Monday, January 7, 2013

"My name is Karen Hansen, and I'm now on the Wall of Tolerance."

After visiting at least five more museums and having more guided tours throughout Montgomery, Alabama (Dexter Baptist Church, Alabama State Capitol, Rosa Parks Museum, Civil Rights Memorial Center, Freedom Riders Museum, etc.)...I can say I've learned "a few things" about the Civil Rights Movement.

Most moving took place at the Civil Rights Memorial Center, sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  After looking at a wall of martyrs, discussing their impact, a moving film, and a walk through more examples of injustice, we entered a room called the Wall of Tolerance.  Here, we had an opportunity to stand up against prejudice, hate, and injustice and sign our names, making a pledge to be for equality the rest of our lives.  This is the pledge we sign:
By placing my name on the Wall of Tolerance, I pledge to take a stand against hate, injustice and intolerance. I will work in my daily life for justice, equality and human rights - the ideals for which the Civil Rights martyrs died.
Students names projected on the Wall of Tolerance
We also had the opportunity to tour the Alabama State Capitol.  Today, I critically listened to the information shared by our tour guide and observed the images and captions in the building.  Some of the murals in the rotunda depicted Native Americans in a poor light, calling them "Hostile...Indians.'  We also discussed the portrayal of the "Golden Period," which was at the height of slavery.  This was a time of wealth and leisure for the whites, but didn't consider the lives of others.

Who are we to call this race hostile when we are the ones taking the land? Who are we to think life is all about our own success and recreation when there are plenty of other people out there suffering, needing to be fought for?  Why must history be shown in a way that glorifies only the positives of our politics and history, ignoring the negative?  The tour guide mentioned that it would involve re-writing the state's history if they were to re-do the murals to incorporate the Civil Rights Movement.

Have they re-written history already?

Field trips go to this building all the time, guiding 4th grade children through the historical walls and depictions of life as it should be and is.  If these words and images are shown without explanation to the children, then the cycles will continue to turn, bringing us further into a world full of labels and misunderstanding.

Alabama's Coat of Arms...where's the U.S. flag?
Today, while at the Capitol, Jodi Thesing-Ritter asked us aloud during the tour to think critically about the images and words we were seeing.  I immediately felt this tension that Jodi shouldn't be bringing up such a sensitive topic in front of the state staff.  Didn't she know that was disrespectful?

But she was right.

Jodi prompted us to think about how the fear of political correctness and making mistakes can sometimes hinder our communication and our dialogue.  If she would have chosen to say something differently, less forward, or just nothing at all, I would not have thought nearly in the same way I did this afternoon.

Senate room in the Capitol.  Note the flag and artwork.
This means getting enough courage to say something to our local and state government, to creating petitions, to collaborating with others.  This may mean re-evaluating the material and agenda of a 4th grade field trip for educators to make sure the students are taught an accurate account of national history, INCLUDING the Civil Rights Movement.  INCLUDING the roles of men and women.  This means breaking down the systematic racism in our classrooms and in our buildings.

It may mean baby steps.  I learned today at the Rosa Parks Museum that the NAACP and MIA were not seeking to completely integrate the buses, but rather, they wanted to create a system that filled buses back-to-front with coloreds, and front-to-back with whites, at a first-come, first-serve basis.  They did not want to have to give up their seats for any reason.

Relevant.  Why?  They took baby steps.  Obviously, they knew what was right.  They knew they deserved seats at the very front of the bus, but they understood that change takes time.  They were strong and firm in their convictions, but led intentionally and successfully in creating the phenomenal  change of the Civil Rights Movement.
Your words matter.  It may be uncomfortable, but I know I've been raised in society to feel that way.  Of course, I do not want to offend anyone, but I must stand up for what I believe is right when confronted with a situation that belittles another person or group of people.

What is important is that I chose to agree to the words in italics above, agreeing to stand for justice.

"...Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream." - MLK, Jr.

- Karen Hansen
Senior at UW - Eau Claire
Public Relations/Kinesiology

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