My Birmingham: Art Franklin


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Birmingham hung out the welcome banner for award-winning television journalist Art Franklin last year when he returned after 13 years away to anchor CBS 42’s Morning News with Art Franklin. Franklin first made a name for himself locally at WBRC-TV6 starting in 1991, when he became the first African-American male to anchor in prime time, fresh off the heels of serving as military affairs correspondent for WAVY TV in Norfolk, Va. He later worked in the New York, Miami, Atlanta and Los Angeles markets before returning to Birmingham, along the way writing a motivational book for young men, Give it All You Got: A Message to My Young Brothers.

This is a slice of Art Franklin’s Birmingham.

What’s new: Returning after the years you were away, what one new specific place or event were you most excited to see?

One of the many great things about Birmingham that I enjoyed prior to leaving was the city’s great music scene (including City Stages, the Birmingham Heritage Festival, a jazz club called On the Avenue, Ona Watson’s Southside jazz spot, the music sets upstairs at the French Quarters and even happy hour at Park West on 1st Avenue North). I returned and they were all gone…non-existent.

But then I learned about the Steel City Jazz Festival. This year just completed its fourth year. The line-up was phenomenal. Even in its infancy, organizers of the festival bring world-class artists to Birmingham, making the Steel City Jazz Festival unmatched by festivals that have been around for decades. So I was pleased beyond words describe to experience a music festival that was on level here in Birmingham. Add to that Railroad Park, Regions Field, The Birmingham Negro Southern Museum and Uptown, Avondale and upgrades to The Summit, not to mention the restaurants and retail in Homewood, and it was clear to me that Birmingham was really progressing. So, whatever excitement some may have about my return, I am equally if not more excited to be back in Birmingham. I’m truly proud of the city’s progress.

Local inspirations: You’ve been very involved in working with youth, including having served as chairman of the Birmingham Youth Advisory Committee Commission, starting a program called U-TURN to help youthful offenders turn their lives around and writing a book, Give It All You Got: A Message to My Young Brothers. Who in Birmingham helps (or has helped) to inspire you?

I was motivated by the fact that I always believed that it was incumbent upon me to use whatever celebrity was attached to me to reach those in need. I knew early on that I was standing on the shoulders of so many others who paved the way for me to be a journalist in this city. Therefore, I had to dedicate myself to trying to make a difference. There were people that I learned from such as the late Fred L. Shuttlesworth and was fortunate enough to pick his brain, and former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington Jr. who was responsive to my inquiries as a journalist whether the stories were positive or negative, and because of that I had respect for him. As I worked with youth in the city I found people willing to help such as Judge Sandra Storm Ross, Judge Raymond Chambliss and a youth detention probation officer named Willie Brown. Even principals at schools such as the late Charles Warren at Ensley High School encouraged me and motivated me to do what I could because they too believed in our youth. I felt like I could make a difference because others were in the battle with me. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment was when I created the Kids and Jobs program through my previous Birmingham television employer in partnership with public and private collaboration. The program brought a community together to provide summer employment and hope for Birmingham youth. Now, I run into young men who benefitted from that program and my work with gangs who put a smile on my face and peace in my heart that it was not work done in vain.

Favorite landmarks: As a journalist, you’re familiar with just about all the different neighborhoods, landscapes and landmarks. Do you have a favorite view or landmark of your own?

Vulcan stands out, not only because it is the largest cast iron statue in the world but also because of the way Vulcan looks over the Magic City from Red Mountain and seems to protect it. Vulcan provides a stunning view of Southside and downtown.

Favorite restaurant: What restaurant do you always make a point of taking out-of-town visitors? 

Highlands Bar and Grill is a no-brainer, when you can get in. But now Perry’s Steak House has become a go-to restaurant for me for food and atmosphere. But when it is plain good ole’ Southern cooking, I take out-of-towners to Niki’s West. It feels like “Cheers” when I go there. Many of the same faces greet me with warmth and they know what I like. You can’t miss with Niki’s West for good food and good conversation in a nice relaxed atmosphere where just about everyone knows your name.

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