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2016 in review: Prince, George Michael, Fidel Castro and Trump

Local and national politics, the deaths of iconic figures, and record-setting moments dominated The Birmingham Times' 2016 coverage.

By Monique Jones

The Birmingham Times

Local and national politics, the deaths of iconic figures, and record-setting moments dominated The Birmingham Times' 2016 coverage.
Local and national politics, the deaths of iconic figures, and record-setting moments dominated The Birmingham Times’ 2016 coverage.

Politics dominated the 2016 news landscape—from Republican Donald Trump’s stunning victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton for U.S. President to the record nine black female judges elected to judicial seats in Jefferson County. In between, there were equal parts triumph and loss—from local and national sports teams making history to the deaths of iconic figures like Muhammad Ali and Fidel Castro.

Here are some noteworthy events highlighted in The Birmingham Times in 2016:



David Bowie
David Bowie

10: Singer, songwriter, and actor David Bowie dies at age 69 after an 18-month battle with liver cancer. Throughout his 50-year career, the musician and husband of supermodel Iman defied music and fashion trends by reinventing his image and sound, combining glam rock, soul, electronica, and pop.

27: Foundation for Progress in Journalism purchases The Birmingham Times from Times founder Dr. Jesse J. Lewis Sr. FPJ was founded in 2013 to promote journalism among minority and economically disadvantaged students interested in journalism.



4: Earth Wind & Fire founder Maurice White dies at age 75 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. As a member of the critically acclaimed band, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Vocal Group Hall of Fame; individually, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

8: Broadcast journalist Art Franklin returns to Birmingham after leaving Atlanta’s WAGA-TV FOX 5 and WXIA-TV NBC’s 11 Alive.

15: Prince protégé Vanity dies at age 57 due to renal failure. The singer, whose real name is Denise Katrina Matthews, headlined the group Vanity 6 between 1981 and 1983.

19: “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee dies at age 89. The Monroeville native, born Nelle Harper Lee, wrote the popular book, published in 1960, after witnessing the racism in her hometown.

28: The 2016 Academy Awards are overshadowed by the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, which was created in 2015 to bring light to the inequities in film casting in Hollywood and award nominations by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.



5: The Wenonah High School girls’ basketball team wins its third straight championship.

22: The Tuskegee Airmen are honored during a 75th anniversary gala at Montgomery’s Renaissance Hotel. The event commemorates the activation of the U.S. Army Air Corps 99th Pursuit Squadron at the Illinois-based Chanute Field on March 22, 1941, launching the Tuskegee Airmen’s legacy.



Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman

20: The U.S. Department of the Treasury announces that the likeness of abolitionist Harriet Tubman will replace that of President Andrew Jackson, a slaveholder and segregationist, on the $20 bill. Changes coming to other bills: the back of the $10 bill, which will honor suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony; and the back of the $5 bill, which will honor the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and African-American opera singer Marian Anderson.


21: Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, dies at age 57 in his Paisley Park home in Chanhassen, Minn. Throughout the visionary musician’s decades-long career, he released hits like “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Controversy,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and “I Would Die 4 U.” He also starred and performed in “Purple Rain,” a rock musical drama that inspired the soundtrack and studio album of the same name; the film won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score in 1984.

27: Pratt City commemorates the 2011 Super Outbreak, during which more than 60 tornadoes swept through Alabama, killing 254 and destroying property across the state, including several Pratt City homes and Bethel Baptist Church.



2: The YWCA Central Alabama holds a rally in Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park to fight against the rise in domestic violence after six people, including two unborn babies, were killed within six weeks.

19: The inaugural issue of the reformatted, rebranded Birmingham Times hits the streets with Birmingham Mayor William Bell on the cover. Times Publisher Samuel P. Martin writes: “Make no mistake, this new format is just one piece of that promise, but it is an important piece because it provides us with a way to reach new readers and it invites many of our old readers back to rediscover The Birmingham Times.”



