Civil Rights Saga: Episode 4

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Remember Brother Malden? What better way could you start a Sunday morning than hanging out in the Malden barber shop? We stayed and talked with Brother Malden for about half an hour, touring the barber shop (which was absolutely covered in pictures of celebrities who had come to the barber shop – either to get their hair cut or, like us, just to say they’d been there.

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This is the chair Dr. King usually sat in.

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Brother Malden is the definition of networking.

Now, I have no idea how Brother Malden got hold of these (I think I was looking at pictures when he explained it), but this man has a copy of Dr. Martin Luther King’s grades. And let me tell you, as college students, we were very interested to know what this man’s transcript looked like. And I think all of us were more than a little comforted to see his report card peppered with C’s. I said to myself, “Self: you do not have to be an A student to make a difference in the world!” And thank heavens, because… I’m definitely not.

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Hey, Mom! Guess who else was bad at statistics?

Let’s be real here – this car has nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement. But Brother Malden just got even cooler when we saw what he drove.

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From the barbershop, we headed over to the Montgomery State Building. This particular weekend (as we had brilliantly planned) was the yearly anniversary celebration of Bloody Sunday. On March 7, 1965, Civil Rights protesters began a march from Selma, Alabama to this building in Montgomery. As the crowd came across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, however, they met a line of policemen barring their way. After a few confusing moments, the police advanced and then attacked the unarmed crowd. Footage of police beatings was broadcast across America, and a few days later, another march was organized, led by Dr. King. This time, however, they marched only as far as the police line, knelt to pray, and then turned back and marched home. The third attempt was protected by federal troops, and days later the crowd arrived in Montgomery.  On the steps of this building, Dr. Martin Luther King gave a speech, asking “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?…. How long? Not long.”

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As the “cradle of the Confederacy,” the Montgomery State Building still has a statue of Jefferson Davis.

And then: on to church at Dexter Avenue! From the steps of the state building, you can see the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King preached. The sermon that day (“A Filthy Rag Around a Leaky Faucet”) drew parallels from the Bible, from modern life, and from the Civil Rights Movement (the preacher was well aware that we were in town for Bloody Sunday). Everybody in the chapel wanted to say hello, and it was one of the most friendly, comfortable atmospheres I’ve ever encountered. My personal highlights were the organ player (who was good enough to play with one hand for half the service), the piano player (who was good enough to play with her eyes closed during the prayers), and the latter part of the sermon, when Rev. Handy took us through the ABC’s of sins that needed to be removed from our lives:

A is for Adultery – Kill it right now!

B is for Blasphemy (Kill it right now!)

C is for Covetousness (Kill it right now!)

.

.

I don’t remember them all, but I do remember that Z was for Zaniness and other buffoonery, because we all looked at Jonathan, one of our instructors – who looked a little sheepish and slunk down on the pew a little more. He later apologized for some of his zany behavior (which, of course, didn’t stop a sing-along later in the car).

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Finally, we made it to Selma. After another run-in with the Secret Service (which was really less of a run-in and more of a traffic jam), we made it to the bridge and split up: half of us went to cross the bridge with the protesters, and half to watch the crowd surge over the top of the bridge. I opted to cross the bridge. On our side, the whole town was turned into a street market for the waiting protesters. Food vendors lined the streets, and the whole town smelled like cooking meat, fries, and soul food. In the middle of the streets, there were jewelry stands, souvenir stands, and CD vendors – who blasted music so loud that the entire block sounded like a party.

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This is the greatest (and largest) cheeseburger I have ever eaten in my life.

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Unfortunately, I already had that cheeseburger in my stomach when I saw this advertisement. I have no idea whether there was real alligator meat at this stand.

And then, we started to cross the bridge:

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I think this was my favorite experience of the trip. It gave you a feeling of just how huge the Movement was – and continues to be today. As we marched, we saw protesters in the crowd, some for better treatment as black citizens, but most were protesting the unethical treatment of the Latino community. (I was surprised not to see any protesters from the homosexual community.) It was strange to be sandwiched between celebration and protest – there was a sense of pride in the rights that were fought for and won – not given, but earned. And there was also a feeling of hunger, that an end of injustice in one place could signal an end of injustice everywhere. There was definitely a feeling that those in the crowd knew how far we’ve come, but also knew that we have far to go before we really achieve a perfect people. It was a very moving experience to be there, a part of it.

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One of our last stops was a little fenced-in memorial on the side of the highway. This was a memorial for Viola Liuzzo, a white woman who was run off the road and shot for offering rides to Montgomery Blacks who were boycotting the bus system. This memorial served as another reminder to me that this was not an issue of race, but an issue of hatred.

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The complete absence of traffic seemed almost too good to be true.

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It was. The Secret Service had caught up with us again. (This time it was Joe Biden, who had come to speak at the bridge crossing.) They had stopped traffic to take over the road again, and the traffic became absolutely hideous after they passed. I do wonder what they thought of our little group, chilling on the side of the road as they drove past. Fortunately, nobody got shot. In fact, one of the passengers waved.
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The next day, we drove back to the airport and headed back to Utah (and 4 of us to Ohio). Nobody wanted to go home, and I think a chunk of my heart is still in Alabama. But it was a life-changing experience, and it’s really none of my business to keep it to myself. So I’m back to stay for now, and I’m here to change things – and people – for the better. 




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2 thoughts on “Civil Rights Saga: Episode 4

  1. What a great trip!! So jealous that I couldn’t go with you. Someday we’ll go together. It’s sobering to think of what people are capable of, when they let hate take hold. The good news is we have learned a lot from studying history, and have come a long way. Let’s hope we keep studying and keep learning – we ain’t perfect yet.

  2. Again, thanks. Sometime, when I see you in person, I will tell you about my experience in Selma, Alabama in the summer of 1970. It took a long time after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Right legislation before it really worked.

    Thanks, Linda

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