What I take for granted by Liz Kielley

June 14th, 2018

Something simple I take for granted is that wherever I travel I can find food, shelter, a place to get gas, and a bathroom. I didn’t realize that there was a Green book that listed accommodations for African-Americans so that they knew where it was safe to stop. That they had to carefully plan their trips so they wouldn’t run out of gas or be on the road at night. And you had to hope that the information was still correct. I learned that even Martin Luther King and his wife had to spend their wedding night in a black owned funeral home because no hotel would take them. These are basic rights: food and shelter. My heart grieves that the color of someone’s skin can deny them something so simple.

Greensboro Four – Susan Shannon

June 14th, 2018

I’m not emotional. I heard prior experiences from others who took this trip before me and thought, not me. I won’t cry.

Our first stop at Woolworth’s store/museum where 4 young men sat for service was moving. This tour is well choreographed with readings and videos and excellent conversations along the way. The bravery of those young men and many others was something. – Greensboro Four.

Are we still bravery enough and persistent and patient enough to continue standing/sitting/kneeling today?

I know I struggle with patience.

At one point in museum, name after name and story after story was presented of those who had been killed at the hands of those against the ideas of freedom. I want to make a list of all those continuing to be killed. Injustices continue in our society.

I want to stay strong, stand up, and speak out.

Yesterday we stopped in Atlanta and visited the MLK center…did I mention the conversations I’m having with those I’m traveling with?? Powerful.

Fred Shuttlesworth is my hero, by Jim LaGrand

June 14th, 2018

The Birmingham preacher and civil rights activist Fred Shuttlesworth is a hero of mine. It’s not only for his feats of daring and bravery, although there were plenty of those. He survived 3 bombings perpetrated by the Klan, the first of them on Christmas 1956. When the Klan tried to chase him out of town, he defiantly responded, “I wasn’t saved to run.” In 1957, he was jumped by a group of Klansmen and beaten with chains and brass knuckles while walking his daughters to the local (all-white) high school to enroll them. Shuttlesworth often said he would either kill segregation or be killed by it. His almost-supernatural bravery scared and awed some at the time.

Shuttlesworth is also heroic for his commitment to non-violence in the hardest, most challenging circumstances. He preached sermons about non-violence days, even hours, after being attacked or bombed. He devoted much of his life to his community and to Bethel church in the Collegeville neighborhood of Birmingham.

It was a privilege to visit Bethel church with the Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Movement tour group and a thrill to stand behind his pulpit now housed at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

 

Day 4:The journey to Selma by Marcelle Giovannetti 

June 14th, 2018

This day engulfed me with the heaviness of grief for all the many lives lost in the freedom struggle. We began day 4 at the Rosa Parks Museum and I learned of the many others (and women before her) who would not give up their seat in non-violent protest against injustice.  I began to see how school desegregation, sit-ins, the bus boycott, voting rights, freedom marches and freedom riders were all chiseling away at forces that opposed the God given right of every human to be treated with dignity and respect.

The bus journey to Lowndes County Interpretive Center was the same path marched on foot, over days, by some of the most courageous people of our time as it traced the route of the freedom march from Selma to Montgomery.

    Here I learned about the ridiculous questions  Black people were asked during voter registration like “how many bubbles will this bar of soap produce?” . I also learned about tent city that served as a place of refuge for crop sharers when they got evicted from white-owned land when they voiced their desire to vote.  I was immediately pulled into the reality of our current headlines as the term  “tent cities” is now being proposed to house immigrant children, which begs the question: how far have we really come in this freedom struggle? 

We spent the afternoon in Selma where I met the unforgettable Miss Joanne Bland who whipped a group of 50 adults into line like it was child’s play! She is extraordinary and her resilient spirit tireless. She introduced the group to the pure joy of a eating a dripping ripe southern peach. She also shared her firsthand account of marching as a young girl across the Edmund Pettus bridge. “I can still remember the screams” she said…I listened, looking out of the window, staring at the very bridge where it happened.  I was moved to tears marching across that bridge in the footsteps of so many who were brutally beaten on Bloody Sunday then hunted relentlessly and pursued back into town. The barbaric truth seemed too much to absorb. The slaughter of unarmed people peaceful standing up for their right to not be terrorized left me feeling like my grief was joining the weight of theirs,  mourning in solidarity with every generation of freedom fighters I have learned about.

I was struck by the reminents of wreckage still visible in Selma. The dissonance between the “haves and the have nots” still clearly visible. The disparity and inequity of old that still exists but changes its shapes and morphs into present day oppression. I could see it and feel it as we drove through Selma. Joanne Bland knows it all too well, and has spent her life using her own pain as the foundational bricks that can build a better community. I found her so inspiring! Yes ma’am I did.

