Thursday, April 19, 2018

Vocabby’s World is Introduced at Several Neighborhood Libraries

by Selina Johnson, Wylam Branch Library

Vocabby's World participants learning about insects
Those of us who have been around children or have children of our own can more than likely concur that from birth to around age six, children are like sponges that soak in information from their surroundings. Therefore, these ages are a crucial time for exposing children to vocabulary and language development. Nourishing children’s language and literacy experiences early in life will assist in preventing later difficulties with reading and writing. To this end, a program that will help support the vocabulary building of preschoolers and younger is being introduced at three of Birmingham Public Library (BPL) branches.

UAB's Alys Stephens Center and McWane Science Center have partnered to create Vocabby’s World, an educational vocabulary program. The McWane Center has invited BPL to offer this program at the Ensley, Powderly and Wylam Library branches. The ultimate goal is to develop vocabulary, reading-readiness, and problem-solving skills through fun and exciting science and art activities. The program is free and open to children up to the age of five and their families.

At the aforementioned library branches, you will see Vocabby’s World integrated into storytime. Thus far, the children have been introduced to vocabulary, stories, and hands-on activities related to weather and insects. Advanced words such as nimbus, transparent, and opaque have been shared with the children. The words in addition to the engaging activities have been a great way to build a solid base of knowledge around the targeted concepts. While learning about insects one group was simulating bees pollinating flowers, a second group had a blast throwing cotton balls into a “spider web” made of masking tape to see if it would catch them (just like a real one would catch insects), and a third was putting together a jigsaw puzzle of the body parts of an insect.

Five Points West Library storyteller Fontaine Alison teaches children weather words

Vocabby’s World is providing resources and support for early childhood learning in several communities. Their initiatives will go a long way in helping children to reach their highest potential. Come and see Vocabby’s World in action during storytime at the Ensley, Powderly and Wylam Library Branches.

What Compelled Me to Write Murder on Shades Mountain

by Melanie S. Morrison

Author Melanie S. Morrison
On August 4, 1931, two sisters and a friend, all from prominent white Birmingham families, went for a ride on Shades Mountain. What began as a pleasant ride on a summer’s afternoon ended in the tragic deaths of Augusta Williams, 22, and Jennie Wood, 26. The sole survivor, Nell Williams, 18, later testified that a black man wielding a gun had jumped on the sideboard of the car and demanded they drive to a secluded wooded area. In the struggle that ensued, Augusta Williams was mortally wounded and Jennie Wood died later in a Birmingham hospital.

Later that night, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and the Birmingham police deputized 250 white men for what became the largest manhunt in Jefferson County. Dozens of black men were arrested and detained as far away as Chicago. Weeks later, Nell Williams identified Willie Peterson as the assailant. With the exception of being black, Peterson bore little resemblance to the description Nell had given the police. Peterson was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair.

I first heard this Shades Mountain story from my father who was a teenager living in the prosperous suburb of Mountain Brook when the murders occurred. These events proved to be a momentous turning point in my father’s young life, awakening him to the gross injustice that black people suffered in Jim Crow Birmingham. For many years, I retold the Shades Mountain story just as it was handed down to me. It was one way of accounting for the legacy of antiracist activism I inherited from my father. I have always known that my work as an antiracist educator was seeded by the stories my father told and the life he modeled for me. He became a pastor, but the work of dismantling racism was his deepest calling.

Two years after my father’s death in 2006, I read An Enduring Ministry, a biography of my father’s pastor and mentor, Henry Morris Edmonds, written by Marvin Whiting, former head archivist at the Birmingham Public Library. When I came upon six pages of single-spaced narrative in a footnote, all of it pertaining to the Willie Peterson case, I felt a rush of adrenaline akin to what archaeologists must feel when they unearth the precious remnants of an ancient city. Here in print were details of the incident that rocked Birmingham and proved to be so formative in my father’s young life. Whiting stated that he initially intended to include a detailed account of “this largely ignored event in Birmingham history” in the main text, but space and balance had prevented it.

