The New Birmingham and the Old Birmingham
Dial started The New Birmingham in 1993 after attending an outdoor concert by rock-’n’-roll pioneer Little Richard in a park in downtown Birmingham. Dial recalled an event from four decades earlier, when another black singer, Nat King Cole, was forced from his concert stage by local authorities and run out of town. In the maplike New Birmingham, the city resembles a side of beef, with skyscrapers for a rib cage. Side streets, darker than the pink center, contain gray, brown, and black neighborhoods arrayed like less desirable and tougher cuts of meat. The piece perfectly evokes Dial’s transition from his early narrative stance to the middle-period counternarratives: on the one hand, there is an acknowledgment of some racial progress, but Dial implies that white business interests, not brotherhood, propel the integration.