AS A CITY, Birmingham, Alabama, is no stranger to revolution and reformation. Bham, as it’s affectionately called, has seen quite a lot—and suffered quite a lot—over the course of its history. Though we’re now years removed from the civil rights movement, when Birmingham served as a stage for many key demonstrations, the fallout from those racial struggles still affects area communities to this day.
Take the Woodlawn neighborhood, for example. Though it was somewhat removed from the events that most associate with that time, the reverberations of that history are felt no less keenly than in other parts of the city. In fact, just 5 miles southwest of the community stands the 16th Street Baptist Church that was bombed by the KKK in 1963, killing four young girls. Three miles to the west of Woodlawn, you’ll find the Bethel Baptist Church, which served as a headquarters during the civil rights movement under the leadership of the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, an ally of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and which was bombed on three separate occasions as well.
In later years, Woodlawn suffered from white flight and a lack of urban development. Homeownership dwindled; transience increased. And like other parts of the city, it’s taken a long time to rebuild, but within the past 10 years, that’s changed. Like many Main Streets and downtowns across the country, Birmingham’s downtown has seen a resurgence in recent years, and that development has just started to trickle down to the surrounding area. (Think Little Rock’s growing East Village district or how far SoMa has come, for comparison.) In Woodlawn, though, where once there were scarred walls, there are now murals; new businesses have taken the place of vacant-windowed storefronts. And while there’s still much to do, it’s not history that has shaped the place, but the people who now call the place home—people like Myeisha Hutchinson.
A Woodlawn girl through and through, Myeisha grew up in Woodlawn, she graduated valedictorian from Woodlawn High School in 2001, and she returned to Woodlawn after earning her degree from Talladega College, a nearby historically black college and university. Myeisha initially decided to remain in Woodlawn, unfortunately, because of her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. But returning to her old neighborhood as an adult ultimately opened Myeisha’s eyes to its needs.
So in 2010, Myeisha decided to take an active role in improving the community by joining the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association, where she served first as secretary before ultimately leading the organization as president. Myeisha knew she could help connect residents in her community to the city at large by working as a liaison. She knew that nonprofits like the Jones Valley Teaching Farm—which oversees teaching farms throughout the city—could benefit the community by providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables in what had essentially been a food desert. She knew if she could rally her neighbors to work toward Woodlawn’s future, that the community would see a groundswell of rejuvenation resulting in increased investment in new housing, business and nonprofit ventures, health services and education.
And she was right.
Woodlawn has also become an indicator of sorts for other similar small neighborhoods outside downtown Birmingham. The community is working to use the ripple-effect momentum of Bham’s rejuvenated downtown, but also add to it, because again, the neighborhood has people like Myeisha invested in the community.
“There’s lots of room to improve our ecosystem of businesses,” Myeisha says. “Our downtown has grown tremendously with startups and things like that. But what does it look like for the individual community that’s on the outskirts of downtown to really grow and feed off of the ecosystem that downtown has created?”
Woodlawn’s future seems to never be far from Myeisha’s thoughts, but when it comes to the present, there’s no doubt that Woodlawn is poised to become Bham’s next hot neighborhood. So we asked Myeisha where she’d take us if she only had one day to show us around.
What’s Up, Woodlawn?
