Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Day 4: Birmingham and Selma

Day 4 of our Civil Rights Spring Break Trip began back at the Kelly Ingram Park area of Birmingham.

Prof. Young, Shaneka, Martha and Brandon
reflecting on what they had just experienced
in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
We visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Our tour guide explained that one publication had named the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute as one of the top ten history museums in the nation. I would agree that it is one of the best that I have been to. The museum was laid out so that you followed a timeline of the civil rights events that were happening in Birmingham. It was done very well and had much more that we could have seen in the two hours that we were there. However, we had to head to Selma, Alabama to make it in time for our guided tour of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute.
Jennie and Quinn getting ice cream in front of
the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

We thought that we were just going to see the museum and Edmund Pettus Bridge. We were very wrong. As we were waiting for the second van to arrive because we got separated, our tour guide took Prof. Nikki and I aside and said that he was taking us to the Slavery and Civil War Museum on the other side of the river and that he was going to give us the experience of what it was like to be slaves. He wanted to warn us that he was going to be a little rough and use some uncomfortable language, but to not tell the students. I felt kind of bad for Kelly because she didn't get the warning and she looked a little blind-sided when he got us out of the vans and immediately started yelling at us and telling us we not to ever look him in the eyes and if we dared to speak to him at all we were to call him master. It was a very powerful experience. When we left and got back into the vans to go to the Voting Rights Museum, one of the students said "Gee, you could have warned us!".

Christian, Prof. Young, Martha and Leo looking at the shocking
display of lynching photos at the Slavery and Civil War Museum.

Martha, Shaneka, Quinn and Jennie chatting with a
Bucknell class of 1992 alum in the National Voting
Rights Museum.
Back at the Voting Rights Museum, our tour guide Sam explained about the importance of Selma. He had such a strong Southern accent that it was difficult for us Northerners to understand him! There were several groups there from other schools and we happened to run into a Bucknell class of 1992 alum that was leading a group from Duke! The student enjoyed chatting with her and found it amusing when she said she was one of the first students to live in Smith Hall.

Next, we walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It was a very moving thing to experience knowing what had happened there almost exactly 49 years to the day. It was especially poignant for me as I came up over the crest of the bridge and imagined what Melissa's father Ron was thinking as he was walking in the same exact spot in 1965. I could imagine the line of Alabama State Troopers barricading the road in helmets and carrying clubs and the fear that must have been overwhelming him.
Leo walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Martha and Quinn walking across the
Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Martha and Leo reading a monument outside
Brown Chapel
On our way to the hotel, we stopped at Brown Chapel where the march to Montgomery began. When we pulled up in front of the church, Prof. Young said to me, "Hey, that's the church from your photos." That's when it hit me that I was really in Selma and I felt such a connection to that place.
The group at Brown Chapel in Selma.

Dinner was at Golden Ranch Steakhouse where we able to reflect on what we had experienced today. I shared some more stories that were told to me about Selma by Ron's family and Kelly shared some of the things that she learned about Martin Luther King's assassination in Memphis from previous Civil Rights Spring Break Trips.

Everybody seemed to enjoy a Southern
specialty, fried pickles.
Chanda listening to Kelly talk about her
experiences leading previous Civil Rights
Spring Break Trips.

Tomorrow we head to Montgomery along the same highway that Martin Luther King Jr. marched in 1965. We will be volunteering at Common Ground Montgomery, an inner-city youth program. Then we visit the Southern Poverty Law Center before trekking back to Atlanta.

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