James Saxon Childers was born and raised in Birmingham, Ala. In 1915, he was admitted as a Danforth Fellow to Oberlin College, an integrated institution in Ohio. During World War I, Childers left college to serve as a US Navy pilot. He returned to Oberlin after the war and earned his baccalaureate degree in 1920. After teaching in Birmingham for a year, Childers won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where he studied history and literature, earning a BA and an MA. In 1925, Childers returned to Birmingham, where he taught literature and creative writing at Birmingham-Southern College for seventeen years. During this time, Childers also worked part-time for The Birmingham News as a columnist and book reviewer. In 1926, his first novel, Laurel and Straw, was published. The first of his travel books, Through Oriental Gates, was published in 1930. Although his early novels did not receive good reviews, his travel books were liked by the critics.
In 1936, Childers published A Novel about a White Man and a Black Man in the Deep South, which advocated racial integration. From 1929 to 1942, Childers published novels, travel books, and a biography of Erskine Ramsay, a Birmingham civic leader. During World War II, Childers served as an intelligence officer. In 1943, he published War Eagles, a nonfiction work about American fighter pilots in the Royal Air Force of Great Britain. After the war, Childers and his wife moved to Chapel Hill, N.C., where he spent five years writing full-time. In 1951, they moved to Atlanta where Childers became an editor for The Atlanta Journal. His liberal views on integration and civil rights clashed with those of the publisher, however, and Childers was forced to resign in 1956. He then worked for the US State Department, giving lectures on American culture. His book The Nation on the Flying Trapeze grew out of that work. From the late 1950s until his death from cancer in the mid 1960s, Childers worked for the Atlanta publishing firm of Tupper & Love.
James Saxon Childers wrote novels, travel books, biography, and history. Several of his books are set in Birmingham.
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Photo courtesy of the Birmingham Public Library Archives, James Saxon Childers Papers, File No. 1120.1.61.
Last updated on Jul 23, 2009.