For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
I didn’t mind what they did until they bombed the 16th Street Church. Before that, I had heard of bombings – but they didn’t affect me personally. I was connected to three of the four girls… None of them had demonstrated… Cynthia Wesley like a sister… These were the first people I had known in my age group to die. That’s why we tell our story now: so people will know how painful it was…
Ms. Janice Kelsey (paraphrased)
Any history book that does not include us is incomplete…. It’s bad not to know – but it’s worse not to want to know.
Ms. Myrna Jackson
Today was riveting. Our continuing work with Dr. Glenn Eskew was compelling: he provided an overview of Alabama and Southern history from New Deal liberalism through the States Rights Dixiecrat period and then focusing on the 20th century Civil Rights Movement, echoing the narrative found in But for Birmingham, but with the benefit of discussion and the ability to direct our attention to city landmarks which are repeatedly present [such as the Municipal Auditorium where, in 1938, Eleanor Roosevelt straddled the Southern Conference for Human Welfare segregated by Bull Connor during the Southern Conference for Human Welfare; in 1948, the Dixiecrats held their convention nominating Strom Thurmond; and, in 1956, Nat King Cole was attacked in the middle of his concert (by Ace Carter, later to write The Education of Little Tree)].
I know that’s a long sentence – but it’s been a long day. Bear with me.
Next, we watched most of Teaching Tolerance’s The Children’s March – an engaging, but historically questionable, video. Historically questionable? For one, according to Dr. Eskew, at least one of the individuals focused on – as well as others, according to our panelists – was significantly misrepresented. I was also bothered by how archival footage and dramatizations were interchangeable in the presentation: I would have liked a little more effort to distinguish the two. That said, I’d certainly share it with kids – while discussing the complicating factors.
Next was the highlight of the day: Our panel discussion with Movement “footsoldiers” Myrna Jackson and Janice Kelsey and SCLC leader Bishop Calvin Woods. In a stirring presentation, the three told of the trials they faced, the tough decisions they made, and their motivations for making the decisions they did (whether that be Bishop Woods’ conviction that Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth was saved by God to lead the movement or Ms. Kelsey’s interest in meeting cute boys.) Over the course of an unforgettable hour and a half, the three of them sang, answered questions, and told the kinds of stories that make history come alive (like Ms Kelsey getting into trouble with her siblings for going off to jail for two weeks with their shared toothbrush, Ms Jackson sharing how the jailers answered the prisoners freedom songs by singing Dixie – and encouraging the long time prisoners to beat the protesters, which they did not, and Bishop Woods’ recitation of a praise song he wrote in honor of Dr. King.)
We finished off the day with Martha Bouyers leading a series of classroom ideas under the heading “Justice for All“: ideas likely to capture students’ interest in the injustices fought by the Movement through empathy, role play, statistics, and moral reasoning. Documents that we considered during the process included, amongst others, Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony to the Democratic National Committee in 1964 and Robert Kennedy’s 1964 report to John F Kennedy on Civil Rights.
Beyond the absolute pleasure and emotional satisfaction of being here is the recognition of being here at just the right moment: we likely would not have come here twenty years ago, as the city was not yet ready to talk about the Movement; ten years from now, there will likely be far fewer participants able to tell their stories. As one of the participants told us, there are just a few of us left – we have to get the truth told before we leave here.
Tomorrow we’re off to Montgomery and Selma. How lucky we are…
Want to read about the rest of the trip?