It has been 50 years since the start of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, I was just two years old. However, I remember my parents watching TV every night as the events unfold in Birmingham. Events that would spark an unstoppable surge toward equal rights for people of all races. They feared for a 13 year old girl being arrested by two large white policemen, children being fired upon by water hoses or bitten by a pack of dogs. They gasped in horror at the devastating aftermath of an explosion. Teenagers being harassed while at a lunch counter every afternoon, made them sick with sadness. They were completely scared, praying to God as they watched a thousand arms linked at the elbows before an army of police.
Its 2013 and Birmingham will honor the lessons learned from its past. Organizations and institutions throughout the city will tell stories of 1963 through art exhibits, theater productions, musical performances and more. Birmingham’s historic Civil Rights District was ground zero for the 1963 campaign. What stands there now is the Civil Rights Institute, opened in 1992, which tells the city’s story of America’s Civil Rights Movement. However, to commemorating the 50th Anniversary of those pivotal events that transformed the world, they have allowed a roving exhibition to go on display at local libraries around the country. Today, I got to see that exhibit and I have to say, it was transcendent.
Watching footage of events that I’ve only read about or heard from members of my family shocked me at the hatred that can be in the heart of man. I sat at a lunch counter of the 1960’s, drank from a colored water fountain, teared up at the pictures of Medgar Evers’ wife and son at his funeral. I openly cried at the pictures of the destruction that was once Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, after a dynamite bomb was set by Ku Klux Klansmen, that exploded the church, killing four little girls as they prepared for morning worship.
This exhibit had everything, including tapes and film of Governor George Wallace famous speech. Got to read the letter from Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth with his words infamous words, “As Birmingham goes so goes the Nation.” Got to understand Project C, and saw the first sit in. Read the “Letter from Jail” and saw the Children’s Crusade, and how they were arrested and put into holding pens like animals. There were so much more like the delightful Time magazine display of African American’s on its cover, including the First Black Supermodel Naomi Sims
I recommend that if this exhibit comes to your town or city, please take the time to go out and experience , by pictures video and letters, the struggles it took to end racial segregation in the South.