BPL archivist Jim Baggett and author Michelle Norris were interviewed by NPR’s Neal Conan about Norris’ new book, The Grace of Silence.
The Grace of Silence is about the wall of silence people erect between the races and their own families to protect their loved ones and themselves from the painful effects of racism.
Norris was raised in Minneapolis but stayed with her grandparents in Ensley during the summer. While she has warm memories of her vacations in Birmingham, she also remembers the important lectures her parents delivered on how to act in the south so as not to draw the attention of whites. She was told to dress and behave appropriately, and to not look a white person in the eye.
Her father, Belvin Norris, was a returning military veteran who was shot in the leg in an altercation with a Birmingham police officer in 1946. Though his physical wound healed in time, his emotional wound did not, and he never told his wife or his children about this incident. He chose to move north and leave the incident behind in the south. Only later when Norris learned from relatives about the shooting did she realize just how big the wall of silence could be.
Norris’ desire to understand the hows and whys of that wall led her to the Archives & Manuscripts Department at the Birmingham Public Library. She was privy to few details about her father’s shooting: she knew the month and year. Jim Baggett and staff were able to place valuable documents in Norris’ hands, documents she never thought she would ever see such as the police docket of the incident and the court record of the fine her father had to pay.
Visit NPR’s Web site to hear the interview in its entirety. It’s a fascinating look at what sparked the idea for The Grace of Silence and the research behind it.