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Archive for January, 2009

As our trip was coming to an end, we left Alabama and traveled to Atlanta, Georgia where we toured the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site.  While entering upon the site, we toured an exhibit entirely dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.  Split into different sections, the exhibit displayed not only an overall timeline of the major events in his life, but a detailed description of the how he helped shaped the movement through the different stages of the movement. The display not only shared his influences, but also described his childhood. Martin Luther King, Jr. had once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” It was interesting to learn that his father had rigorous demands for memorization of the scriptures.

 It also seemed that after 1965 we were less informed about the events that took place. Thus, the section, “Expanding the Dream”, was one of the most interesting sections, as we learned about the white supremacist groups in Chicago and the death of James Meredith in the March Against Fear, in which he was shot on the second day.  Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

 While the exhibit was information orientated, there were other sections such as the letters from elementary students as well as Dr. King’s personal items that moved us. Thus, my visiting Freedom Hall and viewing both Dr. King and Coretta King’s personal items, I was better able to step back and appreciate the impact both had had. Also, the display of Gandhi was fascinating. One quote had been, “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hill.” It was easy to see where Dr. King got his influence and his non-violence notion. 

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Rosa Parks Museum

As we look back on the civil rights era, we tend to admire great leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, for its success. However, it is often the small acts of individuals that create revolutionary movements. One such act consisted of a black woman who refused to give her seat up on a bus.  This woman is known as Rosa Parks.

During our trip, we visited the Rosa Parks Museum and learned of the exceptional woman who exemplified all those that had ever been oppressed. She began a movement by taking a stand.  The museum allowed us to take a step back in time, as they reenacted the events of December 1, 1955 when Rosa Parks would not give up her seat after there were not enough seats for all the white riders. After being threatened with being arrested, she simply stated, “You may do that.” rosa-parks-dickson1dec05

Her arrest led to thousands of African Americans boycotting and deciding not to ride the buses and the beginning of the Montgomery Improvement Association.  With the boycott, bus companies began to worry, as they lost almost three grand each day. The black community stated three conditions: the bus drivers should treat them with respect, the policy “First come, First serve” be followed, and black bus drivers should be hired to work in the black neighborhoods.  However, no agreement was reached.

Having studied about individuals willingly being arrested for their cause, it was the mass arrest on February 12, 1956 that stood out among the rest. During the day, eighty-nine individuals, including Dr. King, Rev. Abernathy, and Rosa Parks herself, went to the courthouse in their “Sunday’s best” and stood outside, showing that they weren’t afraid to be arrested. After being taken in, 250 more followed and accordingly, were arrested.  However, with limited space, they were let go.  It wasn’t until December 21, 1956, known as Victory Day, when Dr. King with five others were finally able to ride in the buses, after the segregation was ruled as unconstitutional.

As our visit to the Rosa Parks Museum was coming to an end, Bill Clinton’s State of the Union was being played.  It was a fitting ending to a great tour, as Rosa Parks was able to “sit wherever she wanted to.”

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         Our class had to opportunity to visit the Dexter Parsonage Museum.  Dr. King lived in this house when he was a Reverend at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.  Located just seven blocks from the church itself, this little house holds some incredible history.  One of the most unique aspects we learned of was Dr. King’s wife, Rosetta.  We learned that Rosetta’s father did not want her to marry Dr. King, yet even in some of the greatest moments of adversity, Rosetta was there.  On January 30, 1956, Dr. King’s house was bombed; on the porch of the house today, there is still a small crater that identifies where the bombing took place.  When Rosetta’s father wanted her to move out of the parsonage, she stood beside Dr. King.  These actions truly speak to the character of Rosetta and the deep love between Rosetta and Martin Luther.

            Our guide, an old lady by the name of Shirley, really helped to make the tour of the parsonage have such a great impact.  Shirley frequently remarked that she inspired to do her work because she is a “direct beneficiary” of the noble acts of Dr. King.  Yet, throughout Shirley’s tour, her goal was to show that Dr. King was an average young man (in his late 20’s / early 30’s) simply doing what he felt was right.  She talked about the fact that Dr. King had a love for jazz, was a private smoker, and loved his family above all else.  Often times, King is so glorified, yet we neglect the fact that he really was a person above all.

            The greatest part of this museum was the “King-Johnson Garden for Reflection”.  After taking in so much information (from this tour and everything else we have learned), it was nice to just sit and have some quiet time to reflect.  All of what we learn digs so deep and evokes so many emotions; having this time provided some necessary quiet reflection and time take a break from our high-packed schedule.  Around the garden were six benches.  Each bench had a theme: equality, understanding, forgiveness, peace, unity, and hope.  The goal of these benches was to take time to reflect on each theme as it pertains to you, your family, and your community.  Seeing the Dexter parsonage was another great landmark on our journey to gaining a better understanding of civil rights and the hope for a better world.  