3: Famed boxer Muhammad Ali dies at age 74 of complications from Parkinson’s disease. Born Cassius Clay, Ali earned a gold medal during the 1960 Summer Olympics, was the only three-time heavyweight champion, and was named Sports Illustrated’s greatest athlete of the 20th century. Ali used his notoriety to speak out for civil rights and humanitarian causes.

12: Birmingham joins the nation in mourning the 49 people killed in a mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Central Alabama Pride held a remembrance and candlelight vigil, during which several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Alabamians shared their experiences with discrimination.

12–17: The 110th Annual Session of National Baptist Congress (NBC) was held at the Birmingham–Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) and the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. The convention brought around 5,000 delegates, pastors, and spiritual leaders to the Magic City.

19: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers earn the franchise’s first NBA championship title in a win over Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. The Cavaliers came back from a 3–1 deficit, making them the first team in the league’s history to win the Finals from such a deficit.

19: Growing Kings, a community-based nonprofit group that mentors at-risk boys in Birmingham City Schools, launches its 100 Mentors in 100 Days campaign on Father’s Day. The initiative is designed to raise awareness about the program and attract new mentors.

28: The Dannon Project, a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth as well as the currently and formerly incarcerated in central Alabama, receives a $5.86 million grant from the U.S. Labor Department to expand its career pathway and re-entry programs; it is one of 40 organizations nationwide to receive the grant. The nonprofit was founded in 1999 by WBRC-TV Fox 6’s Jeh Jeh Pruitt and his wife, Kerri, and named after Pruitt’s brother Danon, who was killed at age 19 by a man who had been recently released from prison. The Dannon Project serves between 600 to 700 people each year and has helped about 8,000 at-risk individuals since its inception.

The Dannon Project provides assistance to previously incarcerated individuals by helping with skills training, education and job placement. The goal is to reduce recitivitism and provide assistance to overcome challenges that are presented to them. (Frank Couch / The Birmingham Times)
The Dannon Project provides assistance to previously incarcerated individuals by helping with skills training, education and job placement. The goal is to reduce recitivitism and provide assistance to overcome challenges that are presented to them. (Frank Couch / The Birmingham Times)



1: Local disc jockey Katrina Holman dies after a brief illness. The Birmingham native, who worked under the name “Mz Katt, the Dirty South Diva” at WBHJ-FM (95.7 JAMZ), graduated from Ramsay High School.

16: Tuscaloosa native Deontay Wilder defended his World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight title against Chris Arreloa, winning with a technical knockout after eight rounds at the Birmingham–Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC’s) Legacy Arena.

18–21: The Republican National Convention is held in Cleveland, Ohio. Businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump of New York and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana are nominated as the presidential and vice presidential candidates.

26: Youree Dell Harris, better known as psychic Miss Cleo, dies at 53 from cancer.

25–28: The Democratic National Convention is held in Philadelphia, Pa. Former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia are nominated as the presidential and vice presidential candidates. Clinton becomes the nation’s first female presidential candidate for a major political party.



3: Thomas Blanton Jr., the remaining living conspirator in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, is denied parole. Several leaders—including Birmingham attorney Doug Jones, who, as U.S. attorney, prosecuted Blanton in 2001—speak out against his potential release.

5–21: The 2016 Summer Olympics take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The U.S. is among the top countries in medal count. African-American gymnast Simone Biles becomes the fourth woman to win four gymnastic golds. Swimmer Simone Manuel becomes the first African-American to win a gold in individual swimming.

8: The Birmingham City Council and Mayor William Bell disagree over funds for Fire Dept. No. 8 in the Kingston neighborhood. The stalemate between the mayor and council is part of an ongoing feud that shows no signs of evaporating.

Birmingham Mayor William Bell listens to Councilor Steven W. Hoyt ask a question Aug. 8 at Birmingham City Council's Budget and Finance committee hearing. (Frank Couch, The Birmingham Times)
Birmingham Mayor William Bell listens to Councilor Steven W. Hoyt ask a question Aug. 8 at Birmingham City Council’s Budget and Finance committee hearing. (Frank Couch, The Birmingham Times)

19: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick begins a sit-down protest of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in August, sparking a dialogue about the national anthem. Kaepernick said his protest was reflective of his views on police brutality. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said to the NFL Network.

