Leaving Birmingham

Paul Hemphill, Author Viking Books $23.5 (352p) ISBN 978-0-670-84778-5

Raised in the racist climate that pervaded Birmingham, Ala., in the 1940s and '50s, Hemphill ( Too Old to Cry ) returned to his hometown in 1992 to research the violence that had erupted there during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Interwoven with his well-written and affecting personal struggle to cope with the racist attitudes of his truck driver father are the candid reminiscences of a white suburban matron and an African American minister who also lived through desegregation. Hemphill examines the 1963 bombing of a black church by the Ku Klux Klan that resulted in the deaths of three young girls, as well as the corrosive career of police commissioner ``Bull'' Connor, who attacked black demonstrators with dogs. This is an interesting anecdotal history marred only by the misplaced insertion of the author's complaints about his first wife and other family members. (Sept.)