Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Berea College Civil Rights Tour 2013; Tour Day 3

I continue the blog series here at The Gypsy Librarian with my notes, observations, reflections, and thoughts on my journey in the Berea College Civil Rights Seminar and Tour 2013. This is a way for me to preserve some of what I learned as well as a step in sharing it with others.Today I am covering the fourth day of the seminar and tour, which is the second actual touring day. This took place on August 5, 2013.

Reminder that, as I often do, I will try to type out notes directly. Any additional comments I make I will put in parenthesis (or try to distinguish from just straight notes). Quotes will be in quotation marks with attribution (if I managed to catch the name of source or it was available). If any other participants read this and wish to add or make corrections, etc., their comments are welcome. So are comments from anyone else (as long as you follow my usual rules of good behavior. I will not tolerate any form of bullying, intimidation, rudeness, etc. Such will simply be deleted). I will also add links from various sources as needed to expand on my notes or add further information that may not be clear from just my notes, or just for my own reference.

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 It is morning in Montgomery, Alabama. We have dinner last night at a place called Dreamland BBQ. Definitely remembering that so if I ever make it back, to bring the Better Half along. At this point, we are ready to begin a new day.

We had a spontaneous encounter this morning as a man, Rev. Moses William, who was part of the movement, met and knew Dr. King and his wife, met with us at the bus right before we took off. He took some time to give us some inspiration. "When people stay together, we'll  change things. Love one another, feed one another." The fellow was at the same hotel we stayed in; he was there for a family reunion, and took a moment to speak to us. This is becoming a common occurrence now of people approaching us during the journey with encouragement when they see us and learn what we are doing.

A small side note for introverts who may be reading this: This is not an easy journey for introverts like us. We are always "on" in this kind of setting, and there is no real downtime. I could use a bit of quiet time to truly reflect, but that may have to wait until after the journey. In the meantime, I am trying to write down as much as I can, seeking to remember lest I forget (and not everything will make it to the blog). I do this for the students I serve and myself.

  • Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. This church was the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. Notice that it is next to the Alabama State Capitol, which is the birthplace of the Confederacy; Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy at the capitol. 
    • An amazing fact: this church has never been been vandalized or bombed (as of this writing, and let us hope it remains that way). Why? Some say it may be divine protection. Others say it is the proximity to the state capitol. Who knows? 
    • Fact: This is the only church where Martin Luther King, Jr. was the senior pastor. From here, he left to lead the movement. Today, the church has about 180 people in its membership rolls, but less than that attend services on Sunday. Yes, it is an active church. 
    • Fact: The baptismal font is under the pulpit. To use it, it requires four men to move the pulpit, then the font is filled with water. 
    • We also visit the parsonage. Our hostess, Ms. Shirley Cherry, there reminds us to keep history authentic. She never wants to forget that she was called "nigger." We should not sterilize history. 
      • Have the courage to stand alone. 
      • Fact: the man who arrested Rosa Parks has visited the parsonage. 
      • The house was bombed during the bus boycott in 1956. 
      • The movement really began with Rev. Vernon Johns, Dr. King's predecessor at the church. Rev. Johns believed that black economic power and autonomy were important for the path to freedom. 
      • Dr. King took over the church next, then moved on to lead the bus boycott.
      • Small side lesson, on picking a mate, based on Martin and Coretta King: Character, personality, and beauty. Of those three, character is the most important. 
      • Quote: "Everyone is significant on God's keyboard." 
      • According to Martin Luther King, Jr., to be free, you must learn to forgive and then lose your fear of death in order to be free. 
      • When threatening calls came to the house, Dr. King would tell them he would pray for them. 
      • On January 27, 1965, Dr. King had an epiphany at midnight in the house kitchen. He was praying after getting a threatening call telling him to leave town in 3 days. He went on with the ministry and boycott anyhow. 
      • Themes from the garden behind the parsonage: forgiveness, equality, hope, peace, understanding, unity. These are what Rev. Johns and Rev. King preached on. 
    • After leaving the parsonage, Rev. Bowman urges us to tell others. This tour was worth fighting for; I could not agree more. 
  •  After lunch at Martha's, we arrive at the Southern Poverty Law Center.   
    • At SPLC, we do have to go through security, empty our pockets, so on. Given that the center is a target of hate groups, this is understandable. Since 1983, 30 individuals have been sent to jail for attempting to blow up the SPLC. 
    • Our speaker, Mark Potok, senior fellow at the center.  He works for the center's Intelligence Project, among other tasks. 
      • The center made its reputation suing the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups in civil court. This is based on the crimes of the hate groups' members. The main purpose of the suits is to destroy the groups by draining the them and/or take out their resources and finances. In essence, marginalizing the hate groups. 
      • However, suits over time have lost some effectiveness. This is due to the fact that the leadership of hate groups has learned to keep its violent members, who commit the crimes, at arm's length. The hate groups have gotten smarter and keep violent statements more vague. 
      • Intelligence Project uses journalism, research, and information to go after hate groups. 
      • In fact, by now, racists and hate groups are reading the SPCL magazine. After all, SPCL information is always accurate (this was possibly the best line of his presentation).
      • The SPCL also collects information, including various publications-- print and electronic--, collects artifacts, of hate groups. This is not only for preservation but also to learn more. Information is power. 
      • The scene now. The SPCL analyzes the radical right and is counting groups; counting individuals is hard given groups often lie about their membership numbers, so counting by groups works better.
      • Since 2000, there has been growth in hate groups. They dropped some of their other rhetoric to focus on illegal immigration. This is something that has resonated with more racists and bigots. 
      • In 2008, the center (and the nation) started seeing growth of militia and "patriot groups." Those groups have done more violence than other hate groups. McVeigh came from one of these militia groups. What caused the dramatic rise in these groups in 2008? Barrack Obama was elected President of the United States. This event has given hate groups a lot of motivation. 
      • The designation as "hate group" is based on ideology, if they say other groups of people are subhuman, inferior, to be hated, etc. This is part of the SPCL's criteria for their lists. 
      • Another source of information for the SCPL is often hate group members who leave the hate movements. To learn more, see also the documentary Erasing Hate.

  • We head to Selma, Alabama on the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. The historic Selma to Montgomery March took place along this highway.
    • At Selma, Ms. Joanne Bland is our hostess and guide. At the National Park Service interpretive center, we watch the video "Never Lose Sight of Freedom." We return to the theme of younger people not voting, let alone remembering. 
    • It is important for young people to learn the history. 
    • Bloody Sunday did not just stop at the bridge. The police did follow and beat up marchers right up to their churches. 
    • The 1965 Voting Rights Act was bought with the blood of martyrs. 
    • (I am not afraid people will forget. I fear people will not care, that they will become complacent). "Each generation needs to be committed to the concept of freedom." The struggle is not over yet. (Yet I fear whether new generations will pick it up or not)
    • Selma has changed. There are various successful black people here, but there is still so much more work to do. 
    • Joanne: we need crisis. Without crisis, voting turn outs are low. We need to find ways to get young people to the polls. Somehow folks got away from organizing. Also, issues today are not so black and white. Without youth involvement, organizations die. We need to teach our children. 
    • We tour various locations in Selma (I have various photos, which I hope to share later with notes as soon as I figure out how to do it best). 
    • We visit the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma.
    • After our visit to the museum, Ms. Joanne spends some more time with us. Tells us the story of Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was killed while he led protests for voting rights in Selma. She also remembers Bloody Sunday, saying she remembers the screams the most. People could not be helped if they fell, or those people trying to help would get beat up as well by the police and thugs. But even in fear, Ms. Joanne did march with Dr. King. That march took 5 days. In Selma, since then, it took 36 years to get rid of a corrupt mayor and finally elect the first black mayor of Selma. 

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