See a message from Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston about the Northfield to Selma trip.

Thursday, March 23: Day Eight

Friday, March 24, 2017

by Joshua Kwan

Today was an emotionally heavy day as we centered our attention to the city of Birmingham, Alabama: the center of many important civil rights moments and the heart of vicious segregation back in the 1960s, so much so that it was nicknamed “Bombingham.” I close my eyes; it is difficult and eerie to think of how different the social landscape around us would have been not too long ago. The aged red brick buildings, calm green parks, and empty concrete streets rendered in full color (compared to the black and white images/video we have of the past), conjure a lot of dissonance and deep reflection.

We began our day with a visit to the 16th Street Baptist Church, site of the deadly bombing in 1963 that took away the lives of 4 young girls. Many children have been martyrs and victims of hate crimes during the Civil Rights moments. Contrary to popular belief, the church was not destroyed in the bombing and the perpetrators were not convicted until decades later. I was moved by the history lessons we received that day. A community in Wales, United Kingdom, offered a new stained glass window of a black man bowed in mourning to the church. One of his hands casts away oppression and the other is open for forgiveness. This example international solidarity and support is inspiring. Lastly, what I was especially intrigued by was how the church’s mission is to remain a church—they do not want to be seen as a memorial or a monument. They call “Jesus Christ [as] our main attraction.” How do we understand the local community’s desire versus the national park’s intention to own the property for historical purposes?

We then made our way to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which was a helpful summary of all that we had learned on this trip. The interactive space traced the history of segregated spaces, landmark court cases, race based hate crimes, the freedom riders, the sit-ins, and the March on Washington. It was especially powerful to hear Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” read aloud in his recreated jail cell, as he addressed his refusal to wait for justice any longer. Overall, I have been blown away by how well done and well-designed each of the museums we have visited—they are so interactive, informative, and immersive. Some have also drawn important connections to other movements around the globe as well as ways the fight continues today.

P.S. Besides our day loaded with impactful learning moments, our bellies were also impacted by the heavy, rich traditional Southern soul food we had for both lunch and dinner. Fried chicken, beef tips, lemon-pepper catfish, green beans, sweet potatoes, black eyed peas, pinto beans, fried corn, fried okra, fried tomatoes, mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, lemonade, sweet tea, pecan pie, lemon meringue pie, etc. were just a sampling of what we were eating today. Food coma indeed…

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