This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.

More on those goofs later. For now, we continue our episodic march to the sea in the great state of Kentucky.

Birmingham, Alabama

Alabama is a state indelibly linked in 20th century history with its four-time governor George Wallace. Wallace was a political opportunist who ran for governor with the backing of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and was defeated by a member of the KKK (National Association for the Destruction of Colored People).

From his defeat, Wallace learned the age-old political lesson: "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" and he became a rabid anti-segregationist with speeches written by a KKK member.

Wallace famously spoke out against the oppressive federal government trying to integrate black people into schools by saying: "In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

That quote is telling about the predicament of the South during the Civil Rights movement. Middle class whites were clinging desperately to the power structure they had enjoyed for hundreds of years. They viewed the interference of politicians far away in the North and the protests by black demonstrators on their doorstep as an attack on their very way of life. Which it was, because their way of life was evil, but they didn't let that consideration weigh too heavily on them in Alabama.

Birmingham is an example of Alabama done about as right as it gets. It encompasses a metro area of over a million, with an economy that is oddly booming for the Deep South. Diversified manufacturing and technology interests have kept it from becoming mired in the stagnant doldrums of much of the rest of the South. Although Birmingham has suffered incidents since desegregation such as the burning and bombing of black churches, the wounds have begun to heal in the city.

These days, high employment rates and good wages in Birmingham have made it one of the best cities to live in America. It is rich in history and a center of higher education.

If you're just visiting Birmingham, well, who gives a shit about some old musty colleges and a good job? You want one thing: barbecue. Good BBQ has become a science - or maybe an art - in Birmingham and the city has more BBQ restaurants per-capita than any other city in the United States. That is a real statistic that I just made up, but go to Birmingham and try to claim that I'm lying.


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