 

This little light of mine

June 14th, 2018

The Civil Rights Tour brings the past to the front door of your mind and requires one to open the door and allow it to speak for itself. It begs the question, Will you let me in? Will you learn? Will you repeat the mistakes of the past? Will you know me?
To me this trip continues to remind me of how little I know and how indebted I am to those that have come and suffered before me. As a man of color working on a predominantly white institution, I can’t but be thankful for those that endured so much to pave the way for me to be a part of something that many of them died fighting to achieve. Albany Georgia, touched me in a profound way as we sang freedom songs with Ms. Rutha Harris one of the original Freedom singers. Ms. Harris gave account of her experience as a teenager seeking to find a way to participate in this very important movement taking place around them. Ms. Harris became one of four students who formed a quartet at Albany State College which eventually became known as The Freedom Singers in 1962.
The result of their voices gave strength and hope to the civil rights movement through communal song by empowering and educating audiences all across the country. As we followed her direction to the tune of this Little Light of Mine I was especially moved because it was a song that meant so much for me as a child growing up on the far eastern continent of Africa.
These young students used their voices to give hope to a movement, to shine their light however little that light was. I was struck by the vivid recollections of singing this same song with other children in the playgrounds and churches in Kenya and how similar the message of spreading light was. The strong link of the message for kids around the world that even though a child, you possessed something that you could pass on to the rest of the world. A light that can shine and break walls and cripple hatred. A light that even a child can easily carry.
Standing there locked hand in hand, we swayed slowly to the voice of Rutha leading us in song and I sensed a kinship to a movement that continues in its own. Maybe, just maybe we can all take hold of the simple lyrics of this timeless tune and let our light shine however little we may think it is.
As we recognize the need to let our light shine we can hear the knock of history on the locked door of our minds, open and develop a posture of learning and just maybe we will avoid repeating the mistakes of our past.

Dereck

Reflection on Days 1-5 of the Civil Rights Bus Tour

June 14th, 2018

Memory. It is a powerful tool that can be used for good or for evil. Memory can be used to enshrine, but it can also be used to selectively forget that which is more convenient to ignore.

Over the first five days of the Civil Rights Bus Tour, memory has been a theme of the sights we have seen and the people whom we have met and heard. From the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which commemorates the 4000 plus victims of race-based lynchings, to Carolyn McKinstry, who recounted to us her experience growing up in Birmingham in the 1950s and 60s, the experiences to which we have been exposed are powerful reminders of the racial oppression that is a foul blot on our nation’s history. To a large degree, our national consciousness chooses to overlook or ignore these injustices, preferring instead to focus on our successes: the passing of the 13th amendment, the Voting Rights act, Brown vs. Board of Education. While it is incredibly important to acknowledge these victories, it would be a disservice to those who fought for them to ignore the horrifically unjust conditions that necessitated these decisive actions. That is why the work that the lynching memorial and museums such as those we have visited is so crucial. The sacrifice made by those whose lives were brutally taken through police violence, KKK terrorism, or other hate crimes, cannot be fully fathomed if we choose to ignore the evil against which they dedicated their lives to fighting.

Although recognizing these injustices can be sobering and emotional, and can reflect shamefully upon our nation, parts of the Christian church, and much of the white race in America, it is a necessary step in the process of racial reconciliation. Without a recognition of wrongdoing, sin can never be put right. However, through the uncovering of truth, forgiveness can finally begin to heal.

-Ben Baddorf

One of the monuments at the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

One of the monuments at the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

Reflections on Day 1-3 by Marcelle Giovannetti

June 12th, 2018

What a journey! We began our tour Friday with excited buzz, building relationships with each other in the van through shared laughter and listening, leaning in, to the stories of each other. Then Saturday immersed us in the story of the Greensboro 4, courageous, first year, college students, who were not more than 18 or 19 years old. These 4 were the catalyst for a movement that inspired their generation (and beyond) to speak out against injustice. Hearing their story left me pondering what “lunch counter” moments I would be courageous enough to attempt in my own life.

Sunday took us to Atlanta where we visited the MLK center and began learning about heroic stories of ordinary folks who did extraordinary things. Dr. King was so prophetic in the speeches he gave and I found myself connecting his message of equity and non violence to current news stories in our country. His life and legacy reverberated throughout my day and I felt their echo in my soul as I sat in a pew at Ebenezer Baptist Church listening to him preach.  I then got to visit the memorial of Dr.King and his wife and felt the peace that drenched their final resting place.

We had lunch at the famous Varsity and I got to try my first FO and discovered that I could most definitely put away two of their delicious chili dogs (after an appropriate amount of modest protest of course!)

Monday began at the Charles Sherrod civil Rights Park where we walked in the footsteps of those who bravely marched in peaceful protest. We then visited  the Albany Civil Rights institute where our amazing tour guide Debra made the exhibits come to life (she can sang too!). Then we got to sing freedom songs with the unstoppable Rutha Harris who has a set of pipes that made me weep! Her songs, sound, feeling, music and words cry out like a timeless anthem and fill every part of you when she sings. It made me thankful to Our Creator for the gifts he bestows on us in form of such extraordinary talent! 

