BUZZCommunications

Birmingham and Obama

The city where bombings and marches helped galvanize America against segregation will mark the inauguration of the nation’s first black president with a celebration Jan. 20. A national spotlight on Birmingham during inauguration day would be an invaluable promotion for the city, said Harriet Lessy, a Philadelphia-based public relations consultant. Lessy said Birmingham’s activities serve a dual purpose of connecting local residents to a national event and putting Birmingham on the national stage with other major cities highlighted on the historic day.

The city where bombings and marches helped galvanize America against segregation will mark the inauguration of the nation’s first black president with a celebration Jan. 20.

Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford and members of the City Council agreed to sponsor a local observance of Barack Obama’s inauguration that includes a simulcast of events in Washington, presentations from schoolchildren and an interfaith prayer service for the nation.

While they first talked of holding the event in Kelly Ingram Park, where attack dogs and fire hoses were unleashed on civil rights protesters in the 1960s, January’s unpredictable weather led them to schedule the celebration for Boutwell Auditorium.

The unpredictable weather of January led the mayor and council to schedule the event at Boutwell Auditorium.

Organizers said they’ve already received interest from news broadcasters looking to spotlight cities across the county that are marking the inauguration of the first black man as U.S. president.

“It will receive national and international attention,” said George McMillan, president of City Stages and the coordinator of Birmingham’s inauguration event. “We are uniquely positioned to make a statement on that day.”

Council members presented a plan in November to bring some of the pageantry and excitement of a presidential inauguration to downtown Birmingham. But the event was threatened by a lack of private support before Langford told council members at a committee meeting Monday that he would recommend spending the $50,000 to host the event.

The planned celebration will have to go before the full council for a vote, but a quorum at a committee meeting Monday agreed on the project.

McMillan said Boutwell Auditorium would be decorated for the theme of the day. “We can enhance Boutwell and make it attractive,” he said.

The event will be free to the public.

Council President Carole Smitherman called Birmingham a natural place for such an observance as a center for civil rights protests in the 1960s.

“Birmingham is the catalyst for much of the change in America’s attitudes and acceptance of diversity,” she said. “For Birmingham, it (Obama’s inauguration) is a realization of a dream, and it’s like a big history lesson for our schoolchildren.”

A national spotlight on Birmingham during inauguration day would be an invaluable promotion for the city, said Harriet Lessy, a Philadelphia-based public relations consultant. Lessy said Birmingham’s activities serve a dual purpose of connecting local residents to a national event and putting Birmingham on the national stage with other major cities highlighted on the historic day.

“The impact on Birmingham can be terrific,” Lessy said in a phone interview. “It should also give a feeling of not only participation but excitement about your own community and people you live and work with every day. It doesn’t matter who you voted for or what your political background is. Everyone can do well with something like this.”

While Langford agreed to find city money for the project, he chided the council for not supporting his plans to pave downtown streets. The council moments earlier delayed for at least three weeks Langford’s $11 million downtown paving plan, calling for more study of city finance.

The paving, Langford said, would provide long-term improvements while the celebration was a one-time event. Still, he said, both were worthy of city support.

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