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Archive for the ‘Birmingham, Alabama’ Category

"There's Hope For the World"

"There's Hope For the World"

 

“History records and the pen moves on.” -Richard Arrington Jr.

Our class was fortunate to bump into Mayor Arrington at the Civil Rights Institute.  Elected in 1979, Mayor Arrington was the first black mayor of Birmingham, and he served Birmingham for 20 years.  We had the opportunity to listen to Mayor Arrington talk about the new book he just wrote: “There is Hope for the World”.  Afterwards, our group had the chance to get a picture with him.  

Evan, Ian, Jackie and Kristen with Birmingham Mayor Arrington.

Evan, Ian, Jackie and Kristen with Birmingham Mayor Arrington.

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The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

“I like to believe that the negative extremes of Birmingham’s past will resolve into the positive and utopian extreme of her future; that the sins of a dark yesterday will be redeemed in the achievements of a bright tomorrow. I have this hope because, once on a summer day, a dream came true.  The city of Birmingham discovered a conscience.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Having seen the city in its present form and taking a step back into the plight that the city had endured for so long, Dr. King’s words seemed to resonate with our group throughout the day.  After visiting Kelly Ingram Park, the next stop on our agenda was the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  The first thing our group did was watch a short film that detailed some of the early history of Birmingham.  In this video, we learned that Birmingham was once referred to as the “Magic City”.  Because Birmingham had the raw materials needed to create steel, it provided various opportunities for jobs.  Since the beginning of the city’s founding, blacks have fueled the city’s progress.  In the 1920’s, blacks accounted for 65% of Birmingham’s workforce.  However,  blacks received the lowest paid jobs and suffered from cruel working conditions.  This was just early signs of impending injustices that blacks would have to face.

Following the video, we entered the main exhibit of the museum.  While what we have learned provided context for the movement, the visual simulations we encountered gave our newly found knowledge-base a “face”.  Having been educated about the varying segreation ordinances, it was not until we saw the disparity between the public accomodations, education, and jobs that whites and blacks received that we fully understood. For example, in 1944, the average class size in black schools was 42.8 students.  In white schools, the average class was 24.3 students.  In addition, black teachers received 60% of the pay of a white teacher.  Even after a lawsuit was filed in 1947 that equalized salaries for black and white teachers, blacks still had to pay for textbooks and classroom materials.  By controlling what was “separate and equal”, whites were able to exert a seemingly unyielding force of superiority over the black community.  However, the black’s fight for justice was about to prove this notion to be void.

While legislation was passed that began to offer blacks some rights (eg- Brown v. Board of Education and Browder v. Gayle), the Supreme Court did not offer guidelines for dismantling the “separate but equal” clause.  It is astonishing to think that the abuse that took place soon thereafer came from the same system that we put so much trust in today. Having learned of the atrocities of the Freedom Rides, the visual representation of a burned bus (modeled after events that took place during the “Freedom Ride” in Anniston, Alabama) made us reevaluate our justice system, knowing that many officials and police officers did little to secure their safety.  This was just one example of the violence that the blacks endured.  We saw many other images such as: dogs attacking teenagers, protesters being beaten or hosed, and people being poisened with teargas.

While the museum offered powerful exhibits, archives, and galleries regarding the injustices that blacks once faced in our own country, the “Human Rights Gallery” offered an interactive look into the struggles that others across the globe face or have faced.  Such horrors as Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa, Darfur, and the Solidarity Movement in Poland were all detailed.  Facing these powerful images simply makes one aware of the oppression, violence, and struggles that humans have had to endure in their endeavors for equal rights.  However, after viewing all of the displays, we took with us the knowledge that is is possible to overcome oppresion.  We must keep this in mind as human rights are violated across the globe.

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The Bethel Baptist Church was the headquarters for the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, the group founded by Fred Shuttlesworth in response to the State of Alabama outlawing the NAACP. The church was bombed three times, the first on Christmas night of 1956. The ACMHR worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to promote nonviolent actions against segregation in the South, including the Freedom Rides and Sit-ins.
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16th

        The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute has captured the rich history of the civil rights movement through its multimedia displays and artifacts in its 58,000 square feet of museum space. Right across the street from this state-of-the-art facility stands a living remnant of the struggle for equality. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church grew from its humble beginnings in 1873 as a gathering for African Americans to worship into a pulpit for the greatest leaders of civil rights to speak. However, on a fateful Sunday morning in 1963, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church would become the tragic target of racial hate and injustice.

        The steps leading into the front doors of the church are high and lead into a sweeping sanctuary, marked by stain glass windows on each side and a large organ serving as a centerpiece. The church warmly opened up to us, allowing for conversation, questions, and a video presentation about the historical significance of the church. The church gained national exposure when four girls, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair, were killed by bomb blast on Sunday, September 15, 1963 at 10:22 a.m. This bombing was the result of four white men motivated by racial hate and discrimination.

        There are several points that were very powerful during our visit to the church. It was made a point to know the little girls that were murdered in the bombing by their names. It is important to make sure that as history moves forward, these victims of hate do not go into anonymity.

        The stain glass windows that are located on the side of the church were damaged after the blast. In the glass picturing Christ, only the eyes of Jesus were blown out. This is regarded as symbolic because, although the vision of the civil rights movement was temporarily distorted, the body was not harmed.

This stain glass image of Jesus Christ was only partially shattered in the bombing.

This stain glass image of Jesus Christ was only partially shattered in the bombing.

 

 

     Following the bombing in 1964, a stain glass window donated by the people of Wales was erected at the front of the church. It depicts a black man, seemingly in a crucifix shape, with one hand turned away and one hand open to the sky. The turned hand is pushing away prejudice, hate, and discrimination while the open hand represents repentance and forgiveness. The rainbow behind his head shows the harmony and peace that can be achieved with people of all races, ethnicities and creeds. 

This stain glass window was a gift from the people from Wales.

This stain glass window was a gift from the people from Wales.

        The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church will never be a museum nor will the exact site of the death of the girls ever be marked. The church is living and vibrant, still a staple in the African American community. It is a symbol of hope and the continuing march forward in civil progress.

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Kelly Ingram Park

This morning we spent some time in Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham.  It is just across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The park is named after Osmond Kelly Ingram, the first sailor in the U.S. Navy to be killed in World War I.

In the 1960s, Kelly Ingram Park was often the stage for civil rights rallies and marches. It was also the location where Birmingham police released attack dogs and fire hoses on innocent children and adults who were peacefully rallying for human rights.

Evan, Kristen, Jackie and Ian at Kelly Ingram Park

Evan, Kristen, Jackie and Ian at Kelly Ingram Park

 

 

On May 2, 1963, Birmingham’s Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor ordered police to arrest the demonstrators in Kelly Ingram Park. Over 600 children were arrested, the youngest only six years old. As the protestors continued, police released attack dogs and firemen aimed high-pressure hoses at the demonstrators.

After visiting the park this morning, it was hard to believe that so many civil rights activists had been seriously injured for no legitimate reason.  Many of the demonstrators were children who were very aware that they would either end up in the hospital or in jail. I am amazed that these children knew at such a young age just how important it was to fight for their civil rights. The park was filled with many statues and plaques honoring those who experienced such brutality. There was a “Freedom Walk” which took you all the way around the park, passing each monument. Physically being in a location that was one of the major battlegrounds of the civil rights movement in Birmingham was much more moving than reading about it in a textbook.

 

Police dogs were unleashed on innocent children in Kelly Ingram Park.

Police dogs were unleashed on innocent children in Kelly Ingram Park.

 

 

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