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Day 6 – “Bombingham”
Written by: Miquel Correa (Autonomus University of Barcelona) & Jasmine Ratliff (Tuskegee University)
“To the privileged, equality is a sacrifice.” These are the words one of our wise tour guides, Barry, would like for us to reflect on today and every day. He would like for us to pass on the message to be mindful of your privileges and make sacrifices to spread justice for all.
When Birmingham’s Mayor Randall Woodfin’s Liason, Felicia Mitchell, gave us a warm welcome, she mentioned how the city has had many nicknames from “Magic City”, “Pittsburg of the South”, to “Bombingham” and then later the “Mecca of the South”. Rightfully, “Bombingham” was the one that stayed on the forefront of our minds throughout the trip.
16th Street Baptist Church – “The People’s Church”
14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and 11-year-old Cynthia Wesley, were killed on September 15, 1963 in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. performed the eulogy. Dr. King also presented his “I Have a Dream” speech to the congregation here before unveiling it to the world at The Lincoln Memorial.
It was over a decade after the bombing that ring leader, Klu Klux Klansman, Robert “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss, was convicted of first degree murder. Despite FBI agents “losing” almost all of the physical evidence post-trial, in 2001 and 2002 respectively, Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry were convicted by then lead prosecutor, U.S. Attorney for Alabama’s Northern District, Doug Jones.
Today, not only did we visit a church that President Obama named a nationally historic landmark, but we visited a place that was used to plan strategies and demonstrations, it was the center of social change.
Speaking of change –
“I am of the firm belief that public servants can do great things for the people. There are too many politicians who let their egos get in the way and play to their bases. We need politicians who focus on the issues people care about.” –Senator Doug Jones
Meeting with Senator Doug Jones was both hopeful and helpful. Hopeful in a sense that Alabama is shifting in a way that will be beneficial to all of its residents, even rural. Helpful in a way of giving us face-to-face access with one of the legislative leaders who has the power to propose policy.
Senator Jones shared with us his personal connections to the four U.S. Senator Committees he has been appointed to and then his top three issues he’s currently working towards- expanding Medicaid, getting grants for much needed sewage infrastructure upgrades, and broadband expansion. We were then able to ask questions regarding his past time as an attorney and his current commitment to rural areas, more specifically Tuskegee and people placed development over the historically chosen place based development.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
The entry way is deliberately lined with plants of rosemary used for amnesia treatment to jog the memory and hopefully engrain the lessons learned into the memory of the millions of visitors. The walkway of bricks leading to the entry tells the lyrics of songs “Jesus Loves the Little Children” & “We Shall Overcome” with red, yellow, black, and white bricks interlocked in intricate patterns. As we emotionally progressed through the Barriers, Movement, Confrontation, and Human Rights galleries, the stories of so many Civil Rights warriors were captured in our hearts.
Birmingham Fish Market
The afternoon in Birmingham concluded with a well-planned lunch at The Fish Market. As we boarded the bus “home”, Barry guided us on an unforgettable driving tour around the city. The stories that Barry told us, regarding the statue Vulcan, the “heaviest corner on Earth” or the soon-to-be-restored Gaston Motel, were extremely interesting. The tour took us back to 20th century-Birmingham, remarking its industrial past and the on-going fight for civil rights, which gives this southern city its sense of uniqueness. There could not have been a better end to our trip to Birmingham, and we are so grateful to Barry for his dedication to us during the whole day.
On our way back “home” to Tuskegee after two long and inspiring days, we still had time to stop at The Outlet Shops of Grand River, where some scholars would find nice bargains and others would opt for refreshments while recalling past ICRPS experiences.
We would like to leave you with the words that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said to the families of the four girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing. These words are so relevant currently, remembering the dark times of yesterday as we strive to ensure policies are inclusive and implemented with equality today.
“I like to believe that the negative extremes of Birmingham’s past will resolve into the positive and utopian extreme of her future; that the sins of a dark yesterday will be redeemed in the achievements of a bright tomorrow.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.