Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Birmingham, Alabama

Today is our fourth day on the Civil Rights Tour. It has been an amazing experience so far. Today we visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. This was definitely a trip that I am going to remember. Just walking through the building was a bit surreal. It is still hard for me to fully believe all that happened in the not so distant past. To hear, see, and read about the violence that transpired not only on African-Americans, but on those that tried to help seems so strange to me. I can't imagine how any person could harbor that much animosity towards a group of people that they do not even know.

As I was walking through the museum, I came across a section that was about other civil rights around the world. I liked the fact that the museum ended by showing the power of people; that normal citizens can create drastic change. It kind of makes me wonder what all am I doing with my life in order (sort of cliche statement coming...sorry) to make the world a better place. People my age and younger than me have braved fire hoses and dogs in order to get their rights; have stood in front of tanks in order to create change in something that saw as wrong. What is going to be my generation's legacy?

We also visited the 16th Street church (the site of the church bombing where the four little girls died). Again, it amazes me that this type of hate existed. I can't imagine the pain the parents of those little girls must have gone through. I do not understand how the persons responsible could go on with their life like nothing happened knowing that they killed four young girls. I learned that two young men were shot and killed that same night. It is funny how so many history books leave out "little" details like that. One of the members of our group asked an interesting question to one of the members of the 16th Street church, he asked if any members of the church ever tried to reconcile with any of the men convicted of planting the bomb in the church; the answer was no. It makes me wonder if I was in that position would I have tried to reconcile. Of course the "right" answer is to say 'Yes' because that's the good Christian thing to do. However, I don't honestly say I can blame them for not trying to reconcile with the bombers. I don't know if I would have tried to reconcile if someone had killed the person I loved. That being said, I do think it's important that the church forgave them; not so much for the bombers' sake, but for the sake of the church.

One of the best things we did today was just walked through downtown Birmingham. We ran into the oldest African-American barbershop in downtown Birmingham called New Deal. It was like the barbershops you hear about with the old men that really like to talk to you about various things like politics and other issues. They were just a really friendly group of men. One thing that was interesting to see was how the scenery changed the further away we actually got from downtown Birmingham. We went from the shops being in poor to so-so condition to the buildings being practically new looking. It makes me wonder is it because many of the small shops downtown seemed to be owned and visited by African-Americans.

One member of the group brought up the fact that we sometimes tend to self-segregate ourselves. I noticed during our stay in Memphis, Tenn. that we did segregate ourselves. I don't believe we did it on purpose, it just sort of happened. I think we just tend to drift towards others like us. A student brought up the question that if we realize this and still end up doing it anyway how much harder is it for those that don't notice to stop it? Another observation someone in the group made was the fact that people kept staring at us as we were walking. Was it really that strange to see a racially mixed group of adults walking around together? It is the small things like these that lets me know that there is still work to be done.

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