The parsonage house in Montgomery where Martin Luther King, Jr. lived.

The parsonage house in Montgomery where Martin Luther King, Jr. lived.

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The State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama is a historical landmark located at the heart of city. Its steps have seen influential leaders shape the history of a state and a nation. The walls inside of the capitol are filled with paintings and artifacts from a state government that has been behind some of the most controversial issues in the history of our nation. From its first use in 1851 until 1985, the building saw the establishment of the Confederate States of America, the swearing in of the CSA’s first and only president, and the executive orders for the enforcement of segregation, including Governor Wallace’s proclamation for “Segregation now, segregation then, and segregation forever.”                 

Alabama State Capitol Building.

Alabama State Capitol Building.

Outside, the steps leading up to the Capitol are made of marble and rise high above the street below, overlooking the city, including Dexter Baptist Church, Dr. King’s church during his stay in Montgomery. Inside, the stairs are supported without any visible beams. The center rotunda rises almost 100 feet from the floor, decorated elaborately with molding and many colors. The second floor has large paintings of significant events in Alabama history, including the founding of the area by colonists and the establishment of the Confederate States of America. The original rooms of the State House of Representatives and Senate are restored to how they would have looked in the mid 1800s.

Rotunda in the Capitol Building.

Rotunda in the Capitol Building.

In the main floor rotunda, there is a large painting of Governor George Wallace, with three flags in the background, including the Confederate battle flag. It is always awe inspiring to walk the halls where history was made. The Capitol of Alabama is a beautiful architectural monument housing the history of Alabama. But on this day it wasn’t about the paintings, furniture, or timelines, it was the conclusion of the Selma-Montgomery Voting Rights March that helped recognize African American’s inalienable right to vote.

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"Neutrality helps the oppressor, not the victim."

"Neutrality helps the oppressor, not the victim."

The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in 1971 as a civil rights law firm.  Today, it implements a number of education programs ranging from informing law enforcement officials of potential hate groups to “Teaching Tolerance,” which provides teachers with lesson plans that encourage respect and unity in the classroom. The SPLC works hard to both track and fight several hate groups across the country. It has the largest database of domestic terrorists in the country.  

 

Ian, Jackie, Evan and Kristen in front of the memorial.

Ian, Jackie, Evan and Kristen in front of the memorial.

Next to the Center is the Civil Rights Memorial, which honors those who lost their life during the civil rights movement. Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., also created this memorial. It is made out of black granite with important dates of the movement engraved in it. There is constant flowing water over the memorials, as the water represents cleansing.  Another part of the memorial has a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “…until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

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We had a chance to visit the Center’s civil rights museum where we watched a video about the many individuals who were killed during the movement era. We then added our name to the “Wall of Tolerance,”  pledging to take a stand against hate, injustice and intolerance. The museum also highlighted innocent victims from the past twenty years who lost their lives due to intolerance and discrimination. 

 

Our names on the "Wall of Tolerance."

Our names on the "Wall of Tolerance."

 

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After having participated in the freedom tour and having walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, we traveled to the Lowndes County Interpretive Center. While being newly opened and operated by the National Park Service, it’s impression left us with a haunting image of the brutality faced by those fighting against injustice.  While having heard of the struggle and oppression blacks had to endure while fighting for their rights, the center displayed a through exhibit of this battle.  

Lowndes County residents were active in the voting rights movement.

Lowndes County residents were active in the voting rights movement.

 

It was once said that “Lowndes was a truly totalitarian society-the epitome of the tight, insulated police state.”  Lowndes County was an integral part of the fight for blacks to vote. Despite literacy tests, poll taxes, and police brutality, hundreds of people continued to stand outside the courthouse waiting to register, disregarding their personal safety. One of the most interesting aspects of the center was learning that after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, many blacks lost their homes when wealthy landowners kicked them off their land; thus, what is now known as “tent cities” were formed. Furthermore, the center had also put a human touch into their exhibit, displaying personal belongings and clothing of the marchers. However, the center did not allow us to categorize these marchers, as each had their own story. We were constantly reminded that these individuals, who stood up for equality, were no different from you and I. 

 

Replica of one of the tent houses found in Lowndes County.

Replica of one of the tent houses found in Lowndes County.

 

So far on our journey, we have become knowledgeable of the struggle, but we have also learned of its progress. For example, 74% of blacks in Lowndes County in 1998 could vote.  Thus, the saying, “If there is not struggle, there is no progress,” is truly exemplified.

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