BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Most of the sounds neighbors along Center Street hear these days are leaves rustling in the wind and the occasional hum of a passing car.
But cemented firmly in the sidewalks are metal posts, markers of a tumultuous past. The City of Birmingham added these signs in preparation for Empowerment Week, to guide visitors through events that happened on this street.
Walter B. Floyd is 92 years old. He doesn’t need trail markers to explain how Center Street became known as “Dynamite Hill.”
“He was driving a 1935 black Chevrolet, and I said, ‘he’s going mighty fast,’ and then boom. Something went off,” Floyd said.
Floyd was living on the street when civil rights attorney Arthur Shores’ home was bombed across the street.
“Before I could get down the block to the house, the police were already up there,” Floyd said. “And for some reason — I don’t know why — the policemen were taking rocks and knocking out the street lights.”
Black families were prohibited from living on the west side of Center Street. Anyone who challenged the city ordinance faced racially motivated bombings or other threats of violence.
Center Street was a barrier, representing the division between white and black people on a larger scale.
“I wanted to be a dentist,” Floyd said. “But I couldn’t have gone to the University of Alabama.”
Instead, Floyd went to Miles College, where he studied public health. He worked as a railway mail carrier before taking a job with the Jefferson County Health Department as a public health educator.
Years later, visitors to Dynamite Hill will read about what happened there, learning more about the challenges Floyd faced as a black man.
Floyd says he has seen proof race relations have improved, especially through his grandchildren’s accomplishments.
“I have one who is an attorney, and one who is a dentist,” Floyd said. “So my dream of becoming a dentist has come true through him.”
Floyd has seen his neighborhood and his country make it through dark times. The historical markers tell that story.
Walter B. Floyd lived it.