Civil Rights Tour – We Will Not Forget

My mind keeps playing an old gospel hymn: “Jesus I’ll never forget, what you’ve done for me. Jesus I’ll never forget, how you set me free. Jesus I’ll never forget, how you’ve brought me out. Jesus I’ll never forget, no never.”

I would like you to try to remember this song throughout your reading of my blog entries covering the civil rights tour. Just hum the tune, it will make you feel a little better. It will stir and comfort your spirit as you read about the strength and resiliency of our people as they endured brutal, unjust, and inhumane treatment in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Brave. Yes, my people were very brave, but they were hardly free, and we are still fighting today for freedom and justice. This tour brought me to tears some days, and unspeakable joy and hope on others. There are no words to describe the depth of emotions experienced on this week long tour.  Some may wonder why we would want to visit all these historical sites, including the National Memorial for Peace & Justice, a memorial to the victims of racial terror lynching. The answer is that we wanted to study the past to learn how racial inequality has impacted generations and is still impacting us. You would be amazed at how much has NOT changed as far as racism in the United States.  We were a group open to ongoing discussions on racial reconciliation and how we can learn to live better, together. So we chose to go back and study the martyrs who paved the way for us, we chose to experience just a taste of what it must have been like for them. We took this tour so we will NEVER forget. We will continue to honor our civil rights martyrs and heroes. We will keep their memories alive and we will strive to be like them, sharing our knowledge and resources. We will not forget them, NO, NEVER!!

Take a look at the first few days of our amended agenda:

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At the second meeting for the tour, each of us were given the name of a civil rights leader whose name we would carry in our heart and look for their influence during the tour. Some of the names of these “foot soldiers” were unknown to us. There were several people doing the grassroots work behind the scenes, and many did not achieve icon status like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks. There are so many who need to be given credit for their part in the civil rights movement. The foot soldiers Gregory and I were following were Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Ella Baker. Reverend Shuttlesworth (below, left) worked closely alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Rev. Shuttlesworth was very outspoken about injustice. He survived several bombings and beatings, and even a fire hosing ordered by Eugene “Bull” Connor, Alabama Commissioner of Public Safety. In spite of all Reverend Shuttlesworth suffered, he still lived to the age of 89. Ella Baker (below, right) was a civil and human rights activist who helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was one of the most influential women in the civil rights movement. Ms. Baker was a member of the NAACP and SCLC. She worked very closely with the young people in the movement. She was also a mentor to Rosa Parks.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA

On Saturday July 28th, we arrived safely in Atlanta after a somewhat bumpy flight. Needless to say, I was more than happy to be getting off the plane and on to dry land. It was hot, but I was told it was even hotter at home in Seattle. A chartered bus picked us up and we were off to the Embassy Suites near Centennial Park.

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After a quick and delicious meal at Chick fil A, we went to Centennial Park with our Pastors Harvey and Andrea Drake. We were blessed to spend time in the evening with a dear family friend, Faye Capers. She always makes time to see us when we visit Atlanta.

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Centennial Park

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Pastor Harvey Drake and wife Andrea

On Sunday, July 29th we worshipped together at Ebenezer Baptist Church, visited Dr. King’s birthplace, the King Center and his memorial burial spot. Afterwards, we had a wonderful brunch at the Atlanta Breakfast Club. While touring the grounds of Ebenezer, a very nice gentleman named Albert Brinson, greeted the group. Mr. Brinson was a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. and he was baptized at Ebenezer at the age of eight. Mr. Brinson proceeded to tell us about his friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr. He served as assistant to both Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. AND Jr. He held us captive in the hot Atlanta heat until his daughter came out from the eleven o’clock service and said, “He is supposed to be in church”! She added, “He gets great joy out of doing this”. Gregory and I wandered back in the church while the others visited MLK’s childhood home. We were able to meet the 24 year-old youth pastor who had preached at the earlier service we attended. Gregory also took a picture with one of the soloists from the choir. There is a photo included of Gregory with a statue of Kunta Kinte.

 

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Andrea having fun in the sun

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Inside the new Ebenezer Baptist Church

 

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Gregory with Ebenezer soloist

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Our group held captive by Mr. Albert Brinson, friend of Dr. King.

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Gregory with Kunta Kinte statue

 

Atlanta Breakfast Club shrimp & grits and shrimp po’ boy

Later that afternoon some of the group visited the Atlanta Civil Rights Museum. I had visited the museum two years ago, so I chose not to go again. In the evening we watched an episode of Eyes on the Prize about the civil rights movement in Alabama, followed by a discussion.