We had lunch with Miss Rutha at Ole Times Country buffet that served up an extra helping of sweet southern hospitality that went nicely with the delicious southern cuisine. After lunch, we visited Holy Street Baptist Church, First Baptist Church and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.  We also visited the home of Dr. King  where hate and violence still leave their ugly mark, his porch still dented from the place where the bomb exploded. For me, it served as metaphor and reminder of just how long hatred leaves its ugly mark behind, it even outlives the recipients it originally targeted… a reminder of the depth of wounds inflicted and their long term effects.

We finished off the evening with dinner at Sophia’s and I got to hear her story, another example of everyday courageous folks doing extraordinary things. For me these stories of past and present  mingled together and they are beginning to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, one piece dependent on the other to reveal long and hard fought road towards equity and freedom. Both of which are still clearly elusive today in our nation. I felt these stories chisel away and deconstruct my own “knowing” (or lack thereof) as my own transformative learning takes on new shape that is now anchored to a more accurate account of history ebbedded in the personal stories I have been privileged to hear.

It’s only Day 3 and the people I have met along the way have be remarkable. They have given generously of themselves to contribute to my own learning. Hospitality, love and grace have been the consistent underpinnings of this journey so far. I have been deeply moved and overwhelmed by the experience and am so very grateful for it.

At the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro NC, by Jim LaGrand

June 11th, 2018

For many years now, I’ve taught about the Greensboro Four in my U.S. History survey class. I thought I knew most everything about David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr., and Joseph McNeil—their backgrounds, their dorm room bull sessions about the frustrating “civil racism” of Greensboro, and especially about what they did on February 1, 1960 when they walked from North Carolina A&T’s campus to Woolworth’s to challenge the color line there.

But being in the actual place where history happened and seeing actual physical objects from history often teaches new things. I was reminded of this visiting A&T’s campus and the Woolworth’s which is now within the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro.

After our Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Movement tour group visited campus and the statue there memorializing the Four, our tour bus drove to the Woolworth’s. I’d thought it was “off-campus,” just a few blocks away. In fact, it was a 1.5 mile walk from campus to the store and lunch counter downtown every time A&T students wanted to buy notebooks, pens, or personal items at Woolworth’s. Quite a hike.

On that historic day in 1960 after buying personal items, they went to order food at the lunch counter and in doing so crossed the color line. Even after teaching this account for years, I had the layout of the store wrong. It’s one long continuous L-shaped lunch counter. To see this, the actual seats where the Four sat, the cash register, and all the actual artifacts of the past is powerful. History happened here. Four African-American college freshmen started something that ended up desegregating the lunch counter at Woolworth’s and soon all over Greensboro and all over the South.

In Search of a Usable Past (John Fea’s posts)

June 18th, 2017

Here are my posts from the 2017 Civil Rights Bus Tour:

https://thewayofimprovement.com/category/civil-rights-bus-tour-june-2017/

John Fea

Day 3- Albany, GA and Montgomery, AL

June 13th, 2017

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Today started in Georgia, and we went to the Charles Sherrod Civil Rights Park. This was beautiful and gave some facts of the history of Albany in the Civil Rights Movement. It is easy to tell that Albany is open and readily talking about their history in this movement. My favorite part was the tiles, and some of them say donor’s names, but one said “God is on Our Side,” and another said, “Let Freedom Ring!” How beautiful are those sentiments? God is on the side of those fighting for liberation. That is just the God we serve and that was a great reminder for me. the fight for justice is not something that is anti-Christian, in fact, it is one of the most Christian things we can do.
Following this, we went to a museum where we were able to meet Ms. Rutha Harris. Rutha Harris was one of the original Freedom Singers, and to hear the songs of this movement from people who were directly involved was inspiring and moved me to tears. I was able to sing with Ms. Rutha, and that was such a great opportunity, but of course, I was nervous! This woman has pipes! Her voice filled the entire room, and I got to sit next to her on stage and sing. The integration of this protest movement along with the Spiritual oral tradition was beautiful to hear and be a part of. Everyone in the town knew Ms. Rutha, and she was so humble, and truly had a beautiful spirit. The songs would beg Pritchett and Kelly to open the cells because God’s children are praying and crying in their cells. As I write this, I am listening to Ms. Rutha’s CD and these songs are extremely powerful.

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After this visit, we went to eat lunch and then headed to Montgomery! Unfortunately, it was raining in Montgomery so we couldn’t stop at a lot of the places we had hoped to. We stopped at Holt Street Baptist Church which was so amazing because history was made there. This is where discussion happened about the Montgomery bus boycott. I felt honored just to be standing in a place where the plans were made for a boycott that would show the power of black people and also change our lives forever.
We then were able to go back to the hotel and had dinner made by Sophia. This was the food that you would expect in the South. There was fried chicken, cornbread, meatloaf, watermelon, yams and more. This was truly a treat!
I have found it interesting that all of these cities are so eager to talk about their part in the Civil Rights Movement, but what that really means what that there was a lot courageous black people, but also the most blatant racism in these areas. While one of these things is worth celebrating and is still true today, I fear the other still lingers on as well.

A valuable part of this trip has been the conversations that I have had with faculty and students on the bus, at meals, and in the hotel. I am really gaining a lot from that and look forward to that continuing through the rest of the week!