Birmingham 4th Avenue District - Imagining the Chitlin Circuit Back in the Day

Back in the day the Carver Theater was where African-Americans went to see films as others were for Whites only

 

Birmingham historian Barry McNealy explains that his city was once an important stop on what was called ‘the chitlin circuit’.   Unlike the bigger cities where agents and handlers took a sizeable bite of performance fees, Birmingham was an in between place.   Here, musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and many of the more popular swing bands could not only perform to enthusiastic audiences, but they could also pocket more money by doing so.  All this made Birmingham, and in particular the Black business district known as 4th Avenue, a very happening place to be.

 

Barber Percy Honbuckle Jr. works in his father's barber shop in the district. Hornbuckle Sr. took over the shop in 1956. It had been founded by Will Hill in the 1930's. Hornbuckle Jr. says, "It's changed but it hasn't changed. We still do the same things but we might do it differently with more modern tools but it's the same service to groom the customer and converse with him about our daily lives.... Some days people are getting groomed for a funeral and some days people are getting ready for a wedding...We are part of our clients' lives and we are there for the good and the bad."

 

Walking around the 4th Avenue Historical Business District very early on a weekend morning today you’ll see many men going to one of several barber shops that have been open from the days when the District’s boundaries were demarcated by segregationist law, through the ‘60’s, and to today. 

 

The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame is in the historic Carver Center

 

Other small businesses perhaps didn’t fare as well with segregation’s end, or perhaps more accurately with the same competition from big box stores that have felled small businesses nationwide. 

 

Today the 4th Avenue Business District is relatively quiet on an early weekend morning. It may have always been in the wee hours

 

It’s not only a reminder of days gone by, but the architecture and feel are spiffy today in their own right.  It’s definitely worth a look-see and especially if the Civil Rights Heritage Trail is one reason you choose to visit Birmingham.

 

There are several barber shops, cafes, a dry cleaners, and other small businesses still operating today

 

Birmingham, with the slogan “Preserving the Future by Maintaining the Past”, is helping to preserve this historic area and offers walking tours by appointment.  

 

Percy Hornbuckle Jr. reports that there are quite a few tourist who come through the area and especially last summer during the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Civil Rights Movement

 

For information contact InBirmingham at 800 458 8085 or visit this visitor’s bureau web pages about the 4th Avenue District.

 

 

 

 

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