Day Four of our trip had us on the run, touring a number of historic sites and museums as well as watching more videos than my kids on a sick day.
A few highlights:
Driving to Montgomery, we watched Come Walk in My Shoes. The video follows a group trip to Alabama led by John Lewis. The video would be terrific to use with students (it looks like they’re asking teachers to field test related curriculum): I like the idea of students going on the same field trip as their congressional representatives.
Our first stop in Montgomery was Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Dr. King pastored 1954-1960. The church and was an outstanding teaching tool. Originally called the “Second Colored Baptist Church” when founded in 1879, its basement – which now features a terrific mural telling the story of the movement (focusing on the role of King and Montgomery, naturally) – is where E.D. Nixon called for the organization of the Montgomery Improvement Association. The church is also where George Wallace offered his 1979 public apology.
What I think was a revelation to all of us was the kind of thing you only discover through visiting a site: The Montgomery capital building – where delegates from the seceding southern states organized in 1861 and swore in Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederate States of America – sits one block from Dr. King’s church. Impressively restored, many of the building’s features were likely designed and constructed by slave Horace King.
From there, we ran over to the Rosa Parks museum, which hosts a nice interactive exhibit honoring Mrs. Parks and the Montgomery boycott. The museum is housed in the old Empire Theater, where Mrs. Parks was arrested. The role of the Highlander Center in preparing Mrs. Parks for her fight was highlighted. What became clear was the meager goals of the MIA at its initiation:
We are not seeking an end to segregation… All we are seeking is justice and a fair treatment in riding the busses.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., December 1955
Next, we were off to the Civil Rights Memorial Center, a tribute to “civil rights martyrs” and the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC fights hate groups through the courts, publishes Teaching Tolerance (devoted to anti-bias education) and Intelligence Report (detailing hate group activities.) The memorial was designed by Maya Lin.
After picking up lunch at Martha’s Place – the kind of restaurant that fed civil rights workers and fellow travelers – we were off to Selma. On the way, we watched Never Lose Site of Freedom – a video which shows today’s students as Civil Rights researchers.
In Selma, we visited Brown Chapel AME Church, from which on March 7, 1965, marchers left to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge and encounter troopers who made the Bloody Sunday march infamous. The monument outside the church tells the impoverished residents of the housing projects surrounding Brown that Martin Luther King had a dream.
From Brown, we went to a neighboring church (where marchers were chased and gassed by a deputized cavalry following the confrontation on the bridge), toured Selma, and visited the grassroots National Voting Rights Museum. Our guide through Selma was JoAnne Bland, who participated as an 11 year old – never anticipating the violence the protesters encountered. The Selma to Montgomery March, of course, continued after Bloody Sunday and Turnaround Tuesday – all the way to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River and spent a moment reflecting on the river of history we had traveled with Martha Bouyer, Glenn Eskew, and each other. After dinner and stories at Sam Golston’s Brownstone Manor, we headed back along rural roads to Birmingham (demonstrating just how far people had to come to join the march.) On the way home, one last incredible video: “Lay My Burden Down”, directed by Jack Willis for public television, documenting conditions of Black Alabamians one year following the passage of the 1965 Act.
All in all, images that won’t be forgotten.
Want to read about the rest of the trip?