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Posts Tagged ‘Birmingham’

The kids completed a Civil Rights unit with Mom before our trip to the Southeast, so we were looking forward to visiting some of the places that they had learned about.  We had our first opportunity when we visited Birmingham, Alabama.  After filling up on pizza at The Mellow Mushroom (yum!), we drove to the 4th Street Historic District to visit the Civil Rights Institute in Downtown Birmingham.

Our 8 year-old Audrey found the institute very interesting and was impressed at the amount of artifacts here that had been saved from the 1960s.  Focusing mainly on the local people and events, the Civil Rights Institute uses a mixture of actual news footage, life-size dioramas, and interesting displays (including an actual bombed bus from the Freedom Rides) to illustrate the history of Birmingham before and during the Civil Rights Movement.  Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside.  The Institute also houses a research center which has preserved the personal narratives of people who experienced these events first-hand.

Despite the hardships and inequalities caused by the Jim Crow laws, the black citizens of Birmingham built a vibrant community in the 4th Street area with strong businesses, churches, and schools.  Unfortunately, this city became known as “Bombingham” in 1963 because of all the bombs regularly set off  in Civil Rights activists’ homes and churches.  The park across the street from the Institute was the site of the May 1963 protest during which the Police Commissioner Bull Connor ordered his men to use attack dogs and fire hoses to disperse the singing children who were peacefully marching.  It was these violent scenes televised across the country which helped turn the tide in the struggle for Civil Rights.

Across the street from the Civil Rights Institute is the 16th Street Baptist Church where on September 15, 1963, a bomb was detonated in the basement that killed four young African-American girls.  The church is still an active congregation today.  It was really moving to stand in front of this church and to ponder all that happened on this block in 1963.

After Birmingham we traveled South to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama.  Our focus here was learning about the famous 50 mile march from Selma to Montgomery in March of 1965.  The National Park Service has declared the road between Selma and Montgomery a National Historic Route.  The NPS Interpretative Center in Lowndes County is located on this road halfway between Selma and Montgomery.

We learned a lot at the center, and the kids added another Jr. Ranger badge to their collection.  The march took place two weeks after “Bloody Sunday” when the Alabama State Police used tear gas and batons to stop the first attempt.  Under Federal protection, four thousand people started walking in Selma and the group had swelled to 25,000 when they reached the state capitol in Montgomery five days later.  The four spots where the participants camped each night during the march are marked along the route.  The purpose of the march was to bring attention to the fact that despite laws to the contrary, African-Americans were not given the same voting rights as their white counterparts.  Even attempting to register to vote had dire consequences.  The actions here in Alabama lead to President Johnson presenting the 1965 Voting Rights Act to Congress.

After our visit to the center, we headed to Selma and drove across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of “Bloody Sunday”.  Allison, our 11 year-old, was impressed that the marchers were able to cover such a long distance in only 5 days.   The most surprising fact we learned was that despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act, hundreds of African-Americans in this county who registered to vote still lost their jobs as sharecroppers as a result.   With no place to live, they gathered to live in a large tent city for 18 months.  The Interpretive Center was built on the location of this tent city.

It is hard to believe that these events in the Civil Rights Movement happened only forty-five years ago.  Our children struggle to understand how these things could have happened, but they agree that it is important to remember and pay tribute to the bravery of those who stood up and demanded change.  Audrey put it quite well.  “If we don’t learn about history, it could happen again.”

To read about other Civil Rights Movement sites we visited on Leg 3, click here.

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