Tour Birmingham's Civil Rights District
Anyone studying black history in America needs to take a trip to Alabama. The museums there are phenomenal.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is located in the epicenter of Birmingham’s Civil Rights District. I walked out of there feeling enlightened and empowered.
Growing up in the North, what happened in Birmingham was brushed over in school during Black History Month. In church, we’d have an annual black history play, but it always featured the same characters - Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King.
Walking through this museum on a self-guided tour, I learned so much. It has six galleries which focus on Birmingham’s beginnings, barriers, confrontation, the Civil Rights Movement, milestones, and human rights.
Through life size exhibits, old newspaper articles, artifacts, statutes, photos and even voices from the era telling people’s stories, l obtained a deeper understanding of the bus boycott , the lynchings, the Klu Klux Klan, the bombings, the Freedom Riders, the children protesting, etc.
Some of the exhibits that really brought the history to life for me were the examples of the segregated drinking fountains, and the difference between a white and black classroom. I also learned Birmingham had the nickname “Bombingham” because of the near 50 racially directed bombings that happened between the 1940s and 1960s.
I learned some lesser known black history facts such as the idea for the Montgomery bus boycott came from Baton Rouge, where blacks boycotted buses there first in 1953. The NAACP was banned from operating in Alabama in 1956, so Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth started the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights to continue the work of the movement. His work was instrumental in desegregating parks, buses, and schools in Birmingham yet I had never heard of him. I learned about Browder v. Gayle, the four women who were arrested on buses before Rosa Parks who filed a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court. The women included Aurelia Browder, Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith. The suit ultimately desegregated buses in Montgomery.
Then, across the street from the institute is the 16th Street Baptist Church, where the four little girls were killed when the church was bombed.
Also across the street from the institute is Kelly Ingram Park, where the children protested for desegregation and were met with fire hoses and batons, dogs, and arrest. Statues in the park now represent their courageous acts.
Some prefer not to revisit this history, but I believe if we don’t know where we came from and how such injustices became common accepted practice, then we don’t know where we’re going. If we don’t know or fully understand past wrongs, then it’s much harder to prevent it from happening again.