Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Monday's Thoughts

Today was quite a busy day! There was so much information to process …but it was very intellectually stimulating and inspiring. I’ve found that the more I learn, the more questions tend to pop up in my mind!

We left the hotel at 9:30 a.m. for the same neighborhood we visited yesterday, this time to tour the 16th Street Baptist Church. 

This place was nothing short of powerful! We started the tour with a short documentary about the church's history and significance. Founded in 1883, the church was resented by whites who believed that “no black church should be this beautiful.” It quickly became the prominent center for black events, as well as an important center for the Alabama Freedom Movement. It was in this sanctuary that Martin Luther King, Jr. mobilized blacks and spread the strategy of nonviolence; his work at this church also helped build his confidence for the later March on Washington, D.C.

In 1963, the church was bombed. Four girls, changing into their choir robes for a special Youth Day service, were killed in the blast. This event, the first to result in deaths, led many whites to sympathize with the civil rights cause; even those who still believed in segregation regarded the bombing as closer to an act of terrorism. Among the heavy damages to the building was one eerie discovery: a stained glass window depicting Jesus Christ remained intact except for the face.


Not until fourteen years later was Robert Chambliss, a Ku Klux Klansman, tried as a suspect in the bombing, found guilty, and convicted. Two additional people were found guilty some time later.

After the documentary, we went down to the very part of the church most heavily damaged in the blast. This was a very solemn experience; from the pictures on the walls, it was clear that the 1963 bombing continues to have a dramatic effect on the church. I came across a framed poem that moved me:

After our time in the church, we were free to explore the downtown area and find some lunch. Carolyn, Linda, and I took a walking tour starting in Ingram Park, where we learned about the “Selective Buying Campaign” that blacks used in order to place economic pressure to white business owners that discriminated. An interesting part of the movement was the decision not to purchase new clothing for Easter Sunday, opting instead to wear old overalls to church on that day. 

We then embarked for the second city of our trip - Montgomery, Alabama. Once there, we visited the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, on the Troy University campus. Touring this building helped me to understand the important role of Montgomery in the shaping of the Civil Rights Movement. Because of her calm refusal to leave her bus seat, Rosa Parks was able to spark revolutionary fervor. Her arrest led to the incredibly organized Montgomery bus boycott and subsequent revolutionary movements.

One thing I found particularly interesting was that Parks actually wasn’t arrested for forcing bus integration; in fact, Parks was only fined for disobeying the bus driver’s instructions to leave her seat. Only the very front bus seats were reserved for whites, rendering Parks’ middle seat well into “black” territory. Parks bravely chose to use her experience to prove that race segregation on city buses was unconstitutional, because it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

After touring the museum, we split up into two groups and took a walking tour of downtown Birmingham. We previewed many of the sites that we will visit tomorrow, such as the State Capitol, the Confederate White House, and the former Greyhound Bus Station. Unfortunately, we won't be able to tour the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Tour, because of a sudden funeral scheduling.

This tour was interesting because it showed the juxtaposition between the legacies of the white experience and the black experience of the Civil Rights Movement; opulent financial monoliths exist right next to historical sites of incomprehensible struggle and strength.

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

Alabama State Capitol

I didn’t know quite what to make of it, but it definitely didn’t feel right. I look forward to tomorrow’s tours in order to make sense of the different perspectives, although I don’t plan on coming to any definite conclusions. There is always more to learn!

After hours of exploring, we were all hungry! For dinner all eighty of us ate at Dreamland BBQ, a soul-food haven in the heart of Montgomery. 

Being a vegetarian, there were some delicious options… but the banana cream pudding was simply beautiful. :)

As I said before, there was so much information to process today. I am so grateful for the opportunity to immerse myself in the history of this movement and soak up all the knowledge I can!

No comments:

Post a Comment