Why this Alabama community is excited about its future

Why this Alabama community is excited about its future
Leaders in Birmingham's Smithfield community say their strategy for growth benefits everyone in the region. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

When you visit Birmingham’s Smithfield community, you quickly discover why folks are happy.

“Smithfield is a community that thrives off the people,” said Thomasine Jackson, president of the East Thomas Neighborhood Association. “The people are the power of the community.”

Welcome to Smithfield from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Some of America’s greatest people call or once called Smithfield home, including entrepreneur A.G. Gaston, political activist Angela Davis, NBA player Eric Bledsoe, Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Buck Buchanan, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Oscar Adams Jr., trailblazing NASA scientist and educator Clyde Foster, and civil rights pioneer Arthur Shores.

“We’ve got the history,” said Adrienne Reynolds, president of the Smithfield Community and the Enon Ridge Neighborhood Association. “That’s in the books. But we have so much more that we can build on. We have so much potential for growth, and we are setting in motion plans to grow.”

Bethel House is one of several important landmarks in Smithfield. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Smithfield is one of 23 communities that make up the city of Birmingham. It sits minutes west of downtown Birmingham near Interstates 65 and 59/20, encompassing several of the city’s more famous landmarks, including Legion Field and Bethel House, as well as infamous ones such as Dynamite Hill, an area where multiple bombings and bombing attempts occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. The bombings were an attempt to intimidate Black leaders who were fighting to dismantle segregation in the city.

“I grew up in Smithfield,” said Ivan Holloway, executive director of Urban Impact, a nonprofit community development organization. “Its prominence for me is really around African-American culture and the place where a lot of important people and issues are carved out and etched in stone. It’s the bedrock of who we are as African-Americans here in Birmingham.”

Legion Field is one of several key landmarks in Smithfield, which sits just minutes west of downtown Birmingham. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Smithfield was established in the 1890s, less than 30 years after the city’s founding 150 years ago in 1871. The residential area was carved from the Joseph Riley Smith plantation, a 600-acre antebellum farm on the flat land and hills north of Village Creek. Many homes in the district were designed by notable Black architect Wallace A. Rayfield, who also designed hundreds of businesses and churches throughout the country, including the historic 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

“It is a place where Birmingham, from an African-American perspective, was really forged as the place to be,” Holloway said. “It is one of the first African-American neighborhoods in the city of Birmingham that was a middle-class neighborhood. Smithfield set a lot of invaluable starts for the city of Birmingham for African-Americans.”

Smithfield’s cornerstone is Parker High School, Birmingham’s first high school for Blacks. Founded in 1900 by pastor and banker William R. Pettiford inside the 16th Street Baptist Church, the school quickly grew to become one of the largest Black high schools in the country, thanks in no small part to the visionary leadership of Arthur H. Parker, the school’s first principal.

“Parker High School is the piece of fabric that remains of yesterday and the future,” Holloway said. “As the neighborhood continues to change, Parker remains that institution of learning for the neighborhood, but more importantly, because of its history and because of its wonderful past, it has a place to drive a new vision and a new opportunity for the community.”

Parker High School was established in 1900. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Parker principal Darrell Hudson credits the school’s success to the community.

“They give us everything we need in order to be successful,” Hudson said. “I’ve worked in several different high schools, but when I arrived here with their support and how they embraced me, they really love this high school. It’s a principal’s dream.”

Hudson, who is only the 10th principal in the school’s 121-year history, says the time people in Smithfield devote to his faculty and students make the community a great place to work and live.

“It’s a hidden jewel,” Hudson said. “It is a great place that you can come and live and really thrive. This is a hidden secret in the city.”

If Smithfield is a secret, it won’t be after next summer when The World Games 2022 is held in Birmingham. Smithfield’s Legion Field – where hundreds of historic football games have been played since it opened in 1927, as well as Olympic soccer and countless other events –  will host flag football during next summer’s competition. Holloway says the event will drive more economic growth in Smithfield and throughout the Birmingham area.

“It is just a seamless opportunity for economic development,” Holloway said. “It is in close proximity to downtown. It is in close proximity to the interstate. It is in close proximity to the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Birmingham-Southern (College). Smithfield is right-smack dab in the center of that.”

Leaders in Smithfield say they are building on the area’s history. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Reynolds says she and other community leaders have started a nonprofit organization called SCAT (Smithfield Community Action Team) to support community projects.

“We have solicited funds to be used in the Smithfield community for whatever benefits the community,” Reynolds said. “That was one of the purposes for forming SCAT, to be able to help ourselves and write our own check for what we need in our community.”

Pat Davis, president of the Smithfield Neighborhood Association, credits the progress and enthusiasm to everyone’s love for Smithfield.

“I think the world of these two ladies,” Davis said of Jackson and Reynolds. “They love Smithfield and you nurture what you love. That’s why I love them, because we all try to nurture this community.”

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