Race Relations in Midfield

From the 1830s until the end of the Civil War in 1865, Negro slaves toiled in the Hawkins Family fields in what would later become the city of Midfield, but it would be over a century before black people would be living here. From before the time of it’s incorporation in 1953 until Marva Douglas moved into the City on Jan. 4, 1978, Midfield was an all-white city. The following article was written by Birmingham News staff writer Sherrell Wheeler Stewart.

Midfield: A Community Found Trust and Thrives

Posted by Birmingham News Staff April 29, 2007 2:00 AM

By Sherrel Wheeler Stewart
News staff writer

In 1990, the city of Midfield had 4,956 white residents and 554 blacks. In 2000, the city surrounded by Birmingham, Fairfield and Bessemer had 3,347 black residents and 2,210 whites.

In a single decade, Midfield made a dramatic demographic shift, going from nearly all white to a city where blacks are about 60 percent of the population. Through the shift, it maintained a middle-class feel, with quiet neighborhoods, grocery stores and, today, a drugstore under construction.

About 77 percent of the homes in Midfield are owner-occupied, with values averaging around $60,000. The 2000 Census, the most recent data available, shows that 82 percent of the adult population completed high school and went on to some level of higher education – a rate higher than the national and state averages.

Gary Richardson, a radio station owner and talk show host, is the first black person elected Mayor of Midfield.  (Bernard Troncale/News staff)

Gary Richardson, a radio station owner and talk show host, is the first black person elected Mayor of Midfield. (Bernard Troncale/News staff)

Mayor Gary Richardson, the first black person elected to lead the city, is proud of the changes. While the city council is all black, blacks and whites share in civic and community leadership. The city has attracted a new CVS drug store and is developing a former car dealership into a civic center. “We just work together to get things done,” he said, while sitting in the studio at WJLD-AM radio station, which he owns. Richardson, an engineer by profession, was elected in 2004.

(The 2010 Census shows Midfield’s white population dropping to 16.4%.  Ed.)

Forbidding to Blacks
In the late 1970s, Midfield wasn’t a welcoming place for blacks, although many were bussed in to attend school.

One morning in March 1978, Marva Douglas looked out the window of her Midfield Highlands home and saw a 6-foot cross smoldering in her front yard. Douglas, a South Central Bell employee widely acknowledged to be the first black to buy in Midfield, was in the home she had dreamed of–and where she still lives today.

Police wanted to help Douglas remove the cross. She insisted that it stay. “I told them, ‘if my neighbors want me to have a cross, I’ll keep it.”‘

Fast forward to 1989, when Jordan Frazier bought a Dodge dealership on the Bessemer Super Highway, becomming one of the most prominent black business owners in Midfield. City leaders came by to welcome him. The dealership drew people from across the region. Last year, Frazier moved his expanding dealership to Bessemer to be closser to an interstate exit.

Having lived in Midfield most of his life, Buck Williams, 65, has witnessed the changes first hand. His father ran the local hardware store, and Williams served as mayor and on the city council, in addition to running the parks department for 30 years.

Williams thinks he’s the only white person left on Violet Street, but doesn’t really know because he never stops to count. People in the community today have grown to trust one another, he said. “Those who had a problem with it, they are all gone.”

Sherrel Wheeler Stewart
News staff writer

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The institutions most effected by the demographic shift were the churches. As young white people moved out of the city (or didn’t move in), first the churches lost their Sunday school and youth departments, then the older congregation dwindled away until there were not enough of them left to support the church.

As of this writting, six Midfield churches have closed their doors to their original white denominations and sold (or gave) the property to newer and more robust black congregations. St. Theresa’s Catholic Church is now the Zion Treavelers Primitave Baptist Church. Midfield Church of Christ is now the Free Will Church of God in Christ. Midfield Methodist Church is now the Word of Life Faith Church. Midfield Baptist Church is now the New Beginning Family Baptist Church, Fairfield Highlands Methodist Church is now the Upper Room Fellowship Church, and Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church is now the True Love International Church of God.

Before retiring from the parks and recreation department after 30 years of service, during which time the patrons went from all-white to mostly black, someone asked Buck Williams what the difference was. His answer was, “The language is a lot worse, but fights and vandalism are down. Most basically though, Kids are Kids”.

IntroductionBibliographyHistory Index
Early History of Jones ValleyEarly History of the Midfield AreaThe Development of the Community of Midfield
How A Community Became a CityMcDonalds and WilkesRutledge Heights & Fairfield Highlands
Midfield City GovernmentMayors and City CouncilsAdministrative Department (Mayor & City Clerk’s Office)
Public Safety DepartmentPublic Works – Part OnePublic Works – Part Two
Midfield LibraryMidfield City SchoolsMidfield Churches
Early Midfield BusinessesMidfield Chamber of CommerceRace Relations in Midfield