February 20, 2024 |Phillip Howard

Preserving the Legacy of Arthur Shores

There are a few names that stick out when learning about Alabama history. For instance, it is easy to remember the names of all the African American lawyers in Alabama during the 1940s because there was actually only one — Attorney Arthur Shores. That’s why when I was introduced to Ms. Barbara Shores at an event in 2022 I couldn’t help but remark, “Shores… that is such an important name in the city of Birmingham.” As luck will have it, she was indeed the daughter of the famed attorney and Civil Rights activist.

Soon after, I visited the Shores home on Center Street in the Smithfield section of Birmingham, a neighborhood that earned the nickname “Dynamite Hill” because Ku Klux Klan members regularly bombed its streets during the Civil Rights era. I was amazed at the historical artifacts that were in the home, and the role the home itself played in Civil Rights history in Alabama. Ms. Shores said something that day that really stuck with me: “It is like people have forgotten my father’s contributions to making this a better world for us to live in.”

It was with that statement that Barbara and I set out to get people to remember the contributions of Mr. Shores and develop a plan to preserve their home that had been a setting for great historical meetings.

“I am forever grateful to you and The Conservation Fund for your support and for being the catalyst that brought awareness of my father’s contributions. Thank you so much for helping to keep my father’s legacy alive.”

- Barbara Shores

Our belief that Mr. Shores’s legacy is important to the history of Birmingham and worth preserving was shared by many, including colleagues from Jacksonville State University and JSU’s Longleaf Studios. We are celebrating the release of their documentary “Defending Freedom: The Arthur D. Shores Story” through Alabama Public Television. The film was created with historical footage and photos provided by the Shores family, as well as numerous interviews and meticulous research.

Behind the scenes of the documentary making process with Barbara Shores (center in yellow), JSU film crew and Phillip Howard (far right). Photo courtesy Jacksonville State University.

Defending Freedom is an Alabama Public Television original produced in association with Jacksonville State University. Right: Barbara Shores and Phillip Howard at the February 2024 film premiere. Photo courtesy The Conservation Fund.

Born in Birmingham in 1904, Arthur Shores decided to become a lawyer while attending Talladega College, Alabama’s oldest private historically Black liberal arts college, but upon graduation, there was not a law school in the south that would accept him. Mr. Shores would go on to become a teacher and then principal but did not give up on his dream of becoming a lawyer, later enrolling in LaSalle Extension University to obtain his law degree. Mr. Shores passed the bar in the state of Alabama in 1937 and immediately started practicing law, taking on several cases related to Civil Rights and practicing all over the state.

During those times, African American lawyers could not present a case in a courtroom — they would have to hire a white attorney to represent the case during trials. Alabama slowly changed courtroom protocol, and Attorney Shores would go on to successfully represent many clients and win court cases fighting for equal pay for African American educators and against unfair housing practices. Mr. Shores was also the lawyer of record for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during Dr. King’s first arrest and trial during the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956).

Birmingham became the epicenter of Civil Rights activism in 1963, and as scores of activists and leaders were arrested, Attorney Shores stepped up to represent them during one of the most dangerous times in the history of the city. Because of his activism, Mr. Shores became a target of terrorist attacks, and his family home was bombed in August and September 1963. Barbara Shores was present during the second bombing, which she described by saying, “I will never forget. I was in the kitchen making a ham sandwich and the blast knocked me to the floor.  I crawled on the floor yelling for my parents. Dad was okay, but Mom was knocked out of her bed and lying unconscious, we were fortunate to be alive. A few days later a bomb would go off at the 16th Street Baptist Church killing four little girls, including one who lived up the street from me. Birmingham was a dangerous place during that time.”

Viewing the bomb-damaged home of Arthur Shores in September 1963. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko.

Our work with the Shores family is part of The Conservation Fund’s larger efforts toward preserving Black historical and cultural sites. Beyond safeguarding land and physical structures, conserving these sites ensures that the stories of those who fought for racial justice and equality will be preserved to educate and inspire future generations.

When communities rich with Black heritage sites of immense historical and cultural value lack the resources and funding for preservation efforts, these sites can face the threat of deterioration, development or even destruction. Recognizing this disparity, The Conservation Fund is actively working with partners and communities to protect Black history sites and identify and secure the resources they need to safeguard their own narratives and heritage. In 2022, TCF launched the Civil Rights People and Places program focused on conservation in Alabama and its iconic connections to the Civil Rights Movement. From the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 to the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965 and sites like Arthur Shores’s home, the people and places in Alabama embody the heart and the spirit of the Civil Rights movement.

A cornerstone of our success in Alabama has been our steadfast commitment to community engagement. Our approach involves collaborating closely with local organizations, activists, scholars and residents who have deep roots in these historically significant areas. These collaborations not only allow us to tap into local expertise, but also ensure that the conservation strategies are rooted in the communities’ needs and visions. Visions like the one of Barbara Shores, whom we are so proud to call a friend of The Conservation Fund. I am amazed at Barbara’s strength and steadfastness in telling the story of her family and her effort to preserve and protect her father’s legacy. The new documentary film is just the beginning — our goal is for preservation and conservation efforts to continue at the Shores’s home on “Dynamite Hill.”

The historic Carver Theatre hosted the documentary premiere on February 8, 2024, where speakers included Barbara Shores and Phillip Howard. Photos courtesy Jacksonville State University.

Written by

Phillip Howard

Phillip Howard is the Civil Rights People and Places Manager for The Conservation Fund. He is dedicated to preserving, restoring and raising awareness of the Civil Rights Movement in his home state of Alabama.