Goin’ North: The African American Women of Sloss Quarters

Presented by Karen Utz, curator, Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, and adjunct history instructor, University of Alabama at Birmingham

I came to Birmingham because I heard so much about Birmingham. We used to call it “goin’North.” I walked from Richmond, Alabama to Selma. I rode a milk truck and I worked my way by picking up milk. When I came here I didn’t know anyone. I was absolutely broke. All I had was willpower.     George Brown, Sloss Quarters resident

Between 1900 and 1950 Sloss Furnaces maintained company houses throughout Birmingham’s industrial district. Sloss Quarters, the forty-eight houses adjacent to City Furnaces were designed specifically for African-American workers. They were typical shotgun style structures, with two rooms set on foundation posts and no indoor plumbing until the 1930s. While not a company town in the strictest sense—the Quarters contained a doctor’s office, a commissary, and offered numerous neighborhood gatherings; watermelon cuttings, chittlin’ suppers, dancing, and ball games. Housing in Sloss Quarters served two purposes—it attracted family men, thus lowering the rate of absenteeism, and made available a ready supply of labor in case of emergencies. Company housing was dismantled in the late 1950s as maintenance became a drain on the company’s resources and workers achieved home ownership through the GI Bill.

Oral histories taken from the Goin’ North, the African American Women of Sloss Quarters monograph, are incorporated into the presentation and provide an excellent overview of the recollection of the residences of Sloss Quarters.

Contact Karen Utz to book this presentation
karen.utz@birminghamal.gov
(205) 324-1911