Creative works by lawyers
Jenna M. Bedsole
LABOR; SCHOOLS &
In 2011, the Alabama State Bar Leadership Forum asked
its alumni to create a three-minute video on an inductee
into the Alabama Lawyers’ Hall of Fame, and the one that
intrigued Jenna Bedsole was Nina Miglionico.
“I started researching her, and soon I found I couldn’t
stop,” says Bedsole, who chairs the labor and employment
group at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz
in Birmingham. “Three minutes just wasn’t enough time to
tell her story.”
So three minutes turned into an hour-long documentary,
Stand Up, Speak Out—The Nina Miglionico Story, which exam-
ines the accomplishments of the civil rights-era firebrand.
“She practiced law during a time when there weren’t
many women in the field,” Bedsole says. “Her strength and
courage really inspired me.”
Miglionico was born in Birmingham in 1913 to Italian im-
migrants. She graduated valedictorian of Howard College
(now Samford University) in 1933 and went to law school at
the University of Alabama. Early in her career, she became
an activist for social justice. In 1963 she won a seat on the
city council, which she held for 23 years.
“Her biggest achievements were voting to repeal the
segregation laws and advocating that women be allowed
to serve on juries in Alabama,” Bedsole says, referring to
White v. Cook, which granted jury privileges to women and
African-Americans in 1966.
Miglionico’s unflinching stance on integration made her
a controversial figure, and a target, in the city then known
as “Bombingham.” In 1965, just before her first re-election
to the council, 60 sticks of dynamite were left on her
Behind the scenes of Jenna Bedsole’s documentary on an Alabama legal pioneer
who braved porch bombs and burning crosses BY CANDICE DYER
porch. When she became the first woman in Alabama to
be nominated for a congressional seat, the Ku Klux Klan
burned a cross in her yard.
“Even the threats against her life didn’t break her stride,”
Bedsole, a first-time filmmaker, says.
Miglionico, all of 5-foot- 2, also worked to improve prison
conditions; revise the probate laws that denied women
inheritance; and eliminate the poll tax. She was lobbying
for equal pay as far back as 1964. She kept up these reform
efforts until her death in 2009. She remains the longest-practicing female attorney in the state’s history.
The documentary weaves in Miglionico’s words among
interviews with other pioneering Alabama leaders, including the first African-American woman elected as a judge
and the first woman senator. Referring to her as “Miss
Nina,” they talk warmly about her trailblazing achievements, while the son of her paralegal recounts how Miglionico paid for his college education.
The documentary screened at the Sidewalk Film Festival
in Birmingham in August, and it likely will air on Alabama
public television. “We’ve also been contacted by a distributor in New York who sells films to educational institutions,”
One of Miglionico’s most lasting contributions, Bedsole
says, was mentoring dozens of young women at Cumberland law school.
“It’s great to be the first—to be one,” Miglionico once
said, “but it’s the two, three and four that come after you
that is the telling thing.”
The Life and Times of Nina Miglionico
CBS NE WS
1913 Born in Birmingham
1936 Completes law studies at the University of Alabama
1963 Elected to Birmingham city council; votes to rescind city’s segregation ordinances
1965 White supremacists plant bomb on her porch
1974 Becomes first woman in Alabama nominated for a congressional seat
1978 Elected president of city council
1981 Retires from city council; persuades colleagues to revise City Hall sign from
“Cities are what men make them” to “Cities are what we make them”
2015 Six years after her death, statue of Miglionico unveiled at City Hall