Curious as to why a case of this magnitude had been largely ignored, I launched an online search for other books and articles about the Willie Peterson case. I was surprised at how little I found, in contrast to the preponderance of literature about the Scottsboro trials. More significant still, these sources revealed aspects of the Shades Mountain story that my father had not told us. He never mentioned that white vigilantes bombed black-owned businesses and fired shots at a group of black people who stood peacefully talking on a Birmingham street corner. My father did not tell us that the national NAACP and the Communist Party launched campaigns in defense of Willie Peterson. Nor did he mention that Willie Peterson’s neighbors stepped forward to testify on his behalf despite threats that their homes would be burned to the ground.

I doubt that my father forgot those parts of the story or chose to keep them from us. I suspect he never knew those things as a teenager living in his insular white enclave of Mountain Brook. Discovering these gaping holes in my father’s story, I became intensely curious about what else I might unearth were I to undertake a serious and sustained study of this case. In November 2010, I made my first field trip to Birmingham, compelled to learn more about the Williams/Wood murders and the organizations that sought to free Willie Peterson. I was driven as much by what my father did not tell me as by what he did.

During that first visit to Birmingham, spending time in the Birmingham Public Library Archives and seeking out people who might know about the murders, two things dawned on me with great force. First, I felt even more compelled to research and write about this extraordinary case. Second, I wished that I had begun this journey twenty years earlier. Almost eighty years had passed since the attack on Shades Mountain, and it was no longer possible to find and interview people who were old enough in 1931 to remember that event or its significance.

On numerous trips to Birmingham and other cities that housed archival materials, I sought to recover every newspaper article, editorial, letter, trial transcript, city directory, sermon, photograph, census record, map, and manuscript collection of the organizations related to this case. From the start, I resolved to write a historical narrative that would be true to primary sources and accessible to a wide range of readers. I vowed to resist the temptation to cross the line into fiction when writing about the thoughts and feelings of people in this book. Every quote in my book, unless otherwise indicated, can be traced back to a historical document such as a trial transcript or newspaper article.

Eight years ago, I set out on a journey to learn everything I could about the murders on Shades Mountain, the fate of Willie Peterson, and the struggle for racial justice in Jim Crow Birmingham. The more sources I discovered, the more convinced I became that this story has much to teach us about the social forces at play in Depression-era Birmingham and the courageous predecessors of present-day movements that demand an end to racial profiling, police brutality, and the criminalization of black men.

Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham was published in March 2018 by Duke University Press.

Melanie S. Morrison is founder and executive director of Allies for Change. She has a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and a PhD from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. She is the author of The Grace of Coming Home: Spirituality, Sexuality, and the Struggle for Justice and her writing has appeared in numerous periodicals.

Melanie Morrison will be at the Avondale Regional Branch Library on Tuesday, April 24, 6:00 p.m., for a talk and book signing for Murder on Shades Mountain. The event is free and open to the public, and copies of the book will be available for purchase at the event for $26.95. For questions contact Jim Baggett at or 205-226-3631.

Progressive Taste and Trivia

Make your way through Lakeview for helpful hints to our Progressive Taste and Trivia event. Taking place on April 26 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. with Brown's Bar, Lou's Pub, and Slice as just a few of the many participating establishments!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Recent Winners of the I Am BPL and Innovative and Cool Awards

Norman Griffin, BPL board member Dora Sims (accepting for Mevlia Walton), and Kary'n Davis-

I Am BPL Award
Congratulations to Central Library staff Norman Griffin, Kary'n Davis-West, and Melvia Walton (not pictured) for receiving I Am BPL Awards. Griffin and Davis-West were honored for being first responders to Mayor Randall Woodfin's call for volunteers to man the temporary shelters for the homeless at the BJCC and Boutwell Auditorium during extremely cold temperatures last winter. Melvia Walton received an I Am BPL Award for her work in bringing the UniverSoul Circus to the Central Library.

I Am BPL Award is a quarterly stipend awarded to Birmingham Public Library employees who promote the mission of BPL through their work and commitment.

Patricia Douglas, Christian Zink, coordinator Janine Langston (accepting for June Lancanski), 
and Dora Sims

Innovative and Cool Award
East Lake Branch Library employees Patricia Douglas and Christina Zink were nominated by their branch manager, William Darby, for their proposal to form a fiber arts crafting group to elementary- and middle school-aged children. The group will meet bi-weekly with the goal of teaching participants to crochet and weave. The prize money will be used to buy supplies for the projects.

