Next, we went to Selma where Bloody Sunday occurred. This was by far the most emotional day of the trip. This is due to the fact that we were lucky to be able to go to the Slavery Reenactment Museum, which I will discuss in a bit.
First, we met with a woman named Joanne Bland who was 11 years old in 1965. She was there on that fateful Sunday when peaceful marchers set out across Edmund Pettus Bridge to walk the 50 or so miles to the capital (Montgomery). The police beat them back without mercy. She turned out okay since she was not in the very front. By this age, she had been arrested 14 documented times. The leaders of the movement felt that putting children in the front lines of the movement would give more attention to their cause, especially as the media recorded the police assaults with the water and dogs.
Joanne was an interesting woman who was intimidating at first with her sacastic, kind of in-your-face attitude, but she calmed down. Later in the day, we had a wonderful talk for about 20 minutes while she smoked a cigarette, and proved to be a wise, but very tired lady who felt like she was always fighting for the civil rights of her people. She lamented that it was difficult to get the young people of the community to be passionate about the society they lived in, and that many did not understand or appreciate their heritage, or the hard work of the movement participants. She hoped that our interests in the local heritage would be contagious and that someday, they could continue the legacy, and at least maintain the museums for the future.
She took us on a bus tour of the older parts of Selma and pointed out where the whites lived on one side of the street, and the blacks on other. If you were a black person on the white side, you'd better be working and that's it. We visited the Voting Rights Museum which was intersting. It focused a bit more on those who were killed in the movement, and also had an old voting booth (very confusing to me on how I would vote). There was also a jail cell that a lot of the students crammed into to get an idea for what the movement participants felt. I missed this but it sounded very surreal to those involved. Across the street was a park established by the museum and students gathered litter and roamed/rested. Later, we marched across the bridge as a reenactment. Very moving.
Earlier in the day, we visited the Slavery Reenactment Museum. No one knew what was going to happen as it was newly opened. I suggested in the future now that the coordinators are more prepared, to think about warning students. This is what happened. For me, it was very painful. For those who are squeamish, please feel free to by-pass the next paragraph. I tell of a reenactment experience where we were to endure an idea of what it must have felt like to be a freed person being turned into a slave. I also mention my very emotional reactions.
We arrived on the bus, and immediatelly, museum staff began yelling at us, using terms such as "bucks" and "wenches". We were then told to line up outside of the building with our backs to the wall, and to put out our hands and open our mouths. We soon got the picture. I was unable to participate. I was very choked up and when the staff member (man in his 70's?) walked to each person and "inspected" us, I could not do what he told me to do. My arms were like lead. I could not look up. I tried to participate, but it was too much. I completely empathized with the slaves, perhaps too much. It also triggered some of the cult stuff for me as these activities were similar to how Rama (cult leader) treated my peers and me. The feeling of being regarded as less than a valuable human being came back strongly; I felt like I was a child, unable to control my fate. I felt the shocking trigger of feeling worthless and small, all over again. After being frozen for about 30 seconds, I ran away. I found a dark, musty closet and wept until I could weep no more. One of coordinators offered me comfort and we went for a short walk. She was very sweet and I really appreciated it.
Eventually, I was able to re-join the group who was inside, receiving a very colorful presentation of African strengths, and the continent's strong influence on humanity. Acknowledgements were made of the influence on future generations of slaves such as in music and religion, as well as the fact that slavery was a common practice in many African cultures. However, the main distinctions are that many of these slaves were treated with much more respect and dignity than were the slaves of those with European descent. Next, we went into a room that was set up somewhat as a slave ship. Another stunning round of emotions overwhelmed me. The tour leader explained what the journey was like for the slaves: the pain, the frustration, the humiliation, the torture, the death, the sickness, the inhumanity. I bawled the whole time.
We learned a bit more of the the slaves' first entry into the country when they were taken off the ships. Another room showed pictures of the lynched. I never cease to be amazed that many white people in the South would gather for picnics, and lynchings would be part of the festivities. It's even worse that they took pictures, and people are smiling and laughing, and children are present. I had seen these before, but the impact was somehow deeper this time. The guide stated that "picnic" comes from "pic a nig---". I'll have to look into that.
I was very grateful for the day--and it ended with doing some service projects for a local church and a school. They served us dinner and it was well received. Such amazing people about whom I could write another several paragraphs about. I'll take it easy on you, lol.