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Book Reviews There’s Hope for the World: The Memoir of Birmingham, Alabama’s First African American Mayor. By Richard Arrington. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008. vi, 263 pp. $29.95. ISBN 978-0-8173-1623-5. When Richard Arrington Jr. became mayor of Birmingham in 1979, the city was torn by racial strife and reeling from the collapse of its industrial economy. Arrington, who was the city’s first African American mayor, believed his administration was “part of our city’s search for its magic—to restore its prominence as a progressive city” (p. 4). During his twentyyear mayoral career, Birmingham developed a vibrant professionalservice economy, an inclusive municipal government, and nationally recognized programs promoting biracial communication. Rather than show us how he did this, Arrington uses his memoirs to defend himself against his critics, showing us how race continues to shape Birmingham’s perpetual promise of progress. Arrington quickly passes over the first forty years of his life, relying on Jimmie Lewis Franklin’s Back to Birmingham (Tuscaloosa, 1989) for interpretation. This decision provides us with little understanding of Arrington, his political ideology, and how he became a leader of Birmingham ’s black community. He explains his entrance into politics as something he was “drafted” into, first in 1962 by Miles College President Lucius Pitts and later in 1971 by a group of black men who asked him to run for City Council (pp. 36, 45). Arrington often reveals his sense of guilt for not being on the front lines of the civil rights movement, but he earned his “civil rights badge” from the black community by investigating police brutality as a councilman (p. 130). After the tragic shooting of Bonita Carter by police in the summer of 1979, a group of ministers asked him to run for mayor. Arrington’s account of how he became an accidental mayor does not explain the extraordinary success of the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition (JCCC), a political organization he cofounded in the 1970s and early 1980s. The JCCC built on the strength of black civic leagues throughout Birmingham’s neighborhoods, but Arrington wanted to attract young, bright men to lead the organization and local politics. The older generation fought back, claiming they “were entitled to some of the harvest” of the civil rights movement (p. 203). The JCCC challenged the two established black political organizations, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and the Jefferson County Progressive J U L Y 2 0 1 0 225 Democratic Council, the latter of which worked with the white business elite toward racial reconciliation. Arrington asserts that the inability of these organizations to work together was due to the manipulative interference of white leaders who “feared” a united black political front (p. 199). Birmingham’s black community, however, was never united. Internal dissension among its leaders, coupled with class and gender divisions , splintered the community, but it maintained the overall goal of electing black public officials. After Arrington became mayor, the JCCC advanced the first all-black slate for municipal elections in 1981. It suffered a heavy defeat, followed by a drop in white community support and a full-blown federal investigation of Arrington. Arrington’s promotion of minority contracts gained the attention of the Department of Justice and spawned a twenty-year corruption investigation . The four chapters on these probes provide scholars with rich primary material on how discriminatory federal policies spanning from the black power movement to the conservative counterrevolution had deleterious consequences on local government and biracial communication . In these chapters, as well as the three on police reform, however, Arrington does not reflect on this issues, nor does he make broader claims about the federal constraints of black political power. His memoirs read like a series of court motions and local gossip, but they do reveal the communication barriers within municipal government and the relationships between the public and private sectors. Indeed, his discussion of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, while peppered with interesting anecdotes, is less about racial healing and more about the corruption charges that led him to walk in shackles from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to the U.S. Federal Courthouse with supporters...


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pp. 224-225
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