BIRMINGHAM/MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA

On Monday, July 30th we took a bus from Atlanta to Birmingham/Montgomery, Alabama. We had a walking tour and bus tour of Birmingham. We learned a lot about the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth from our tour guide, Barry. We visited the 16th St. Baptist Church, and saw the location where the four little girls were killed by a bomb on September 15, 1963. We visited Kelly Ingram Park where in May 1963 peaceful protesters (almost all of them children and high school students) were confronted with arrests, police dogs and firehoses. The park is the setting for several pieces of sculpture related to the civil rights movement. The most beautiful one in my opinion is the Four Spirits, depicting each of the four little girls preparing for the church sermon moments before the bomb exploded. At the base of the sculpture is an inscription of the name of the sermon they were to attend prior to the bombing- “A Love that Forgives.” Later that day we visited the Rosa Parks Museum where we observed a reenactment of the day (December 1, 1955) when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man. There is a marker at the bus stop outside the museum where Ms. Parks boarded the bus, as a tribute to her and the success of the Montgomery bus boycott.

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Me with the 16th Street Baptist Church in the background.

 

Site of the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church

Barry, our Birmingham guide telling us about Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth

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Sculpture in Kelly Ingram Park dedicated to the foot soldiers of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement

 

Sculptures depicting the youth of the movement, as well as the vicious

police dogs who attacked them.

20180731_1712101231470889.jpg“Three Ministers” sculpture represents Rev. N.H Smith Jr., A.D. King & John T. Porter, who led a march in Birmingham in 1963 to support Rev. ML King, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and Ralph Abernathy, who had been jailed.

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Photo of The Four Spirits sculpture (credit to reneearoundtheway.com)

On Tuesday, July 31st we departed for Selma/Montgomery, and toured the National Voting Rights Museum. I was not happy that I did not get to take any pictures there, but the site guide spent the whole time giving us his personal oral history of the museum. In Selma, we met Joanne Bland, one of the survivors of the historic Bloody Sunday march, who became involved in the Voting Rights Movement in Selma at the age of 11! She gave us a wonderful tour of Selma, including taking us to the church where the historic march started, Brown Chapel A.M.E. We all picked up rocks from the small concrete area that remains where the marchers lined up and began their journey for justice. We kept the rock as a personal reminder of the sacrifices made on Bloody Sunday. A highlight today was walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of Bloody Sunday which occurred on March 7, 1965. To learn more about Joanne Bland, you can go to her website, Take A Journey, joannebland.com.

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Andrea, Gregory and Joanne Bland at the site of the Bloody Sunday march.

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Me and Joanne Bland, Bloody Sunday survivor and activist.

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Shawn & Gregory in front of sculpture at Brown Chapel, A.M.E.

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Gregory with Tony Barker (friend & member of ECBF church

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Our wonderful tour organizer Suzzanne Lacey and Joanne Bland

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Joanne Bland tells the group about Bloody Sunday. This is the area where the march began.

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Edmund Pettus Bridge

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Marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge- making our own history!

 

 

On Wednesday, August 1st we visited Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr’s home church from 1954 until 1960. What a beautiful experience this was!! The love that you feel when you are greeted by the docents at this church is unlike anywhere else I have visited. Every tourist is greeted with a warm and loving hug at the time they enter the church. Wanda Howard Battle, the tour director is full of God’s joy and she knows the history of the church intimately. Brenda Colvin is another tour guide, and she just happens to be a cousin of Claudette Colvin, the woman who refused to move from her seat on the bus about nine months before Rosa Parks. Claudette was never given icon status like Rosa Parks, even though she was definitely a history maker. While we were at the church, Steve, a member of our group asked Brenda Colvin if she was related to Claudette. She replied, “she is my cousin, and I am going to call her”. The call was made to Ms. Colvin, who currently lives in New York, and all of us present gave her as much love as we could through that phone call. It was a huge blessing and a miracle gift from God to talk to this  legend/icon of the civil rights movement!

 

Tour guide Wanda on the phone with civil rights legend, Claudette Colvin.

This ends the first few days of the tour. There is much more to come including the Freedom Riders Museum and a talk with one of the original freedom riders, Bernard Lafayette, The Southern Poverty Law Center, The Legacy Museum, The Equal Justice Initiative and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Stay tuned and remember to NEVER forget!

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Beverly Rogers
    Aug 17, 2018 @ 00:20:28

    I am in awe.

    Reply

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