A Message from Montgomery

Note: Please be forewarned that I have included a disturbing photo at the end of this post.

The morning of my sixtieth birthday, my husband, Wendy, and I drove into downtown Montgomery, Alabama, counting on road signs to guide us to civil rights landmarks. We passed one for the Civil Rights Memorial and, while backtracking to find it, an iconic red-brick church rose up before us. My heart caught in my throat at the site of the Dexter Street Baptist Church where MLK, Jr. was pastor from 1954 to 1960.

 
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested after she famously remained seated on a Montgomery bus. One day later, people crowded into this very church where they decided to launch the bus boycott. Wendy and I speculated on the fear that must have permeated the sanctuary barely four months after the widely publicized torture and murder of Emmit Till. (Photo is at the end of the post.) We are in awe of the astounding courage this non-violent protest required.

Unfortunately, a funeral was scheduled for that morning, so we were unable to go inside.

Wendy had read that the Civil Rights Memorial was only a block away, so we rounded a corner and came right up on it. I quickly recognized the black-table fountain from my Southern Poverty Law Center literature. This gorgeous monument was designed by Maya Lin, designer of DC’s Vietnam War Memorial. She was inspired by MLK’s paraphrase of Amos 5:24, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Photo from www.splc.org
 

Inside, we learned that she left a space on the civil rights timeline to
indicate that there were many incidents before this time and after.

I was not surprised that, to enter, we had to go through airport-like security since I was well aware of the many death threats against founder Morris Dees. Also, you may remember the 2009 murder of a Holocaust Museum security guard by an aging white supremacist.

Among other things, the museum featured a fascinating mural of the major events during the Civil Rights Era. But there was also a reminder that, on a smaller scale (thank God), these types of things still go on. One example was a pair of young men who were “looking for people to kill.” Black, Hispanic, anyone as long as they weren’t white. They eventually killed a young girl because “she trusted us and she was in-between.”

One of the last exhibits was the Wall of Tolerance, a digital display where the names of people who have taken the following pledge flow down the screen.

“By placing my name on the Wall of Tolerance, I pledge to take a stand against hate, injustice and intolerance. I will work in my daily life for justice, equality and human rights – the ideals for which the Civil Rights martyrs died.”

Both Wendy and I proudly added our names and immediately watched them roll before my tear-filled eyes. I tried several times to photograph them, but none came out. The photo below came from the SPLC website.

I was one year old when the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was handed down. I grew up with this movement in the background and was profoundly affected by it as a teenager. Human dignity and civil rights issues have molded my life. I feel very strongly that forgetting the sacrifices of the martyrs who came before us risks a return to the oppression that provoked it.
 
Photo of 14-year old Emmit Till
in his casket. The inset shows
the boy before the murder.

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