Sunday, July 24, 2011

Civil Rights Bus Tour - Day 2, July 12, 2011

We didn't finish out day one of our bus trip in Tennessee. We actually traveled on into Alabama and our first stop in the "Heart of Dixie" was not at a historic site, but at a travel rest stop.

I saw the above monument while at the rest stop and thought that it was an interesting marker due to its various possible interpretations across Alabama's history. In 1860-61 Alabamians would not have hesitated to declare their intention to defend their "southern rights," while one hundred years later African Americans would state their desire to defend their rights to integrate public facilities and to vote.

We spent our first traveling night in downtown Birmingham. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to pack one of my bags (it was at home on my bed) that had my toiletries, so I had to catch a cab to take me to a drugstore to purchase my necessaries. The cab ride was quite educational. My cabby was an African American man who did not hesitate to express this disdain that downtown had become a virtual ghost town after dark. He explained that it was busy enough during the day with all the businesses, but people for the past 10 to 15 years sought their evening entertainment out of the downtown area which had severely hurt his business. He complained that the University of Alabama no longer played any games at Legion Field in Birmingham and Saturdays in the fall that used to hum with activity were now dead.

Our first stop Tuesday morning was to Kelly Ingram Park. This park, named in 1932 for a local firefighter who the first U.S. sailor killed in World War I, served as a center for civil rights activism during the 1960s.

Prominently displayed in the park are a number of statues and sculptured artwork designed to commemorate Birmingham's role in the Civil Rights Movement. The statue of Dr. King was placed in 1986 and looks across the intersection at 16th Street Baptist Church.

One of the many impressive pieces of sculpture is the one above. It depicts the use of police dogs by the authorities to try to break up demonstrations in Birmingham. Many of the protesters were mere children.

Another piece of artwork gives the visitor the feeling of walking through a gauntlet of police dogs.

Yet another, shows the police tactic of using high pressure water hoses to discourage protesters.

And, yet another shows children jailed for their civil disobedience. The words on it say "I AIN'T AFRAID OF YOUR JAIL."

After spending some time in the park we walked across the intersection to the historic 16th Street Baptist Church. This church was one of the first established in Birmingham by African Americans and the building there now was built in 1911. The events that happened outside the church building, on 16th Avenue, on May 2-3, 1963, are depicted in the previously mentioned sculptures in Kelly Ingram Park.

The above photo is a historic image of the events of May 2-3, 1963 with the church in the background and police forces in the foreground. Notice the wet pavement from the fire hoses and wet clothing on the protesters.

This present-day shot of the church sign can be seen in the top right of the historic photo above and in the photo below.

On September 15, 1963 at 10:22 a.m. a planted bomb exploded outside a side entrance of the 16th Street Baptist Church.

The explosion killed four young ladies; Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Robertson, all 14 years old, and 11 year old Denise McNair. The above tablet was placed in their memory near where the bomb exploded. Another girl was injured in the blast, losing an eye and being terribly scarred, she survived. Robert Chambliss was convicted in 1977 for his role in the bombing and died in prison in 1985. Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry were convicted in 2001 and 2002 for their roles in the bombing; all three men were affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.

Another monument in memory of the four young ladies.

We next toured the museum at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute which was just across the street from church and Kelly Ingram Park. The museum had some amazing artifacts including the cell where Dr. King wrote his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" letter.

Our next stop after a number of miles of driving south and east was to Tuskegee University. Founded in the early 1880s, with help from recent graduate of Hampton Institute in Virginia Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee became known far and wide for it training programs in agriculture, veterinary and engineering programs for African American students. Washington was born a mixed race slave in 1856 in Franklin County, Virginia. After the Civil war Washington moved with his mother and step father to Kanawha County, West Virginia where he worked making salt and in local coal mines before being admitted to Hampton Institute.

Tuskegee still thrives to this day and the National Park Service has established the George Washington Carver museum (pictured above) and maintains Booker T. Washington's former home, "The Oaks."

George Washington Carver was Tuskegee's most famous faculty member. The George Washington Carver Museum is a tribute to the man and his many inventions and discoveries. Carver was born a slave in Missouri during the Civil War (probably 1864) and received his high school education in Kansas and attended college at Iowa State University.

The Booker T. Washington monument on Tuskegee's campus is impressive. It depicts Washington lifting the veil of ignorance from African Americans. The black man holds a book and sits on an anvil and plow. Washington's accommodationist ideas were not appreciated by all African Americans, but he felt that was the most practical manner for blacks to achieve in the "Jim Crow" South.

Booker T. Washington's tombstone. Washington died in 1915.

George Washington Carver's grave at Tuskegee. Carver died in 1943.

"The Oaks," Booker T. Washington's home at Tuskegee was built in 1900 by Tuskegee students and he lived there until his death. Washington became sick while in New York on a speaking tour, but explained that "I was born in the South, I have lived and labored in the South and I expect to be buried in the South." He made it back to his beloved Tuskegee and passed away at his home on November 14, 1915.

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