We were warmly welcomed when we worshiped at Brown’s Chapel on Sunday. Brown’s Chapel AME Church was the center of gravity for the planning of the Selma Civil Rights campaign in 1964 and 1965. The Bloody Sunday and Turnaround Marches of March 7 and 9 originated here, and the victims of the first march returned here for treatment. The church is located right in the middle of George Washington Carver Homes, the “projects” that were built in the 50s.
After church and a good old southern soul-food lunch, we returned to our bus to drive to Montgomery following the same route of the successful 54-mile Selma to Montgomery March on March 25, 1965. We stopped along the way at the Viola Liuzzo memorial along side Route 80. Liuzzo was the third martyr of the Selma-campaign. She was a 39-year-old mother of five from Detroit and a Unitarian Universalist. Viola had seen the TV coverage of Bloody Sunday and was moved to drive to Selma to walk in solidarity with others who answered the call to join the march to Montgomery. Driving marchers back to Selma from Montgomery after the successful march and in the company of a Black man, she was followed and shot to death. No one was ever charged in her death.
Reaching Montgomery, we went to the state capital and joined a vigil to honor the memory of a young gay man who was killed several years ago in a hate crime. After dinner, we heard the stories of the Montgomery Bus Boycott from the Rev. Robert Graetz, a young white Lutheran minister who served a black congregation in 1955 and thus ostracized by the white community.
On Monday, we started the morning at the Civil Rights Memorial designed by Maya Lin, the architect who designed the Viet Nam memorial. We then went to the First Baptist Church, and learned of its history during the bus boycott in 1955 and later during the Freedom Rides of the 1960s. We closed out our time there with a rousing rendition of “Lift Every Voice”, the black national anthem. Accompanied by the big organ, we sounded pretty good. We then went to the Rosa Parks Museum, where we saw an incredibly animation/reenactment of her arrest for refusal to give up her seat. She is appropriately called the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement. The movement was started by women (no surprise there) that ultimately drew in Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy and other clergy.
I had thought the afternoon visit to Dr. King’s parsonage when he served Dexter Street Baptist Church would be mildly interesting, but it turned out to be the highlight of the day for me. Shirley Cherry, the director of the interpretation center next door, was a lively and passionate host. She took us through the modest parsonage, and she made the rooms come alive as she detailed the many threatening calls prior to the bombing of the home during the bus boycott. We ended our tour in the kitchen where King had an epiphany late one night after one such call that threatened his children. He heard an inner voice that said that God would get him through the hard times. On that note, we left for Meridian to reflect on his and his family’s courage in the face of threats to his life and family.
I am still having trouble fathoming the courage of so many people to stand up to their oppressors, repeatedly, and over the years. They put their lives and their livelihoods on the line for justice. Could I do that?