20: Pioneering civil rights and black political journalist George E. Curry dies at age 69. The Tuscaloosa native was a syndicated columnist for the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a collective of more than 200 African-American newspapers. Curry, who also was a featured columnist for The Birmingham Times, was raising money to fund Emerge News Online, a digital version of Emerge magazine, where he served as editor-in-chief between 1993 to 2000.

Brighton mayor Brandon Dean (Mark Almond, special to The Times)
Brighton mayor Brandon Dean (Mark Almond, special to The Times)

23: The Birmingham-area city of Brighton elects Brandon Dean, 24, the youngest mayor of the city and one of the youngest mayors in the United States.



7: Jefferson County Manager Tony Petelos announces that the current Cooper Green Mercy Health Services building will be replaced with a new state-of-the-art ambulatory health-care center. The new facility, which has an estimated cost of about $55 million, could take two years to plan and build.

15: Local ministers speak about the city of Birmingham more than 50 years after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963. “We’ve come a long way, … but we haven’t completed the journey yet,” said Bishop Calvin Woods, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church. “And I doubt that the journey will ever be over as long as there is injustice and justice stands up against that.”

18: Helen M. Lewis, the wife of Birmingham Times founder Jesse Lewis, dies at the age of 96. Lewis was the former vice president and chief financial officer of The Birmingham Times. She also served as president of the Smithfield Neighborhood Association, Jack and Jill of America Inc., the Angola Guild, The Links Inc., and Les Jeunes Dames. “I never heard her say a derogatory remark about anybody,” her husband said. “She’d always say, ‘If they knew better they would have done better.’ Those were her favorite words. Her livelihood was her children and her grandchildren and her church—and I came third. I was last on the list. It has always been like that.”

Kelley Castlin Gacutan
Kelley Castlin-Gacutan

22: In a surprise move, the Birmingham Board of Education voted 6–3 to fire Superintendent Dr. Kelley Castlin-Gacutan. Dr. Larry Contri currently serves as interim superintendent.

24: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture opens, providing visitors with a comprehensive look at contributions African-Americans have made to the nation. Andrea Taylor, president and CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), calls the museum’s grand opening a “family reunion.” She said, “People from all over the country, the world really, came to see this museum. To see the entire museum, you would have to go two days. There is so much to see about our culture.”

24: Birmingham’s Legion Field is the site of Sistah Strut, a 5K run-walk hosted by the nonprofit Brenda’s Brown Bosom Buddies. The event raises awareness about breast cancer in the black community; celebrates cancer survivors and their families; and provides funding for the organization’s outreach and prevention initiatives.

28: The Birmingham–Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) Legacy Arena celebrates 40 years of entertainment. The venue has hosted numerous stars over the years, including Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Jay-Z, and Rihanna.

28: Author Gloria Naylor, who won the National Book Award for her debut novel “The Women of Brewster Place,” dies at age 66. The book, which became a best-seller, was adapted in 1989 into a TV miniseries through Oprah Winfrey’s production company.



4: The Birmingham-area city of Fairfield elects former city attorney Ed May II mayor in a runoff election. “It’s an honor, to say the least, that people have chosen to give me their vote,” said May, who defeated Johnnie Wyatt 1,004 votes to 922.

7: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) holds its 64th Annual Convention at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. The event focuses on police brutality during its “Race and Policing in America” panel.

25: Reconstruction for a new Fire Station No. 8 in Kingston is approved by the Birmingham City Council. The facility, which was demolished due to complaints of mold and possible asbestos, became part of a debate between the council and Mayor William Bell.



Donald Trump
Donald Trump

4: Republican nominee Donald Trump wins the U.S. presidential election in a shocking upset over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The New York businessman secures enough Electoral College votes to become the 45th President of the United States. (In December, it is announced that Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million.)

