For everyday that is added to the Pilgrimage, the experiences become better and better! Today was a day filled with courage, a little bit of anger, diligence, and hope.
COURAGE: Our day started at the Rosa Parks Library and Museum. This was my first time attending this museum, as well as Troy State University. The museum was filled with a plethora of information about Rosa Parks and the role that she played in the Civil Rights Movement. While, I've known about Rosa Parks since PRE-SCHOOL, I can attest that I still learned something new at the museum. The thing that I appreciated most was the way that the museum demonstrated how the "organization" aspect of the bus boycott came to life. Many people collaborated to make sure that things got done. The way that they were able to spread the word of the boycott, and organize a back up plan (carpooling) demonstrated that advocates of the bus boycott and civil rights movement were about BUSINESS!!! I feel as though in our current times, we (on average, not every single person) sit back, complain, do nothing and expect our politicians to solve our problems. During the Civil Rights, the "PEOPLE" were the ones to light the match to spark the politicians, and not the other way around.
ANGER: The next part of our trip had us visiting the Alabama State Capitol Building. Let me start by saying that the state buildings downtown were very alluring. Downtown looked like a campus of state administrative buildings. The architecture of the buildings were similar. The exterior of each building was white. There was plenty of greenery across each manicured lawn. There were many trees (some of which so large, that they looked like they were HUNDREDS of years old) meticulously arranged around each building. Finally, the landscaping included purple, and yellow flowers which could be found adjacent to the sidewalks and around each of the huge beautiful buildings. It almost felt as though it was the same exact way it was one hundred years ago! All we would have had to do is replace the concrete street with bricks, replace the cars with horses, place men in suits, women in petticoats, and erase all of the black people I saw.
The tour of the Alabama State Capitol was interesting. There was a little, older man with a southern draw who acted as our tour guide. He had several jokes and attempted to really make his tour "colorful" with his unique sense of humor. We saw a lot of things within the Capitol and followed instructions of all things we were asked to do along the way (for example, sit on the floor to look up to see all of the art decor).
After the tour we broke up into small groups to process about the day over lunch. My group had a really good time. We discussed several things, but here are a few of our hot topics. We talked about the use of the word "Nigger," and our reactions to it. Most said that they would not have a reaction to hearing the word due to being desensitized. We also spoke about the term "Yankee," as our tour guide referred to us as "Yankees" a couple times throughout the tour. We discussed the tour and how it was. This part of the conversation lead to a very engaging dialogue about the tour. Some felt as if the tour of the Capitol was a waste of time because they didn't see how it connected to Civil Rights. Others discussed how they were able to see the connection. The good thing about our group is that I got us started, but the students were able to step up and prob questions to the group. As an advisor this was a very REWARDING experience to see them step up and take charge of their learning.
I mentioned that the day was filled with courage, anger, and hope. This section is about anger because it stirred up some strong emotions by not only myself but my students as well. Personally, I was not exactly happy with the tour. Throughout our ENTIRE TOUR our tour guide consistently used the following terms: "issues of the past, " "bad place," and "horrible things going on," while NEVER TAKING ANYTIME to speak about those things. It was almost as if he was not permitted to mention race, slavery, or oppression. He went out of the way to be sure to omit it, but if someone didn't know, they would not have been taught during his tour. I also had an interesting conversation with a student. Our tour was not the only one taking place this day. During our tour, our tour guide mentioned that the spiral steps on the inside were designed and created by a slave. He did claim that they couldn't find any "proof," but that it was probably the case. One of my students said that he overheard another tour with all white kids who were appeared to be in about the 3rd grade or so. During that tour the guide promoted the fact a totally different way. She said it to invalidate anything they may have heard about the possibility of a slave designing and building the steps. This angered the student, and we talked about why this may have been the case.
Diligence: The next phase of our day took us to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). This is a MUST SEE for anyone who ever visits Montgomery, AL. The SPLC has done a lot of work to assist those who have been victims of oppression, and hate crimes. Before entering the building we had to endure extensive security. With a group of 43, you can image how the line was out the door as we checked in. However, the SPLC Staff is very efficient and the line moved expeditiously. While standing at the back of the line, I was talking with a student who was addressing his concern about why we have to endure so much just to get inside. As soon as we entered the building they had a sign educatingg customers about the reason for the through security. I learned that there was a bomb which was set before, as well as numerous bomb and death threats to individuals who work at the SPLC! These bad things have not stopped them from being passionate about the work they do. The center was built for 40 individuals who were victims of hate crimes. Furthermore, the SPLC also incorporates some of their Civil Rights Memorial to forgotten voices (be it those who are still missing, or cases which never received national recognition). One of the memories I'll take away from the SPLC is a picture they had on the mural that contained a Native American woman wearing a sign that said "I'm not a Mascot!" This is salient for me, because at the University of Illinois, because our "Chief" debate continues to divide campus even though the "Chief" is no longer our mascot. I was able to explain how this may be offensive to others. While at the SPLC I had another engaging conversation with a student about civil rights. They did not know how they personally fit into the movement. With the student, we were able to connect the dots to allow them to see that they do fit into the Civil Rights Movement. TheSPLC has worked diligently for the advancement of Social Justice, and while we've come a long way, there is still work to do!
Hope: Following the SPLC we went to Dexter Ave. King Memorial Baptist Church. It is there that we sat in the same basement that many prominent figures sat organizing various things for the Civil Rights Movement. This is also the only church that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as Senior Pastor. It is here that I stood in the pulpit of the Dexter Ave. King Memorial Baptist Church. While I took a picture, I look very awkward in the picture. This is because I was overcome with emotions. I did not know if I wanted to laugh or cry, so my picture came out with me looking very nervous. I meant so much, and was very powerful knowing that I was literally standing in the same spot as Dr. King. I was surprised how large the church looked inside. All of the pictures that I've seen did not serve the the church justice in reference to it's true size. Leaving the pulpit I really felt a sense of hope just knowing that there is still that I can do in the fight for equity and social justice for all individuals.
Our night ended with speaking with several people who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement including Ella Bell, Mary Louise Smith Ware, Rev. Bob and Jeannie Graetz, and an unidentified woman (I couldn't catch her name). This was probably the best part of the day for me. It was very comforting "sitting on their coat tails" listening to their stories. I was more than reading something in a text book, more than seeing a video on TV, because they were actually speaking to us! This evening served as another humbling experience for me. What I enjoyed the best about today was hearing about Mary Louise Smith Ware's story. In the movie "Barbershop" there is a scene in which Cedric the Entertainer's character sparks a barbershop debate when he says that Rosa Parks was not the only woman to not give up her seat in AL. This was actually very factual, as Mary Louise Smith Ware did it earlier in the same year as Mrs. Parks. If you don't believe me....GOOGLE HER! Mary Louise Smith Ware explained her story very gracefully while speaking about HER experiences and not focusing on the experiences of others. Many times we can get caught up in what other people are doing, but her story taught me the importance of focusing on yourself. She was not envious or jealous over all of the notoriety that Mrs. Park received, as she understands she played an intrinsic role of the Civil Rights Movement. The hope that she demonstrated during this difficult time and "drama" proved as an example for me to stand in times of the storm. Furthermore, Mary Louise Smith Ware was one of the plaintiffs in the Browder vs. Gale Case. Mary's testimony helped to end segregation in public places. I have really enjoyed learning about all of the forgotten and unheard stories of the Civil Rights Movement.
WHAT A GREAT DAY!