No trip to Birmingham is complete without these stops
Woodlawn Cycle Cafe
“Let’s have breakfast at Woodlawn Cycle Cafe,” Myeisha says. “We can grab a cup of coffee, and we can have pastries and avocado toast, or whatever you want to have at the coffee shop.” And when it comes to Woodlawn Cycle Cafe, there’s quite a bit to choose from: eggs on toast, eggs on mushrooms, mushrooms on toast—you name it. The cafe also features creative and delicious weekly specials such as saffron scallop pasta and ricotta agnolotti with artichoke hearts, burnt butter and fresh black pepper. Speaking of choices, the shop’s beautiful and minimalist midcentury space will only serve to remind you that there’s no better choice than Woodlawn Cycle Cafe. (woodlawncyclecafe.com)
Birmingham Civil Rights District
“A lot of people know Birmingham as one of the bedrocks of the civil rights movement,” Myeisha says. The city was the site of the Children’s Crusade marches that led to the desegregation of Birmingham public facilities, but also infamously saw the use of high-powered fire hoses and attack dogs against the peaceful protesters. The city is home to Bethel Baptist Church and 16th Street Baptist Church, as previously mentioned. The 16th Street church sits next door to what is now the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and across the street, you’ll find Kelly Ingram Park, which served as a staging ground for many demonstrations of the movement. “You can literally just walk the park and read the story,” Myeisha says. “There are statues and readings that will give the timeline of Birmingham’s place within everything.” (civilrightstrail.com/destination/birmingham)
Bayles Catering and Restaurant
Next, Myeisha recommends grabbing lunch at Bayles Catering and Restaurant in Woodlawn. If there’s one thing to know about Bayles, it’s that it’s delicious. They’ve got cheeseburgers. They’ve got shrimp and grits. They’ve got a short rib grilled cheese, for cryin’ out loud! But the second thing to know about Bayles is that it’s also affordable, with the most expensive item setting you back a mere $8. We’ll break a tenner for that. Pro tip: Don’t miss Soul Food Sundays for a meat-and-two-sides plate with options such as fried chicken, blackened catfish and even oxtail, with everything from collard greens to fried green tomatoes. It’ll cost you a couple extra bucks, but it’s so worth it. (baylescatering.com)
Birmingham Museum of Art
Myeisha says our visit wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Birmingham’s exceptional Museum of Art. Founded in 1951, it was one of the first regional museums in the country, and its diverse collection features more than 27,000 pieces from a variety of mediums and cultures. The museum grounds also include a breathtaking 30,000-square-foot sculpture garden. Currently on exhibition are Melville Price and William Price: Explorations of the Alabama Landscape, All Things Bright and Beautiful and Ways of Seeing: Buildings and Monuments. (artsbma.org)
“After we leave the Museum of Art, we can do some shopping at Club Duquette,” Myeisha says. This boutique isn’t necessarily a well-kept secret. It’s actually been featured nationally by the likes of Vogue, Nylon, Southern Living, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. But this literal mom-and-pop shop is just too Instagrammable to pass up, due to its fabulous selection of denim tops, hip graphic tees, bandanas, and apothecary and home goods. (clubduquette.co)
The Filling Station
Myeisha suggests venturing over to Woodlawn’s “neighbor neighborhood” of Crestwood for dinner at The Filling Station. “Arrive on empty, leave on full,” is the pizza bar’s slogan, a challenge that’s easy to accomplish, thanks to the restaurant’s robust selection of pizza, pasta and sandwiches. We’ll take an order of fried green beans, a Buffalo shrimp pizza, the muffuletta sandwich and … oh, did you want something, too? (thefillingstationbham.com)
Happy hour? Myeisha says we should head back to Woodlawn to “hangout at The Hangout.” This social space and lounge is one of the newer additions to Woodlawn, and it’s a place where the definition of “hanging out” varies almost day to day. Here, you can grab a happy-hour drink, as Myeisha suggested, or you can fire up one of The Hangout’s hookahs. On another visit, you might find The Hangout hosting a yoga or group meditation workshop, a holiday dinner event or even a couple’s therapy workshop. On any given night, though, you’ll find something worth your while. (facebook.com/thehangoutbham)
Cahaba Brewing Co.
“After we’ve done all that, we do have a brewery in Woodlawn, so we can also end the day there with a beer,” Myeisha says. “I couldn’t [let you] leave Woodlawn without showcasing our craft beer at Cahaba Brewing.” Not to worry, Myeisha. We wouldn’t leave without sampling it, either. From a selection of IPAs to sours, to Scottish ales, to barrel-aged stouts and barleywines, there seems to be a brew for everyone at Cahaba. But if you want to go even more local with your beer, ask about Cahaba’s Proximity Series—a collection of beers brewed with ingredients sourced from Alabama farms. (cahababrewing.com)
See Also: Bham at large
Good People Brewing Co.
Vulcan Park and Museum
Alabama Peanut Company
Ready to visit greater Birmingham? Revisit our initial visit to the city at arkansaslife.com/casting-a-spell