Children's librarian June Lacanski (not pictured) from the North Birmingham Regional Branch Library also won an Innovative and Cool Award for her Game-a-palooza idea. This idea entails supplying the library with games that can be signed out by patrons of all ages to play inside the library. Within a span of six months, the games were signed out 360 times. The prize money will be used to buy more educational games for loan.

The BPL Board’s Innovative Cool Award program was established to encourage staffers to develop engaging new programs to generate enthusiasm and value for their library patrons.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Birmingham Bound: Author Talk and Book Signing with Melanie S. Morrison on April 24 at Avondale Library

What: Author talk and book signing for Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham by Melanie S. Morrison
When: Tuesday, April 24, 6:00 p.m.
Where: Avondale Regional Branch Library
Cost: Free and open to the public. Copies of the book will available for purchase at the event for $26.95.
Contact: Jim Baggett at or 205-226-3631

On Tuesday, April 24, Birmingham's Melanie S. Morrison will hold a lecture about her book, Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birminghamat the Avondale Regional Branch Library. Her talk is a part of Birmingham Bound, a series of author talks and book signings by writers who researched their books using the Birmingham Public Library Archives and Manuscripts Department.

In Murder on Shades Mountain, Morrison tells the gripping and tragic true story of an alleged interracial attack and its aftermath—events that shook 1930s Birmingham to its core. A black man, Willie Peterson, was falsely accused of a crime and sentenced to death by an all-white jury.

One August night in 1931, on a secluded mountain ridge overlooking Birmingham, Alabama, three young white women were brutally attacked. The sole survivor, Nell Williams, age 18, claimed a black man had held the women captive for four hours before shooting them and disappearing into the woods. That same night a reign of terror was unleashed on Birmingham's black community—black businesses were set ablaze, posses of armed white men roamed the streets, and dozens of black men were arrested in the largest manhunt in Jefferson County history.

Weeks later, Nell identified Willie Peterson as the attacker who killed her sister Augusta and their friend Jennie Wood. With the exception of being black, Peterson bore little resemblance to the description Nell gave the police. An all-white jury convicted Peterson of murder and sentenced him to death.

Morrison’s book tells the tragic story of the attack and its aftermath. She first heard of the story from her father, who dated Nell's youngest sister when he was a teenager. Morrison scoured the historical archives of the Birmingham Public Library and documented the black-led campaigns that sought to overturn Peterson's unjust conviction, spearheaded by the NAACP and the Communist Party. The travesty of justice suffered by Peterson reveals how the judicial system could function as a lynch mob in the Jim Crow South.

Murder on Shades Mountain also sheds new light on the struggle for justice in Depression-era Birmingham. This riveting narrative is a testament to the courageous predecessors of present-day movements that demand an end to racial profiling, police brutality, and the criminalization of black men.

Melanie S. Morrison
Melanie S. Morrison is founder and executive director of Allies for Change, a social justice educator, author, and activist for three decades. In 1994 Morrison founded Doing Our Own Work, an anti-racism intensive for white people that has attracted hundreds of participants across the country. She has a master of divinity from Yale Divinity School and a PhD from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Morrison pastored congregations in Michigan and the Netherlands. As adjunct faculty, she has taught anti-racism seminars at Chicago Theological Seminary and the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She lives in Okemos, Michigan.

Related link:
Duke Press webpage for Murder on Shades Mountain

The Birmingham Bound author series recognizes authors who researched their books utilizing the resources available at the Birmingham Public Library. Historians, journalists, and other writers from around the world have produced hundreds of books using the Library’s collections and these books include five recipients of the Pulitzer Prize.

May 1 Lecture at Central Library to Focus on Desegregation of Birmingham Public Library

Wayne Wiegand
What: Author talk with Wayne S. Wiegand about his book The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism
When: Tuesday, May 1, 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Where: Central Library, East Grand Reading Room
Cost: Free and open to the public
Contact: Melvia Walton at or 205-226-3728

At 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 1, the Central Library will host a book lecture in which renowned national library historian Wayne A. Wiegand will share the fascinating story of young black heroes whose brave stands led to the integration of public libraries in Jim Crow southern cities such as Birmingham.

