Behind the Magic Curtain: Secrets, Spies, and Unsung White Allies of Birmingham’s Civil Rights Days is a remarkable look at a historic city enmeshed in racial tensions, revealing untold or forgotten stories of secret deals, law enforcement intrigue, and courage alongside pivotal events that would sweep change across the nation.
Birmingham, Alabama gave birth to momentous events that spawned the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and affected world history. But that is not why it is known as The Magic City. It earned that nickname with its meteoric rise from a cornfield valley to an industrial boomtown in the late 1800s. Images of snarling dogs and fire hoses of the 1960s define popular perception of the city, obscuring the complexity of race relations in a tumultuous time and the contributions of white citizens who quietly or boldly influenced social change. Behind the Magic Curtain peels back history’s veil to reveal little-known or never-told stories of an intriguing cast of characters that include not only progressive members of the Jewish, Christian, and educational communities, but also a racist businessman and a Ku Klux Klan member, who, in an ironic twist, helped bring about justice and forward racial equality and civil rights. Woven throughout the book are the firsthand recollections of a reporter with the state’s major newspaper of the time. Embedded with law enforcement, he reveals the fascinating details of their secret wiretapping and intelligence operations. With a deft hand, Thorne offers the insight that can be gained from understanding little-known but important perspectives, painting a multihued portrait of a city that has figured so prominently in history, but which so few really know.
What Folks Are Saying:
What folks are saying:
T. K. Thorne has hit another home run with Behind the Magic Curtain. For five and a half decades we have read accounts of the civil rights era in Birmingham and Selma written by those with a particular ax to grind. Thorne is an excellent reporter, recognizing the nuances that “outsiders” or opinionated writers could not see or chose to overlook. Her reading and especially her interviews over the past several years have been remarkable, allowing her to give far more accurate details than we have seen before. For those who want to know the secrets of what really went on behind the “magic curtain” in those pivotal nation-changing days, days that brought the Civil Rights Bill in 1964 and the Voting Rights Bill in 1965, this is an important book to read.
—Douglas M. Carpenter, Retired Episcopal minister and son of Alabama’s Episcopal Bishop, C. C. J. Carpenter.
In Behind the Magic Curtain, T. K. Thorne introduces us to those who operated behind the scenes in the civil rights movement in Alabama, shedding light on the individual moral complexities of these participants—some firebrands, some reluctant players, and some predators who worked for their own gain. This journalistic exploration of a complicated time in Alabama’s social history will sit comfortably on the shelf next to histories by Dianne McWhorter, Glenn Eskew, and Taylor Branch. — Anthony Grooms, author of Bombingham and The Vain Conversation
Deeply engaging, Behind the Magic Curtain tells a forgotten part of the Birmingham story, prompting many “real time memories” for me. The lively and descriptive writing brought the characters and settings to life, while diving into the white community’s role in all its complexities. This is a treasure trove of stories about activities and perspectives not well known to the general public. In particular, journalist Tom Lankford’s sleuthing and the machinations of the Birmingham Police Department, along with the risk-averse role of the local newspapers, and a full blown portrait of the inscrutable Birmingham News VIP, Vincent Townsend, make for a fascinating read.
—Odessa Woolfolk, educator, community activist, and founding president of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
“T.K. writes like a seasoned news editor, meticulously hunting down facts and laying out the context in a colorful, intriguing way. Behind the Magic Curtain documents many untold stories and faithfully relates my own personal, unforgettable memories of a time of racial transition in Birmingham.” —Tom Lankford, journalist for The Birmingham News
“Novelist and former Birmingham Police Captain T.K. Thorne demonstrates there was more to Birmingham of the Civil Rights Era than Bull Connor, Klansmen, and African-American protestors. Behind that “Magic Curtain,” an ethnically diverse group from downtown to the surrounding bedroom communities of ministers, priests, rabbis, newspaper reporters, and housewives comprised a community belying monikers like ‘Bomingham’ and ‘Murder Capital of America,’ and fighting for justice in the Magic City.”
—Earl Tilford, author of Turning the Tide: The University of Alabama in the 1960s
“TK Thorne has written a superb book. It is well-written, fast paced and presents new insights and information regarding this critical era in Birmingham’s history. The book is not only a wonderful historical analysis, it challenges the reader to think more deeply about the state of race relations in our community today.”
— Richard Friedman, former executive director, Birmingham Jewish Federation; current associate editor, Southern Jewish Life magazine.
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Reviews and Interviews:
The Rambler: Southern Jewish Historical Society (Fall 2021)
Note from T. K.: While I was working on this project, my path intersected with Pam Powell who was working on a film documentary about the same subject. I invite you to check out this amazing project, Bending The Arc.