Introducing: What Happened in Alabama?

What Happened in Alabama Podcast

Introducing: What Happened in Alabama?

What Happened in Alabama? is a series born out of personal experiences of intergenerational trauma, and the impacts of Jim Crow that exist beyond what we understand about segregation. Through intimate stories of his family, coupled with conversations with experts on the Black American experience, award-winning journalist Lee Hawkins unpacks his family history and upbringing, his father’s painful nightmares and past, and goes deep into discussions to understand those who may have had similar generational - and present day - experiences.


My name is Lee Hawkins. I’ve been a journalist for 25 years. I research, listen and ask ALOT of questions.

My story begins in 1980s Minnesota. In the Twin Cities suburb of Maplewood. We were a Black family living in a predominantly white neighborhood.

Naima: Oh, Maplewood. It was, it was really interesting.

It certainly was.

My childhood was marked by so many things.

Watching our backs on the walk home from school.

Getting our hair cut in the Black neighborhood.

And church on Sundays.

[MUSIC IN: Lee sr singing “Whose on the lord side”]

Leroy Hawkins: Alright Who's on the lord's side?

That’s my dad, Leroy Hawkins Senior, singing at our church.

[MUSIC OUT Lee sr singing “Whose on the lord side”]

He taught me how to sing. We played music together. And he really believed in me

Lee Sr: Cause when you grew up, everything, you touched was great.

From the time I was a little kid, it was always me and him. Lee Sr and Lee Jr . . . Leeroy and Lee Lee.

But while my dad was happy at church, nightmares interrupted his sleep sometimes. He’d wake up screaming, startling the whole house. It scared me so much as a kid.

One morning, I got the courage to ask him what he was dreaming about. He just looked down at the floor and said, “Alabama, son. Alabama.”

Lee Sr.: When I had left Alabama, something came out of me, man. A big ass relief. And I didn't even know where I was going. But it was a big ass, just, man like a breath of fresh air, man. And that's the way I felt.

Born in 1948 in a small town in Alabama, he never talked about the place, but for my Dad, Alabama was always present…

In my mid 30s, I started having my own nightmares.

I tried to ignore them, but couldn’t. I had to find out why I was being haunted.

Did it have anything to do with my dad?

To answer the question, I went into journalist mode. I had deep conversations with my dad, family members, and even experts, all to to understand what happened to him... and to me

Lee Sr: I really haven't shared this shit with

anybody. You know..

Ruth Miller: It’s going to take a whole lot of truth telling for folks to really understand. And i think it’s time now because people are passing on, and if we don’t document this history it’s going to be gone.

Zollie Owens: I may not have money in my pocket. But if I have that land that is of value, that is money.

Zollie Owens: My kids can fall back on this land, they'll have something

Lloyd Pugh: I’m looking at the will of John Pugh. One woman, Judy worth $200. One young man name Abraham. $400. I mean, that's the proof of our line owning slaves.

Lee Hawkins: Do you feel guilty about it?

Lloyd Pugh: No.

While I started to unravel questions for myself, as a reporter it’s never just about me. This journey revealed a part of American history we haven't talked much about. The aftermath of Jim Crow.

Ruth Miller: That trauma, That collective trauma, keeps happening over and over again. And every day that you live You're running into something.

It’s a history that’s shaped my and other families’ experiences in America. AND how my parents raised me as a Black kid in my own country.

Roberta Hawkins: We were afraid for you that something would happen, because things have happened.

Asking questions can lead to answers that lead to healing. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

Daina Ramey Berry: There's so much strength and power in this history.

Daina Ramey Berry: If you look at history as a foundation, the foundations that were laid are still what have built our houses.

This is “What Happened in Alabama?”, a new podcast from APM Studios.

I get answers to some of the hardest questions of how things came to be for many Black Americans, and the truth that must come before any reconciliation can happen.

First episode drops on May 15th.