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Birmingham Reminds Us That Black History is More Than A Month

I was on a Southwest flight recently and saw an ad in the Spirit in-flight magazine that made me reconsider and rethink Birmingham, Alabama. The copy was as arresting as the visual of a Civil Rights protester getting arrested.

50YF_SouthwestAd_CrystalBlogPost

Ad Body Copy //

An afternoon at a lunch counter. A thousand arms linked at the elbow. A line of fire hoses. A pack of German Shepherds. A letter from a Birmingham jail. A children's crusade. A devastating explosion. A world that would never be the same. The year was 1963, and as the whole world watched, events in Birmingham sparked the beginning of the end of a centuries-long struggle for freedom. In the year leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the city's most courageous citizens fought for a world where we could all live as equals. And now, we celebrate their courage, their strength, their defiance - and their hard-won victory over oppression. Join us as we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Birmingham Civil Rights Campaign and experience some of the most prominent landmarks and monuments of the era, such as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Kelly Ingram Park and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Walk in the footsteps of the citizens who changed the world forever. For more information on upcoming events planned for the Birmingham commemoration, visit 50yearsforward.com.

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The first time I read this I got upset. I began to wonder if that was Bull Connor in the photo and recoiled, frowning at the page. I saw images of fire hoses, dogs and bombed churches from Eyes on the Prize flicker across my mind's eye. I got all worked up in the window seat, thinking about "Bombingham" and the fear it inspired.

Then I read the ad again. And started to think about Birmingham differently.

The historic facts in the copy are true. But the copy also acknowledges a truth that wouldn't have come from the Birmingham of old - that the protestors were courageous citizens who helped change the world. It has been 50 years since those events. I've never been to Birmingham because I always saw it in black and white grainy photos and film footage of violence. That ad made me think. I stared at it for ten minutes, realizing that my perception of Birmingham, while rooted in its history, is dated.

A city defined by the Civil Rights Movement is embracing that history, turning it into a positive association. This fascinated me as a strategist, it intrigued me as a traveler and it made me pause and reflect as a black woman. Black History Month is over, but Birmingham has issued an invitation to come celebrate the history of the Civil Rights Movement all year long. I checked out the 50 Years Forward website, read USA Today and blog posts and now Birmingham is officially on my "to do" list this year. Effective advertising shapes attitudes and drives behavior. Clearly, this ad worked on me.