched the congregation arrive, all of a sudden that old fear of black men came back.
She glanced around the car to make sure that all her doors were locked, and was getting ready to drive away when a father and mother with two children walked by her car, laughing; then she snapped back to reality and calmed down. After a few minutes, she mustered up all her courage and went inside the church.

But even after the usher with the carnation smiled at her and said, "Good morning," and led her down the aisle, she was still shaking. Her heart pounded all the way to her seat, and her knees were weak. She had hoped to sit in the back, but he had escorted her to the middle of the church.

In moments, sweat was pouring off Evelyn and she was short of breath. Few people seemed to look at her. A couple of children turned around in their seats and stared; she smiled, but they did not smile back. She had just decided to leave when a man and a woman came into the pew (=Kirchenbank) and sat down beside her. So there she was, stuck in the middle, just like always. This was the first time in her life she had ever been surrounded by only blacks.

All at once, she was the belly of a snake, the Pillsbury Doughboy2, a page in a coloring book left uncolored, a pale flower in the garden indeed.

The young wife beside her was stunning, and dressed like someone Evelyn had seen only in magazines. She could have been a high-fashion model from NewYork, in her pearl-gray silk outfit, with snakeskin shoes and a purse to match. As she looked around the room, Evelyn realized that she had never seen so many beautifully dressed people in one place in her life. She was still uneasy about the men - their pants fit too tight to suit her - so she concentrated on the women.

But then, she had always admired them, their strength and compassion. She had always wondered how they could love and care for white children and nurse old white men and women with such gentleness and care. She didn't think she could have.

She watched the way they greeted each other, their wonderful and complete easiness with themselves, the way they moved with that smooth and natural grace, even the heavyset ones. She didn't ever want one of them to get mad at her, but she'd love to see somebody call one of them a fat cow.

She realized that all of her life she had looked at blacks but she had never really seen them. These women were good-looking; thin brown girls with cheekbones like Egyptian queens, and those big, magnificient-looking, balloon-breasted women.

Imagine all those people in the past trying to look white; they must be laughing from their graves at all the middleclass white-boy singers trying so hard to sound black, and the white girls in their corn rows and Afros. The tables have turned ...
1179 words

From: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Spot Cafe by Fannie Flagg, Ballantine Books, New York, 2000; pp. 305-308

Annotations:
1. Evelyn Couch: an unfulfilled housewife (suffers from overweight/is teased for it) who seems lost and without direction and who becomes empowered after listening to Mrs. Threadgoode's stories of the characters of Whistle Stop - Idgie (the youngest girl of the Threadgoode family who is known for her irreverent and downright shocking behavior for a young lady in the 1920s and 30's) in particular.
2. Pillsbury Doughboy - "The Pillsbury Doughboy", known as Poppin' Fresh, is an advertising icon and mascot of The Pillsbury Company, appearing in many of their commercials. He is a small anthropoid character apparently made out of dough. Often at the end of Pilsbury commercials, he is poked in the stomach by an off-camera actor, and exclaims Hoo-Hoo!


Assignments:
1. What was the relationship like between Evelyn's parents and blacks before the 1960s?
2. What 'outside agitators' were these people who caused 'all the trouble'?
3. Although the time is 1986, why do you think is Evelyn still scared of encountering black peole? Describe her feelings in the parking lot in front of the Baptist Church as well as in the church.
4. What does it mean when the text says that'she had looked at blacks but she had never seen them'?
5. What made black people immitate whites and vice versa? Read the relevant lines again in the text.
6. Do you think that there is a better mutual understanding between African-Americans today? If yes, what governmental measures have been taken and contributed to such improvement?



amazon.de Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe
by
Fannie Flagg
amazon.de




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