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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Glennon Threatt, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0023. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Endurance of white power structure in Birmingham

Here, Threatt argues that residential integration has outpaced integration in other aspects of life in Birmingham, such as the "good old boy network" that populates positions of political power. Members of this network write the rules for success in Alabama, and began to change those rules as soon as the government changed the rules regarding segregation. They made it more difficult for African Americans to become lawyers or even vote, and they use their control of city services to isolate the black and white communities from one another.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Glennon Threatt, June 16, 2005. Interview U-0023. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KIMBERLY HILL:
So what effect does this have on people besides just the practical things of not having reliable services in their homes, does it have some kind of psychological effect?
GLENNON THREATT:
What it did is it caused a lot of people to move. It was why I left, because I thought that I didn't have a future here. When I left to go to college, I told my mother I am never coming back here. I'm never coming back, this is a racist place, I don't think I have any opportunities here, I'm not going to be able to succeed in the good old boy network because I will never be a good old boy because I'm black. . .and I'm never coming back here. Many of my mother's friends, many of my parent's friends left. They left and they went to Chicago, they went to Cleveland and they went to Detroit. My mother's best friend and my God parents, moved to Detroit because they had Master's degrees and they were making less than white teachers that did not have Master's. When my mother went to teach at West End High School, she had a Master's degree and she was working as a subordinate to a white coach that did not even have a college degree, and making less money. We have judges in the state of Alabama that are not even lawyers. In some rural communities, you can be a probate judge without even being a lawyer in the state of Alabama. I still practice now in a lot of rural communities and when you go out to these rural communities you find that a lot of things haven't changed. They're still basically segregated, it's not Jim Crow du jour segregation but it's still segregated in fact.
KIMBERLY HILL:
So on the books the color of your skin matters more than education, or they just don't even factor education in to the job requirements?
GLENNON THREATT:
What happens is that black people here used education as a means of escaping. They just didn't see equivalent opportunities here. I'll give you a perfect example, many of the black lawyers that I know that went to law school prior to 1970-they didn't want to integrate the University of Alabama Law School, so they would pay for you to go to law school out of state. They'd pay your tuition, they'd pay your room and board, they'd pay for your housing and they'd pay for your books. The only other option was to have a black law school. If you wanted to go to medical school and you applied to the University of Alabama, they would pay for you to go to Meharry or some other black medical school rather than to have to set up a black state medical school. Up until the time that the University of Alabama Law School was integrated, if you graduated from the University of Alabama you didn't have to take the bar, you were automatically admitted. When it integrated that changed. That's a tremendous thing, because a lot of folks never pass the bar.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Hmmm. These are things I have never heard about before, changing standards as soon as integration happened.
GLENNON THREATT:
Oh, sure. Well, they moved the fence. It was exactly the same thing with the voting rights act cases, where you would come in and you would have to take a citizenship test in order to vote. They didn't make white folks do that. They had black folks coming in there, many of whom were relatively uneducated and many instances some of them were illiterate and they would ask detailed questions about the constitution that even a law professor can't answer. Then they would use that as a means of exclusion when they didn't know enough about the constitution. When that didn't work, they just put guys up there with baseball bats. . .which usually worked. It's one thing that makes me so angry now, about black people that don't vote. If they realized what we went through to get to vote, they would realize that it's an insult to all the people that got beat down, shot, lynched and they just can't get up off their asses to go vote. There is no excuse for it. There is absolutely no excuse for it, and I just don't understand it. We have elections here and a high turn out might be thirty-eight percent.
KIMBERLY HILL:
The national turnout is like just shy of fifty percent.
GLENNON THREATT:
Yeah but in Alabama the black people should be one hundred percent. Many of the people who are old enough to vote are old enough to remember what happened.
KIMBERLY HILL:
That's true.
GLENNON THREATT:
And if you remember what it was like here before 1965 there is no excuse for you not voting.
KIMBERLY HILL:
Maybe they still have that sense that their votes won't change the government that has been so unresponsive before.
GLENNON THREATT:
Well, apathy has settled in and I go back to Dr. Wilson's theories. Even though I don't agree with a lot of things that he says, I thought this was just so much on point. He talked about what happened during segregation, he said you had a much more cohesive black community where you had black professionals and black people of wealth living in the same communities as black people who didn't have wealth or education. So they had role models in their community. Now what has happened to a large degree is that- my wife and I for instance live in Vestavia. We're the only black couple on our block. I'm not the only lawyer and my wife is not the only architect on our block. So, it's much more class related than it was racially related. Now, not only are you left with a predominantly black inner city, but it's also predominantly poor. So poor people, not always, but they tend to be less educated. If you are less educated and poor, there is a higher likelihood that your children will be less educated and poor. And then the ones who get educated and are not poor leave, because they can.
KIMBERLY HILL:
They assume the opportunities are somewhere else.
GLENNON THREATT:
Well they are, they want the American dream and they don't want to be trapped in an inner city where the crime is going up and the social services are deteriorating. We got black mayors in a lot of black cities because the white folks left, not because we out voted them, they left. So there is a lot of political animosity between the city of Birmingham and the surrounding communities and it's destroying our communities. One of the reasons that we can't progress is that we don't have any regional cooperation for things like transportation. Whenever we try to get regional transportation it is perceived as being an opportunity for blacks to get to the suburbs and they vote against it. We had a voter sponsored initiative here in the spring of 1998 right after my wife and I moved here, called MAPS-metropolitan area progress or something like that, I forget what the acronym was. . .the money was to be used for regional transportation and having entertainment being in downtown. People voted it down. The people in the city, which was seventy percent black overwhelmingly supported it. The people in the suburbs were opposed to it.