The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

zonderman_fig02b.jpgToday, I went through the Birmingham Institute for Civil Rights.  The Institute is located in downtown Birmingham, across the street from the Sixteenth Baptist Church (where antagonists to the Civil Rights Movement threw a firebomb into the church, killing four children, on September 16, 1963).  As I walked toward the Institute past the church, I was stunned that someone had actually driven down that street and thrown a firebomb among worshipers.  

 
The tour started with a brief film about the history of Birmingham and segregation.  The film ended with a discussion of the separate public facilities, separate schools, and the general mistreatment of blacks in the 1950s and early 1960s.  As the film came to an end, the curtain rose revealing two waters fountains located just behind the curtain.  Each was clearly marked.  One said, "Whites."  The other had a sign over it that read, "Colored."  The effect was startling.  (I can still remember hearing about these as a child and my mother explaining to me what they meant.)

 
The Institute features a self-guided tour through the various stations.  A person can leisurely walk through history remembering the Civil Rights Movement as well as the blight of segregation.

 
Finally, the last station features a huge wall-length screen of Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on April 28, 1963.  The screen was huge and showed King in a close-up throughout the speech.  As many times as I have heard this speech, I have never seen the emotion on King’s face like I did today.  

 
If you are in or near Birmingham, I recommend this highly.

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11 thoughts on “The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

  1. Jim, I lived in Indiana until about age 10, but I remember visiting grandparents here in Alabama and noticing the "white" and "colored" signs on water fountains and restrooms.  I remember asking my mother what it meant and she uncomfortably tried to explain that it was just "how things were done down here."  Not much more was said, but I’ve always remembered that small incident as the first time I ran up against racial prejudice and how puzzling it was to me.  I can only imagine how it made black children feel.  I mean, for me it was puzzling and somewhat troubling, but how would a black mother explain that to her children?! 

  2. Connie,I recall being on a Greyhound Bus with my mother many, many years ago.  We were traveling through some of the backroads in Arkansas and she told me some of these stories.  Amazing. 

  3. "Born and raised in Alabama" I have heard and seen much. Alabama is
    a wonderful place to live but we do have history. I had "kinfolk" that
    was involved in the riots (Selma). He was in law enforcement. I loved
    this man. He was a special uncle. He was George Wallace’s private
    trooper. When you watch the Forrest Gump movie. The clip where George
    Wallace is standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama. You
    have to look quickly but you can see my uncle standing beside him. I
    also, knew a man that shot and killed a black man during the riots
    (Selma). I asked him if he really shot him? His response was "hell boy
    I shot him twice." I don’t know if it was in self-defense or not. Those
    where difficult times for many people. Times that will not be
    forgotten.
    I am thankful that my children did not see those days. I am
    glad that I have come to know the power of God’s love. I am so glad
    that we are all made of one blood and saved by one blood.  Amen

  4. Thank you Sonny.  Good to hear from you.  You do have deep Alabama roots!The Civil Rights Institute is a tribute to Birmingham and the rest of the state.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to tour it. 

  5. We were able to view the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis when we were newly married.  It is located in the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was killed.  It was a powerful experience.  It is amazing that the era was not so long ago.
     
     

  6. Hi Susan– I had no idea there was anything like this in Memphis! (We actually go through Memphis quite a bit, at least four times a year)  I would love to visit this sometime.Hope you guys are doing well. 

  7. The laws may have changed, but the hearts of many still burn w/racial prejudice. I am white and I’m not prejudiced in the least.  I have a friend that is being stalked by a self-called ‘member of the Klan’ simply because he is black and returned some gestures of interest to the man’s daughter. 
    Another concern I have is the way some christians discriminate against others based on their style of worship. Denominations came about based on differences in doctrine and administration. While I question the validity of that too, it concerns me that many christians have no tolerance for charismatics or on the other hand, no tolerance for those who prefer a more structured way of worship.

  8. sista cala,Thanks for what you said.  What you said could become a conversation.  There are so many ways that human beings sin against one another.  Thanks for these examples. 

  9. Jim I know this a moving experience for you because it was for me.  My family went to the Institute and Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in the late 1990s and it was great.  I brought along a copy of MLKs "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" and we read excerpts from it while there.   When we were at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church it really hit me though because the four children that were murdered in that bombing on Sunday morning were little girls.  I had my two little girls with me and I just about lost it … a powerful memory.The only other time I think I have been moved that deeply was probably at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  I took a group of teens there every summer before I got fired in Grenada MS.  It is a powerful experience.  Thanks for sharing with us.  Shalom,Bobby Valentine   

  10. Jim I know this a moving experience for you because it was for me.  My family went to the Institute and Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in the late 1990s and it was great.  I brought along a copy of MLKs "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" and we read excerpts from it while there.   When we were at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church it really hit me though because the four children that were murdered in that bombing on Sunday morning were little girls.  I had my two little girls with me and I just about lost it … a powerful memory.The only other time I think I have been moved that deeply was probably at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.  I took a group of teens there every summer before I got fired in Grenada MS.  It is a powerful experience.  Thanks for sharing with us.  Shalom,Bobby Valentine