4: A record nine black female judges are elected in Jefferson County. Javan Patton, Debra Bennett Winston, Shera Craig Grant, Nakita “Niki” Perryman Blocton, Brendette Brown Green, Tamara Harris Johnson, Elisabeth French, Agnes Chappell, and Annetta Verin are among 15 people of color who win throughout Jefferson County, including Lynneice Olive-Washington, who made history as the first African-American and first woman to hold the position of Bessemer Cutoff district attorney.

14: Pioneering print and broadcast journalist Gwen Ifill dies at age 61 of endometrial and breast cancer. She was a reporter for The New York Times and The Washington Post before going into broadcast journalism in the 1990s. She was a politics reporter for NBC News, and in 1999 moved to PBS to host “Washington Week” and contribute to “NewsHour,” eventually becoming a co-anchor for the latter.

18: Willie Rogers, the oldest surviving Tuskegee Airman, dies at age 101.

18: Singer Sharon Jones, of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, dies at age 60 after a three-year battle with bile duct cancer and stage II pancreatic cancer.

25: Former Cuban President Fidel Castro dies at age 90. He seized power in Cuba in 1959 after overthrowing Cuban President Fulgencio Batista in the Cuban Revolution. Under Castro, Cuba became the first socialist state in the Western Hemisphere. He was a divisive figure, with many heralding him for his anti-imperialism stance and others labeling him an abuser of human rights.

30: Birmingham Mayor William Bell announces that the Ramsay-McCormack building in the city’s Ensley neighborhood will be renovated for use as a municipal court building that would house the Birmingham Police Department Administration and the Birmingham Fire and Rescue Department Administration.



1: Global sports entertainment venue Topgolf announces that it will open its first Alabama location in downtown Birmingham by late-2017. The 65,000-square-foot, 10-acre digital golfing venue will bring 450 jobs to the area.

2: Ramsay High School wins the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) class 6A state football championship, the first in the school’s history as well as a first for the Birmingham City Schools system since Banks High School won in 1972 and 1973.

4: Protesters at Standing Rock, Minn., gain a temporary victory after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announces that production on the Dakota Access Pipeline will be rerouted.

8: Astronaut and former U.S. Sen. John Glenn dies at the age of 95. He circled the Earth in 1962, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth and the fifth person in outer space. Glenn was honored by the cast of “Hidden Figures,” a film that depicts Glenn as a supporter of NASA’s African-American women scientists and mathematicians who helped him fly in space.

11: Gospel singer Joe Ligon, lead singer of the Grammy Award–winning Mighty Clouds of Joy, dies at age 80. A native of Troy, Ala., he moved to Los Angeles, Calif., in the in the 1950s and founded Mighty Clouds of Joy.

13: The Birmingham City Council approves funding for construction on the Crossplex Village in the city’s Five Points West area. Phase One of the development will include an amphitheater that seats up to 4,000 people, as well as a 101-room Comfort Inn and Suites, a Starbucks, retail shopping, and restaurants.

15: Sports reporter Craig Sager dies at age 65 after a three-year battle with cancer.

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof

15: Dylann Roof is found guilty of 33 federal hate crime charges; he faces the death penalty. In June 2015, Roof, 22, went to a Bible study at the historic Emanuel African American Methodist (AME) Church in Charleston, S.C., where he shot and killed eight parishioners and the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

15: Local and state political leaders reflect on the legacies of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama: “You had somebody who was dark-skinned, who had a black father, who won the presidency of the United States, and did it not just with black folks but with a diverse group of people,” said Birmingham attorney Emory Anthony; “I see Michelle Obama as someone who’s inspiring, someone who has set the bar really high, someone who is a consummate professional and is so inspiring to women all around the world … she’s not just defined by being the First Lady,” said Jefferson County District Court Judge Shera Craig Grant.

25: Singer George Michael, born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, dies at age 53. He rose to fame as a member of the music duo Wham! and sold more than 100 million records worldwide. His 1987 debut solo album, Faith, by itself sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.

GOOD, TMZ, IMDB, Rolling Stone, CNN, Mic, and ESPN contributed to this report.