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Archive for the ‘Selma, Alabama’ Category

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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As we lined up by gender outside of the building, we didn’t know what was in store. The orders were given for no direct eye contact or standing higher than the master’s shoulder. We were huddle into a dark dungeon, stuffed onto a cramped wooden ship, and then lined up for judgment. There were those chosen to live as slaves and others were sent to die.

            Although this simulation was only that, it gave even the smallest perspective on the life of an African coming to America. This would be an unknown voyage to an unknown world to a life of unknown consequences. The halls of an exhibit showed the hatred of the slaves and African Americans. Blood, burning crosses, and hooded Klansman served as reminders of years of oppression. The exhibits throughout the halls showed pictures and artifacts from the “peculiar institution.” The photographs showed the pain and aguish from the days of the Middle Passage until the 13th Amendment.

 

Hoods of Hatred

Hoods of Hatred

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View of the Edmund Pettus Bridge from the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama.

View of the Edmund Pettus Bridge from the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama.

Our first stop today was the Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama.  Out guide for the majority of the day was a man by the name of Sam Walker.  Sam grew up in Selma, and he was eleven years old in 1965.  Sam shared with our class some of some starting statistics regarding voter registration in Alabama.  Prior to the passing of the Jim Crow laws, there were 180,000-registered black voters in Alabama.  When they passed, Walker claimed that there were less than 5,000.  This loss in voters was simply astonishing.  Some of the obstacles that blacks had to try to overcome to vote were poll taxes (most blacks made between 40 cents and $2; whereas whites made between $7-$10), a literacy test, the “Grandfather Clause”, and a white primary.

"You Can Make History Too!"

"You Can Make History Too!"

            Listening to the struggles that blacks had to endure was simply astonishing.  The right to vote is something that we often take for granted, yet blacks had to fight so hard to attain this right.  Sam also discussed just how satisfied he was with the voter turnout for this past election.  Whether people voted for McCain or Obama, he was happy that America (particularly its youth) was getting out there to vote.

            One of the most notable exhibits in the museum was the “I Was There” Wall.  This wall had little notes written by individuals who were involved in any way with the civil rights movement in Selma.  There was a wide range of individuals who had their names and stories on this wall.  We saw the signatures and stories of Viola Liuzzo’s daughter, the mayor of Selma in 1965, and even a state trooper who was involved with “Bloody Sunday”.  It was very humbling to view just how many people came back to visit this museum; this truly speaks to the impact that this movement had on their lives.

One of the many posts on the "I Was There" wall.

One of the many posts on the "I Was There" wall.

            One of the other special aspects to this museum was how the museum was originally founded.  At the beginning of the museum, there just were not enough funds to create a full-scale museum.  So those involved with the creation of the museum formed a Board of Directors.  Each member on the board was responsible to funding one exhibit.  Thus, these individuals were paying out of their pockets.  Again, this speaks to just how much attaining voting rights meant to the community of Selma.  The unique aspect of the museum is that it highlights the actions of everyone involved in the civil rights movement in Selma.  Often times, we forget to document to courageous actions of the everyday people that fueled this movement.

            The other notable exhibit in the museum was the “Footprints to Freedom Room”.  In this room, there were footprints of individuals that were involved with the march from Selma to Montgomery.  Also in this room were images that documented some of the action in Selma in the 1960’s.  What was so intriguing about these photos was the fact that they were taken by a state trooper during the time.  These images were withheld from the public from 1965-1993 as “evidence”.  When the officer heard that the museum was going to be created, he gladly donated the images to the cause.  Again, these actions by this officer simply speak to the willingness that people had to preserve the rich history that Selma holds.  It was really interesting to visit this museum, as it provided such a different perspective on the actions of Selma at the height of the movement.  

 

One of the exhibits in the "Footprints to Freedom" room.

One of the exhibits in the "Footprints to Freedom" room.

 

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Brown Chapel

 

Brown Chapel.

Brown Chapel.

Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama played an essential role in the voting rights movement. The Selma to Montgomery marches would initiate at Brown Chapel, the headquarters of the movement.  Brown Chapel served many roles during the mid 1960s, including administrative office for Dr. King, hospital for the wounded after Bloody Sunday, and shelter for the visitors who answered Dr. King’s call for support for the march to Montgomery. The church was conveniently located across the street from a housing project built for underprivileged African Americans. This location was pivotal because it provided many people to easily join and help the cause by participating in the marches, opening their doors to visitors, and ensuring the sanctity of the church from vandals and bombings.   

Freedom Fighter Sam Walker points to his name printed on the Civil Rights Freedom Wall outside of Brown Chapel.

Freedom Fighter Sam Walker points to his name printed on the Civil Rights Freedom Wall outside of Brown Chapel.

 

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Viola Liuzzo

Viola Liuzzo is the only white woman known to have lost her life during the civil rights movement. Leaving her husband and five children at home in Detroit, Viola made her way to Alabama, risking her life for the complete freedom of others. She was shot by four Ku Klux Klan members while driving on Highway 80 with a black man in her car. After she died, the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover launched a smear campaign in attempt to ruin her reputation.

 

Monument at the site where Viola Liuzzo was killed off of Highway 80.

Monument at the site where Viola Liuzzo was killed off of Highway 80.

We visited Viola’s memorial site off of Highway 80 on the way to Montgomery. It was simple, yet it is important to remember how many innocent people sacrificed their life in order to continue the civil rights movement. “I was so surprised at how a monumental site is found off of a highway with no markings. You could pass it, not realizing that it is an extremely important part of civil rights history.” 

 

View of Highway 80.

View of Highway 80.

 

 

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Edmund Pettus Bridge

 

Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Edmund Pettus Bridge.

 

The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama is the infamous site of the Bloody Sunday conflict on March 7, 1965.  Over 600 civil rights workers marched from Selma to Montgomery when Alabama state troopers stopped them after crossing they crossed the bridge. The marchers were beaten with nightsticks and were doused with teargas. Over seventy marchers returned to Brown Chapel seriously injured. Fortunately, there were no deaths.

 

Memorial located at the end of the bridge. "When your children shall ask you in time to come saying what mean these 12 stones? Then you shall tell them how you made it over."

Memorial located at the end of the bridge. "When your children shall ask you in time to come saying what mean these 12 stones? Then you shall tell them how you made it over."

Today, our class marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge just as the civil rights workers did over fifty years ago. Fellow classmate Matt Dinwiddie explained just how moving this experience was: “It was as if my steps were following in the foot prints of so many courageous young and old men and women who risked their lives to give me the opportunity to vote.” 

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