You know....you know...a day late....
Today we woke up early to depart from Montgomery. In planning, I can honestly say that this was one of the days I was looking forward to the most because of all of the positive things I've heard about Joanne Bland. Joanne Bland is the co-founder and director of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma, Alabama. As a child, she marched in "Bloody Sunday," and has been involved with Civil Rights ever since.
As we traveled from Montgomery to Selma, I had several thoughts running through my head: Where did they walk? In the grass? On the street? Which side of the street? How many people were with them? How long did the march take? What was discussed in the camps along the way. I followed the "historic route markers" along the freeway all the way to Selma. As we approached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I thought about my own family. At my family reunion a couple years back, we marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to commemorate the march. Unfortunately, I was not at that family reunion due to being in grad school and my assistantship obligations. I thought about how moving it would have been to walk across with my family, signifying a sense of strength through unity.
Due to serving as one of the co-advisors of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, I sit at the very front of the bus. Within minutes of Ms. Joanne getting on the bus, she had already made several jokes about our driver, called me her "boo." It was then that I knew that today was going to be a very FUNUCATIAONAL (homeade word for fun and educational) day. Ms. Joanne's quick wit and personality could be described as a "big momma," or even a real life version of "mabel simmons, also known as Madea." She has a lot to say, speaks the truth, and will say what is on her mind. In doing so, if she hurts your feelings, is unapologetic, as she distributed her FRANKNESS and CANDOR evenly amongst all people on the bus (from Advisor- Me, to bus driver- Charly.Furthermore, Ms. Joanne had a very charismatic method of delivering her personal stories and information about Selma, and the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Jonanne's keep it real personality was a bit much for some of the students to handle, as she made them uncomfortable. I challenged them to get past how she was acting and to think about what she was saying. I tried to explain that it was just her personality. I would have loved to continue having these conversations, but I had to keep it quick, due to respect...and to ensure the joke stayed off of me! I would have loved to elaborate on why the students felt that way and to probe them to reflect on why she is the way she is. I hadn't put much thought into it, but as I began to write this blog it hit me. Ms. Joanne lived during a period where most blacks were afraid for their lives! She actually saw "BLOOD" on Bloody Sunday! She's been arrested, as early as 8 years old! Through each of these events, Ms. Joanne demonstrated a sense of courage in persevering though these awful events. I think it is unrealistic to as someone who was brave as she is to utilize a "filter!" It's just not her.
Our tour with her started in a riding tour of Selma. We saw the home of family friends of Dr. King (the place with he stayed when he visited Selma), the AME church that SNCC held meetings, the place that everyone congregated before heading down to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, cemetery where some Confederate solders are buried, and the "black" and "white" side of campus. Ms. Joanne also talked about how during the Jim Crow period, there were two of everything, one for blacks and one for whites. This was observed on the tour. This was most notable with the fact that Blacks and Whites could not enter a building through the same door. As a result there were many buildings had two entrances. In most cases the white entrance was usually very nice, while the black entrance was often dilapidated and at an inconvenient location (back of the building). I saw the remnants of this with my own eyes during the tour. There was one building that was unique. There was a church that had two IDENTICAL entrances. One on the front of the building for whites, and one on the side of the building for blacks. Seeing this really brought Jim Crow to life for me. THIS WAS HOW PEOPLE LIVED and didn't have a choice!!!
Our tour also included us walking across the Edmund bge. Before getting off of the bus to prepare for our march across the bridge, Ms. Joanne shared a very emotional account of what happened on Bloody Sunday. It was a very moving story, and Ms. Joanne even broke down. It did fell a little different to see such a strong woman choke up and cry, but again only signified how important this day was to her existence, and that while she may be a very strong woman, she is also still human. Ms. Joanne mentioned how talking about her experiences were good for her, as it served as a form of therapy for her. After setting up the scene and having a couple tears roll down the side of my cheek, it was time for us to get off of the bus. Ms. Joanne did not go, because as she stated, "had already done it for us, and this time was for us to do it for her!" While this was a "symbolic" march, it was not very difficult for me to put it into perspective! We took at stand for a right that we strongly believed it. Knowing all that happened during this time period, I can honestly say that what we did was by far much easier to do. There was not a threat of getting shot or arrested by a police officer, mulled by a German Shepard, or attacked by angry mobs.
After we walked across the bridge, we concluded by attending the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. It was here were we saw more artifacts that went into the fight for voting rights. There were several sections of the museum: a time line of black history events, women's history, being in jail, early politicians during the reconstruction phase, and President Obama, just to name a few. During an earlier phase of our tour with Ms. Joanne, she mentioned how when they went to jail, they'd often put up to 40 people in a cell. To enact what this felt like a student thought it would be a good idea to for us to ALL get in the cell and take a picture. This was a little difficult for some students who were in processing mode after all that we had done so far. One student became visibly shaken up because they felt other students were not taking the experience seriously. I followed the student outside and we processed about what was going on. I told the student that this experience is about them, and to not let others take away from it. If we're doing something and they need to vent or release, just to step away or go outside, calm down, and then return.
We then went to lunch at a Soul Food Restaurant where I WAS FINALLY ABLE TO EAT SOME PEACH COBBLER!!!!!!!!!!! and whew....it was dabomb.com!
After lunch we headed to Birmingham, where we attended the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. As a younger person, I had visited this place before. It felt different going back this time around. There was an addition to the museum this time, but it was more than that. I had a different perspective to view the museum. While here, I spoke with a student about the state of the black and what that meant at a predominately white institution. We both shared our experiences and ended up talking for nearly 45 minutes as we walked on throughout the exhibits. Our talking spawned out to include: The Black Family, activism now, what it means to be black, and interracial relationships. I was also approached by another student who wanted to have a discussion about what he was feeling with other students.
I did get a pleasant surprise. One of my cousins from Birmingham surprised me at the museum. Thanks Cousin Gene! It was good seeing you!
After leaving the museum, I went over to 16th Avenue Church to see where the Four Little Girls had attended church, followed by Kelly Ingram Park. At Kelly Ingram Park, I saw a new friend, Muni, who was also in Birmingham with her students during Spring Break. It's such a small world.