I deposited my Alamo rental car at the Ramada Inn. The driver who shuttled me to the Birmingham airport for my return trip to New York was an African American man about nineteen or twenty years old. He told me that he had been a student at a local community college but that his real ambition was to work at USX's Fairfield steelworks. The mill, outside of Birmingham, had employed 27,000 workers during World War II. About 2,400 men and women worked there now.
I learned that he had grown up in Ishkooda, a nearby town adjacent to the U.S. Steel ore mines, which had employed his grandfather. Substituting Venezuelan ore for Alabaman, the corporation had closed its mines in the state in 1962. The United Steelworkers of America (USWA), which also represented the miners, had obtained jobs for the unemployed workers in the steel mills. His grandfather had transferred to Fairfield Steel, and his father now worked in the pipe mill, built in the 1980s to supply the booming oil business. He was biding his time with minimum-wage work, like the job with Alamo, until USX started hiring again. When I asked about the likelihood of his getting a job at the mill, he replied pensively, "Well, there are a lot of men on layoff."
Perhaps he will work for USX, train for something else, or remain a driver at Alamo. But his family's history is a variation of the story of many Alabama families, white as well as black. Other versions reach the newspapers in the form of crime statistics. Parents and grandparents in Birmingham puzzle over both the behavior and the futures of the current generation. Some of the