Sunday, March 28, 2010

Civil Rights - Day Two

Today was a much more eventful day. We started off the morning in Atlanta, Georgia and attended church service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is a church that MLK was very involved with. They had a beautiful choir. Especially the choir member who sang solo and played piano. Her voice was monumentally gorgeous. The pastor there now, Raphael Warnock delivered a very good message too. What he talked about was a verse in the book of John, a scripture that said people gathered for one purpose: "to see Jesus". Then he tied it to saying that you could come to church to observe, as other people often observe you but do not truly see you. But, the whole point is to come to church so that you can see Jesus. And that no one should get in the way of that. And that the God inside of you wants to hook up with the God who is all around you. I realize that this is abstract, and probably not a good explanation of an hour long sermon. But you can trust me when I say it was good.

MLK's birthplace was about three blocks down the street on Auburn Avenue. It was a big Victorian style house (although I know really nothing about the true styles of architecture) that was painted yellow-ish with black trim and shutters. The whole street was a bunch of these old houses that people still lived in, and they had plaques outside explaining the background of the neighborhood. It was called "livable history". I have never seen that before, although someone told me we have something like that in Eau Claire too.

Also in the same general area was a couple of MLK museum's and his tomb. Coretta Scott King's tomb is right beside him. One of the museums had exhibit's of some of his clothing, of his Grammy Award and his Nobel Peace Prize, of the suit that he was stabbed in, etc. It also had exhibits chronicling his early life, his wife's early life, and the life of Rosa Parks. Additionally, there was a room dedicated to both MLK and Mahatma Gandhi, explaining the connection between the two of them. Basically that MLK followed Gandhi's Hindu ideal of non-violence. Which incidentally, is called "ahimsa", in case you wanted to know the sanskrit term for it. (I conveniently know this because I am in a Religions class right now.)

After that, we loaded on the bus and drove to Birmingham, Alabama where we made our first stop at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It is a large museum chronicling the struggle of black Americans, and the course of the civil rights movement. I'm trying to think of what stood out to me the most. There was one thing that stood out to a lot of us: a KKK robe given by an "anonymous" donor. And right behind it a cross that had been burned in the front yard of a home where a white woman and black man lived together. This occurred in the 1990's. So, that stood out because it had happened so recently. Which shows you just how big of a hatred there is of miscegenation among some people even now.

To wrap up, we went to the University of Alabama - Birmingham and listened to Dr. Pamela King, a history professor speak on the importance of Birmingham in the Civil Rights movement and of her own personal experiences as the child of two civil-rights activists as she grew up in Albany, Georgia. What I thought was most interesting about her lecture was that she seemed to see Martin Luther King, Jr. in a different light than what I had been told before about him. To summarize, what she said was that at that time in America most of the black population was working-class and that MLK was himself middle-class and educated, so there were many people who considered him to be sort-of snobbish. They thought this because he was such an intellectual, and because of his middle-class ideals that didn't relate to them. The professor said that he didn't really start to get through to the working-class, or start focusing on the working-class until not too long before his assassination. In my African-American history class, I had never heard this. And it causes me to wonder: If most of the black population was working-class, how was King so successful? Apparently, the movement was essentially a middle-class movement, and in that case, what did the majority working-class have to do with it? Did he ever try to really reach out to them? How did he do it? What won them over, if anything? That's a lot of questions, but maybe ones I can get answered in the next week. :)

Also, she told us about some of the activities of the Communist Party in the South during the late 20's and 30's which was something that I was completely never aware of. And that when the Scottsboro Boys were tried for rape in the 30's, the Communist party got involved and sent a lawyer down to defend them named Samuel Leibowitz. So, if you think about a Jewish lawyer being sent to the South by the Communist party to defend a group of young black men, it's pretty crazy.

I really need to wrap this up now, because I am using someone else's computer right now. But, the last thing I will say is that we also saw 16th Street Baptist Church, where four-little-girls were famously killed in a bombing. And, we walked through Kelly Ingram park. The stage for protests in 1963, and the place where city commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor attacked young protesters with police attack dogs and high-pressured fire hoses.

I know that this is not concluded very well, and doesn't really come to a point. But, that is what we saw today. I think all of the thoughts slowly filter in when you take in that much at a time.

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