The gradual fading of ethnic consciousness in Birmingham came to a sudden end with the 1956 Hungarian rebellion against Soviet occupation and repression. Hungarian-Americans, who had twice in the twentieth century been characterized as relatives of "the enemy," overnight became relatives of the fearless freedom fighters who had defied the Communists and fought for democracy against overwhelming odds. In Birmingham, self-effacement was replaced by obvious pride. The community pulled together to support the wave of refugees who escaped and made their way to Toledo after the Soviet Union crushed their revolution. 1956 had a distinct revitalizing effect on Birmingham, even though relatively few Hungarian 1956-ers settled there. Community cooperation was enhanced as the newcomers were greeted and efforts were made to settle them in. Only about 300 individuals came to Toledo, and only approximately one-fourth of them settled directly in Birmingham, but general awareness and pride in ethnicity increased in greater proportions. The infusion provided new leaders for the community, too, since a majority of the refugees were well-educated engineers, businesspeople, and professionals.
This transfusion came at an important moment in the neighborhood's history, since its economic base was beginning to fail. One after another, the major riverfront industries had been closing down. While many of Birmingham's residents were already at retirement age, others were laid off involuntarily as Malleable Casting, Unitcast, and Craig Shipyard closed their doors. For the younger generation, this often meant that they were forced to leave the neighborhood for jobs elsewhere. The process was exacerbated by the red-lining policies of real estate agencies and banks that were eager to sacrifice Birmingham for the newly developing suburbs.
The new leadership and ethnic pride the 1956-ers brought with them, although it had significant impact, was not enough to reverse the overall trend of Birmingham's decline. As the 1960s began, the dissolution of Birmingham as a vital neighborhood was increasingly apparent as the younger generation continued to drift toward the suburbs. A telling indication of the changing times was the renaming of the "Hungarian Reformed Church;" it became the Calvin United Church of Christ in 1962. In explaining the name change the minister said that a new era had arrived in which "nationalistic [sic] labels were becoming less applicable."
It is possible that, despite the influx of 56-ers, Birmingham's slow slide into non-existence might have run its course, as the German ethnic enclave known as Link's Hill had decades earlier. But two events occurred in 1974 that brought Birmingham back from the brink, both as an ethnic community and as a political force in the city of Toledo. The first was the proposed closing of the Birmingham branch of the Toledo Lucas County Library. Birmingham residents organized a group called "Save Our Library" out of the churches and the 20th Ward Democratic Party Club, and, after several reversals, convinced the library board to keep the neighborhood branch open.
The other significant event in 1974 was an attempt by the city planners to widen Consaul Street and build an overpass which would have split Birmingham into two parts. St. Stephen's Father Martin Hernady, Nancy Packo, Oscar Kinsey, and other Birmingham civic leaders organized a response. They mobilized a protest and blocked traffic in front of St. Stephen's church along Consaul Street, the main thoroughfare to the Maumee River. Teachers and their students together streamed out of St. Stephen's school and stopped the cars and trucks. These demonstrations, sympathetic coverage in Toledo's major daily newspaper, The Blade, and some effective lobbying enabled Birmingham to "beat City Hall." Father Hernady, as spokesman for the newly formed "Birmingham Neighborhood Coalition," addressed Toledo City Council and in April convinced the members to postpone the Consaul Street project for ninety days for further study. That summer the issue was voted down unanimously in Council, and The Blade trumpeted, "Residents Triumphant in Birmingham Area." The bells of all three of Birmingham's churches were rung simultaneously for the first time since the end of World War II.
These two civic successes revived Birmingham's sense of community. Furthermore, the energy and political power unleashed by the events had numerous ripple effects. They launched the successful political careers of current Toledo City Councilman Peter Ujvagi and two-term County Commissioner Francis Szollosi. They led to the formation of the Birmingham Neighborhood Coalition and the East Toledo Community Organization (ETCO). They also inaugurated the Birmingham Ethnic Festival, which was originally a victory celebration, but has since become an annual occurrence. Held continually since 1974 on St. Stephen's Day in August, the event is considered one of Toledo's best summer ethnic festivals. Proceeds go to Birmingham's "self-defense fund."
The 1976 presidential campaign brought Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter to Birmingham, a traditional Democratic Party stronghold, where he and Walter Mondale dutifully autographed Tony Packo's Hungarian hot dog buns, in the tradition of the establishment. Packo's was becoming known nationally during this time through frequent mentions by the character Max Clinger on the popular television show "M*A*S*H." In 1977, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Birmingham Neighborhood Coalition produced a professional documentary film of the Abauj Bethlehemes Christmas folk play. The neighborhood has also been the subject of a video documentary. Titled "Urban Turf and Ethnic Soul," this video was made in 1985 with support from the Ohio Humanities Council. The Birmingham Cultural Center was established in 1983 through the Urban Affairs Center of The University of Toledo, and over the years has spearheaded numerous projects to collect and preserve the history and culture of the neighborhood. The present volume, in fact, is one of the Cultural Center's projects.