Wiegand (pronounced wee-ghund), will sign copies of his new book, The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South: Civil Rights and Local Activism, answer questions, and participate in a panel discussion featuring some of the protesters whose actions led to the desegregation of the Birmingham Public Library in 1963.

Wiegand’s book lecture is sponsored by the Alabama Humanities Foundation and Patrick Long in memory of Patricia Long, librarian and educator. The event will take place in the Central Library, East Grand Reading Room.

Fifty-five years ago on April 10, 1963, Miles College students, (including retired radio broadcaster Shelly Millender, now 83, and former U.S. federal judge U.W. Clemon), staged a sit-in at the Birmingham Public Library. The library leadership agreed to end segregation in the institution, making it one of the few public facilities in Birmingham that was peacefully desegregated.

Wiegand has a chapter sharing details of the Birmingham sit-in in his book. He calls black activists who desegregated public libraries "Hidden Figures" and celebrates their contributions in his book. The Birmingham desegregation effort began in the summer of 1962 when a black woman named Lola Hendricks entered the Birmingham Public Library to check out a book. White librarians refused to service her and suggested she go to the black library branch in Smithfield.

Within a month she and others filed suit in federal court to desegregate Birmingham Public Libraries and all public buildings. A year later, violence erupted in 1963 when bombs planted by the Ku Klux Klan gained Birmingham the nickname “Bombingham.”

In the midst of the chaos, Birmingham SCLC President Wyatt Walker recruited a group of Miles College students, including Clemon and Millender, to try to integrate the downtown public library.

“Records indicate Shelly Millender was kind of the spokesperson for the group of blacks who entered the library on April 10, 1963,” Wiegand said. “That’s when the local photographer took pictures of the group after they entered the library and were sitting quietly at desks. The librarian must have called the police. The police came, but didn’t bother to arrest them.”

The librarian got a little unnerved and called a special board meeting the next day on April 11, 1963, Wiegand said. Due to concerns about the bad publicity police commissioner Bull Connor was giving Birmingham with his violent response to black civil rights protesters, the Birmingham Public library Board decided to quietly integrate city libraries during the summer of 1963.

On April 10, 1963, Miles College students, including Shelly Millender (pictured), staged a sit-
in at 
the Birmingham Public Library. The library leadership agreed to end segregation in the
institution, making it one of 
the few public facilities in Birmingham that was peacefully de-
Courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History

“The fact the library became integrated peacefully in the middle of that violent summer is kind of lost on people,” Wiegand said. “It was the sole site of racial conciliation in the middle of a town that was hosing African Americans and turning dogs on them. The media, of course, looking constantly for photos and images that attracted attention, paid no attention to the integration of the Birmingham Public Library. So it kind of got lost in history.”

Wayne Wiegand, a retired professor considered the “Dean of American Library Historians,” is also author of Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library. In 2017 in preparation for the current book tour, Wiegand wrote a guest column in the American Library Journal about what he calls the forgotten black heroes who risked their lives to desegregate public libraries.

His book highlights those who faced violent confrontations and arrests while seeking to desegregate public libraries in the South that had Jim Crow laws that legally created whites-only public venues. One chapter details the Tougaloo Nine, a group of black students from Tougaloo College arrested March 27, 1961, while trying to integrate the nearby Jackson, Mississippi, public library.

Wiegand hopes The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South gives the brave heroes who integrated an important American institution—public libraries—the recognition they deserve.

“What I hope is this can inform a number of people to recognize that public libraries had a role in the civil rights movement and there are certain systemic racist practices that are built into library practice in part because they have not come to grips with their past on the issue of race,” Wiegand said. “We hope this stimulates a discussion in the library profession about what they have done on the issue of race and reflect on that.”

