I recently had the opportunity to work with the Birmingham Tourism Board to retrace the Civil Rights Movement. I realized very quickly I knew so little about my history even though I consider myself well read and I make an effort to teach my daughter all aspects of Black History especially the Civil Rights Movement.
The Alabama Civil Rights Trail made me realize how much I really didn’t know and especially about the unsung heroes of the movement.
The history and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, John Lewis and other unknown African-Americans are commemorated at hundreds of museums, churches, courthouses in now what makes up the new U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
The Civil Rights Trail has locations all throughout Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia that include discussions about the Freedom Riders, Selma, Alabama marches which includes the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four little girls died in a Sunday morning bombing in 1963 after federal courts ordered local schools to integrate.
The historical civil rights trail is being used to focus on the movement, encourage tourism, and open dialogue about where we are now as a country.
I began to ask myself have I really taught my daughter Madison enough about the Civil Rights Movement and Black History?
As I began to ask my readers questions about the Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow Laws and Black History I realized people are still very uncomfortable with black people talking about the oppression we faced and how it still affects Black people today. Ci
Are we in the midst of a new Civil Rights era?
If we want to heal the racial divide we must be willing to have those hard conversations or we will repeat an unfortunate part of history and I personally have absolutely no desire to go backward.
Let’s be real I live a very privileged life thanks to the countless people who fought that battle for me. Ci
Since the election of President Donald Trump, news outlets and social media accounts have swelled with reports of swastikas at schools, racist taunts, and other hate-fueled attacks and acts of intimidation.
What will you see on the Civil Rights Trail
Many of the places on the civil rights trail feature Dr. King’s life and work: his birthplace, the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the site of his interment at the King Center and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
In Atlanta; Dr. King’s first church, Dexter Avenue Baptist, where the bus boycott was organized in 1955, and its parsonage in Montgomery, Alabama, the infamous Edmond Pettus Bridge, and finally Alabama to pay respects to the 4 little girls who passed away in the 16the Street bombings.
We can’t repeat the mistakes of the past
Are we repeating the mistakes of 1968? It seems as though we are because just as in 1968 the government is turning a blind eye to the rise of white power groups which is why the Alabama Civil Rights Trail is more important now than ever.
Just as in 1968 our country would rather open more prison systems, militarize the police, criminalize small offenses and worry about football players kneeling during the National Anthem rather than bringing us together.
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Today, many of those battlegrounds have evolved into state-of-the-art museums that explain the stories within the movement.
The Civil Rights Trail allows you to take the same steps as countless known and unknown Civil Rights leaders took and to meet some of the very people who were on the front lines of the movement.
There will also be opportunities to explore the places and events that brought Alabama into the international spotlight and changed how we view the Civil Rights Movement today.
I started my trip off in Atlanta and from there I discovered civil rights landmarks across the state of Alabama and explored pivotal cities like Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, and Tuskegee.
Civil Rights Trail in Selma, Alabama
Over Six hundred marchers assembled in Selma on Sunday, March 7, 1965, led by John Lewis. Lewis and other protestors crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River en route to Montgomery. Just short of the bridge, the protestors were blocked by the Alabama State troopers and local police who ordered them to turn around.
When the protesters refused, the Alabama State troopers and local police shot tear gas into the crowd, beat the protesters with billy clubs and hospitalizing over fifty people.
“Bloody Sunday” was televised around the world. Martin Luther King called for civil rights supporters to come to Selma to participate in a second march. King led the second protest on March 9 but turned it around at the same bridge.
In Selma, you can also walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge where marchers were attacked in 1965 and then step inside the National Voting Rights Museum to learn about the movement’s “foot soldiers.” C
On March 21, the final march began with federal protection, and on August 6, 1965, the federal Voting Rights Act was passed!
Civil Rights Trail in Montgomery, Alabama
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was pivotal during the Civil-Rights Movement. African Americans refused to ride city buses in Montgomery, Alabama, to protest segregated seating. The boycott took place from December 5, 1955, to December 20, 1956, and was the first large-scale protest against segregation.
Four days before the boycott began, Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested and fined for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Montgomery to integrate its bus system, and a young pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Civ
Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery contains exhibits of the events that occurred there. The exhibit explains how 40 activists died in the South between 1955 and 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. T
Civil Rights Trail in Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham also played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement. In 1963, images of police dogs attacking protesters and children while being sprayed with high-pressure water hoses appeared on television sets across the world.
The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where four young girls were killed by a racist’s bomb was the turning point in Birmingham’s troubled history. These dramatic scenes from Birmingham caused a National uproar not only from other countries but also President John F. Kennedy, which elevated civil rights from a Southern issue to a pressing national issue.
The confrontation between protesters and police was a product of the direct action campaign known as Project C. Project C—for confrontation which challenged unfair laws that were designed to limit the freedoms of African Americans and keep the playing field unleveled.
Leaders from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) along with Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR) took up residence at the A.G. Gaston Motel in April through May of 1963 to direct Project C.
Eventually, public outrage over the events in Birmingham produced enough political pressure to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Civil Rights Trail in Tuskegee, Alabama
When most people think of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., they think of Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery but the movement did not start then, and it was not only confined to the streets and diners in the South. One of the earliest successes in the Civil Rights Movement occurred in the 1940s in the U.S. military, thanks to the Tuskegee Airmen.
The 477th Bombardment Group faced many challenges as African American men fighting for the very country that treated them like second-hand citizens. One of their early commanders made life very difficult when the pilots only wanted to be treated as well as their white counterparts, which included having access to an officer’s club on their training base in Michigan.
Their commander would not allow them to enter because he felt blacks were inferior and segregation should not just be for civilians but also for those who served in the military.
The U.S. Air Force eventually became a separate entity from the Army, but many white servicemen were extremely under-qualified however, they could not hire any experienced black airmen because of segregation policies.
This eventually led President Truman to sign Executive Order 9981 in 1948, which called for equal treatment policies and effectively ended segregation in the military. This was one of the earliest steps to ending segregation across the country; it would not have been possible without the hard work of the Tuskegee Airmen.
America Still has a big race problem
While in Selma we visited one of the most beautiful cemeteries and to my surprise, it was maintained by the Daughters of the Confederacy.
Who are the Daughters of the Confederacy? They are an organization dedicated to honoring their Confederate ancestors and preserving what they feel is the truthful history of the War Between the States. In other words, they are the KKK.
Many have argued that the preservation of Confederate monuments and cemeteries are necessary in order to remember. In reality, most Confederate monuments are not about remembering history, but instead, romanticize history with myth and memories about the honorable Southern, the benevolent slave owner, and particularly honorable myths about Robert E. Lee.
Robert E. Lee was no hero!
Are they mad or is they upset? (Ebonics if you didn’t know)
I know their ancestors were turning over in their graves as I walked around over their tombstones, taking selfies and even just being a black woman on this press trip.
We need a new conversation about race – about what it means when nearly every white person in America carries around an implicit racial bias that subconsciously prefers white people over black people in social, professional and educational settings. It’s black and white. It’s that stark. And we need to start that conversation as soon as possible.
I pray my daughter is not having this conversation with her children 20 years from now. We have got to do better.