Birmingham, Walter (Barr) 1913-2004

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BIRMINGHAM, Walter (Barr) 1913-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born January 4, 1913, in Ferozepore, India; died August 16, 2004. Educator, economist, and author. Birmingham, a professor at universities in both England and Africa, was known for his work in assisting in the development of western Africa and in aiding the poor as a former warden of Toynbee Hall. The son of a British Army sergeant stationed in India, he returned with his family to England and was educated at Royal Liberty School. After this, however, he led a somewhat peripatetic life, exploring everything from vegetable gardening and trade unionism to community living and Quakerism while taking night classes at the London School of Economics. By the time he completed his degree in 1937, Birmingham had developed a strong work ethic and a belief in social causes. In the British Civil Service until 1942, he then lectured at the University of Wales from 1943 to 1951. The next year, Birmingham took a post at the University of Ghana as a senior lecturer in economics (he would later coedit a two-volume book on Ghana titled Study of Contemporary Ghana, published in 1966 and 1967). While in Africa, he advised the British government and the World Council of Churches on development strategies, and in 1955 he was also on the Royal Commission of Enquiry into the Mining Industry. Returning to England in 1961, he joined the University of Leicester faculty as a senior lecturer for the next three years; during this time, he continued his interest in Africa by serving as an advisor for a five-year development plan. From 1964 until 1972, Birmingham was warden of Toynbee Hall. At the time, the university settlement was still in disrepair from the war, and Birmingham helped rebuild it with the unlikely assistance of John Profumo, the disgraced Conservative War Minister who left government after his sexual involvement with a girl who was in touch with a spy for the Soviet Union. Together, Birmingham and Profumo worked on programs to alleviate child poverty, aid immigrant families, and provide housing to the poor. Birmingham then returned to Africa to be a professor of economics at the University of Cape Coast from 1972 to 1975, followed by a stint at the University of Lesotho. Finally, he returned to England once more to take up his interest in providing affordable housing to the poor, this time in the county of Dorset. Birmingham wrote about his concerns regarding poverty and economic development in his 1974 book, Poverty and Development, as well as in Planning and Growth in Rich and Poor Countries (1966), which he edited with Alec G. Ford. The economist was also the author of a standard textbook on economics titled Introduction to Economics (1955), which was later revised as Economics: An Introduction (1966).



Guardian (London, England), September 6, 2004, p. 19.

Times (London, England), September 13, 2004, p. 25.

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Birmingham, Walter (Barr) 1913-2004

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