During the month of November, I will be blogging like crazy to bring you great tidbits on 30 neighborhoods in Birmingham. Check in daily to see if you learn anything new about where you live.
The first child born to Jefferson County early settlers John Smith and Sallie Riley Smith grew up to become a physician. Joseph Riley Smith would later marry and father 12 children, and in 1882, after he had retired from medicine, Smith became a merchant and real estate developer. John Witherspoon Dubose, in his 1887 book, “Jefferson County and Birmingham, Alabama: Historical and Biographical,” wrote that Smith was “probably the largest individual real estate owner in Jefferson County.” Smith later developed a suburb for black professionals on one large tract of land, and he named this suburb Smithfield. Those in Smithfield were often called a “Number One Black” since they were members of Birmingham’s burgeoning black middle class. A.H. Parker, principal of Industrial High School (which today bears his name), lived in Smithfield.
However, with the passage of Birmingham’s race-based zoning laws in the early 20thcentury, by the 1940s, Smithfield, and surrounding areas, became ground zero in the fight to claim the American Dream of home ownership. It was not unusual for black residents to learn that houses that were once “black” were newly zoned for white residents or for them to be threatened if they dared to purchase homes on the white side of Center Street. Arthur Shores, NAACP attorney, sued the city numerous times to contest the zoning ordinances. In 1947, a court judgment allowed Samuel Matthews to purchase a home in North Smithfield. Not long after, Matthews’ house became the first one of many to be bombed in and near Smithfield.
But those who chose to call Smithfield home were not scared off. Notable residents of the city once lived in Smithfield. Among them:
Angela Davis – activist, educator, and author
A.H. Parker – first principal of Industrial High School (now A.H. Parker High School)
Oscar Adams – Birmingham Reporter publisher