Related links:
Full Wiegand interview by BPL PR Director Roy Williams

Judge U.W. Clemon Looks Back: Desegregating Birmingham Public Library, interview by BPL Archivist Jim Baggett

LSU Press webpage for The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Lakeview Progressive Taste and Trivia

Fun Fact: Tito's Handmade Vodka partners with more than 6,000 nonprofits, including the Friends Foundation of the Birmingham Public Library. Check out their swag and drink specials at the 4/26 Lakeview Progressive Taste and Trivia event! Visit to purchase tickets and see the list of participating Lakeview establishments.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

2018 NBA Playoffs

NBA Playoffs

The NBA Playoffs tip off this weekend.  For the past three years, the NBA Playoffs simply served as a preamble to an NBA Finals matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.  For each of those seasons, Golden State led the Western Conference in wins, landing a #1 seed in the conference playoffs.  This year, the Golden State Warriors finished the season in second place behind the Houston Rockets. The Cleveland Cavaliers were the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference in two of those seasons but battled their way to the NBA Finals.  This year, they are a #4 seed, ending the season behind Toronto (#1), Boston (#2) and Philadelphia (#3).  They finished the season only two wins behind Philadelphia.  In terms of seeding, the path for the Cleveland Cavaliers to make it to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appears more difficult.  

The Cavaliers have made a series of trades this season to make them more competitive in the postseason. They traded six players including Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose in return for four new players, notably George Hill and Rodney Hood.  Whether this Cavaliers roster has what it takes to win several rounds in the NBA Playoffs remains to be seen.  For their part, the reigning NBA Champion Golden State Warriors have not made any major changes to their lineup.  However, Steph Curry, two-time NBA MVP and a top scorer on the team, is suffering from a sprained MCL and has not yet returned from his injury.  Without his scoring, another NBA Finals appearance is less certain especially against the high scoring-offense of the Houston Rockets, behind stars James Harden and Chris Paul.

I think most basketball fans wanted to see the rubber match last year between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. With one NBA Finals win for each team, fans wanted to see which team could win the best two out of three. LeBron James taunted Golden State quite a bit after Cleveland’s comeback victory in 2016 and Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors in hopes of winning a title.  His quest for that title resulted in an NBA Finals MVP trophy.  These two teams may not be on a collision course this season, but the NBA Playoffs will feature exciting matchups and some great basketball.  Sixteen teams will take the floor over the next few weeks, but only one can become the 2018 NBA Champion.  Enjoy the games.

Lakeview Progressive Taste and Trivia

Play trivia. Get free stuff. Join us for Lakeview Progressive Taste and Trivia on April 26. Visit for more info!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Celebrate Money Smart Week at the Birmingham Public Library by Learning More About Personal Finance

What: Leaving Room for Margin in Your Finances
When: Thursday April 26, 2018
Time: 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Where: Central Library, Linn-Henley Research Library, Regional Library Computer Center, 4th floor

Money and finances are of constant concern to most of us. In fact, money, or lack thereof, is always at, or near, the top of the list in the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America survey. Although it is pretty much impossible to eliminate all the stress caused by financial concerns, it is certainly possible to manage the stress better. A good place to start with managing your stress is to develop a better understanding of the concept of margin in your personal finances. Simply put, margin is the gap between your income and your expenses, and, generally speaking, the larger the gap is, the more options you have in your financial life. The trick, however, is learning how to create, and maintain, a margin that is suitable for your lifestyle.

To learn more about increasing your personal financial options, please join us on April 26, 2018, at 2:00 p.m. at the Central Library for a special Money Smart Week presentation, Leaving Room for Margin in Your Finances. The presentation will be facilitated by Bobby Lake, a certified financial advisor and leadership coach with Stewardship Investment Planning.

Money Smart Week is an annual nationwide campaign aimed at increasing financial literacy and promoting better decision making on issues related to personal money management. This year, Money Smart Week will be held from April 21 to April 28.

For more information about this presentation, as well as other resources related to personal finance available at BPL, please contact Jim Murray of the Central Library’s Business, Science and Technology Department by email at or by calling 205-226-3690.

Lakeview Progressive Taste and Trivia

The Lakeview Progressive Taste and Trivia event on April 26 begins at Tin Roof at 6:00 p.m. Show off your knowledge, impress your friends, get free food and drinks, and try to win the $250 Lakeview Prize Pack. To purchase tickets and read more about it, visit

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