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I Took My Son on a Civil Rights Tour of the South

I Took My Son on a Civil Rights Tour of the South


I Took My Son on a Civil Rights Tour of the South

The memorial mural on the opposite facet of the Edmund Pettus bridge commemorates the handfuls who died on Bloody Sunday. (Picture: Caren Osten Gerszberg)

Final yr in my son’s eighth grade social research class, they mentioned the civil rights period however in accordance with him, they have been quick on time and (as he defined) “sort of rushed by means of it.”

So when the film Selma got here out final December, depicting the occasions that led 600 civil rights marchers to cross the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965, it appeared a ripe alternative so as to add to the lesson. Simon and I watched the movie collectively, and it was just some weeks later after I introduced we’d be taking a particular journey collectively — a three-day journey to the deep South to study extra about civil rights.  

“A what sort of journey?” Simon requested after I first broke the information we’d be going.

“A civil rights journey,” I answered with additional enthusiasm. “It’ll be actually attention-grabbing and enjoyable!”

I knew that an education-filled bus journey was hardly the highest trip alternative in your common teenager. However I additionally knew that this kind of alternative — a visit geared towards children his age, and already together with two of his shut pals — doesn’t come round each day.

Organized by the New York-based J-Teen Management, a neighborhood service group for Jewish highschool college students, this “Civil Rights Journey” gave 15 youngsters — and a few accompanying dad and mom — a close-up and private view of the civil rights battle in Atlanta, Georgia, in addition to Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama. Whereas the early 1960s and the struggles confronted by African People made up the journey’s basis, the civil rights of all individuals, together with refugees, spiritual minorities, and other people with disabilities, have been additionally a part of the itinerary. (Along with J-Teen Management, which might be working one other journey subsequent winter, different corporations providing Civil Rights journeys embrace Etgar 36 and EFT Instructional Discipline Journeys.)

Our first cease was Stone Mountain, Georgia, 10 miles from downtown Atlanta and recognized for having the biggest high-relief sculpture on the earth — it measures three acres, bigger than a soccer area — depicting three Confederates: Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis. As soon as a rock quarry, and the positioning of a cross burning in 1915 that marked the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, Stone Mountain is now a park with mountaineering trails and a nighttime laser present. Though the sculpture’s carving was began in 1923, creative disputes and funding issues interrupted its completion till it was lastly completed in 1972.

Whereas most of the teenagers have been eyes deep in electronics aboard the bus, our stops have been stuffed with dialogue and an opportunity to digest the struggles of the civil rights period. Strolling down Auburn Avenue, within the Candy Auburn district, we stopped to see the birthplace and childhood residence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the place he delivered his first sermon. A number of blocks away on the King Heart for Nonviolent Social Change, opened in 1968 by Dr. King’s spouse, Coretta Scott King, we paused to pay our respects at their tombs, which sit in the course of a reflecting pool. Whereas our group recited Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for mourning, Simon and I crouched to search out two rocks within the filth and positioned them on the ledge across the pool, a Jewish customized.

A second of reflection on the tombs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his spouse, Coretta Scott King. (Picture: Caren Osten Gerszberg)

Assembly and listening to Hank Thomas, who was a 19-year-old Howard College scholar when he joined the Freedom Riders in 1961, gave us an emotional firsthand account. Over a dinner of southern fried rooster at the Temple, the oldest synagogue in Atlanta and web site of a bombing by white supremacists in 1958, Thomas spoke on to the kids about his determination to hitch the motion and what it was wish to be on the Freedom Rider bus when it was firebombed by Klansmen in Anniston, Alabama on Could 14, 1961. “Insurrection got here naturally to me,” Mr. Thomas stated. “I put on my 22 arrests like a badge of honor.”  

The group with Hank Thomas, one of many authentic Civil Rights Freedom Riders. (Picture: Caren Osten Gerszberg)

On the Clarkston Neighborhood Heart in Atlanta, a vibrant hub providing schooling, recreation and neighborhood constructing in an effort to deliver collectively any refugees who’ve come to the realm — 57 languages are represented there — and native residents. Within the heart’s on-site neighborhood backyard, everybody bought their fingers soiled. Simon and his pals used a wheelbarrow to switch soil that they then heaved into a brand new planting mattress for strawberries — one of many many vegatables and fruits that refugees can develop to eat and promote on the neighborhood market.

Simon, proper, and his good friend, Jonathan, put together a  planting mattress within the Clarkston Heart neighborhood backyard. (Picture: Caren Osten Gerszberg)

Arriving in Montgomery, Alabama after a three-hour bus journey, we checked into the Doubletree lodge and have been welcomed with heat, chocolate chip cookies upon check-in. The next morning, we stood the place Rosa Parks boarded a bus on December 1, 1955, after which took an historic stand by refusing to surrender her seat to a white man. Steps away, the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy College has a collection of multimedia reveals, the place we watched a simulated model of that infamous bus journey, and discovered in regards to the politics and complex steps that led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

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The writer and her son Simon, in entrance of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. (Picture: Caren Osten Gerszberg)

A brief stroll from the museum introduced us to the Southern Poverty Regulation Heart (SPLC) and its Civil Rights Memorial Heart. The SPLC heart, whose motto — “Combating Hate, Instructing Tolerance, In search of Justice” — is devoted to battling bigotry and pursuing hate teams. Earlier than coming into a room to “signal” the digitally-displayed Wall of Tolerance, a information spoke to us in regards to the historical past and present work of the SPLC.

Joanna Bland, who was 11 when she joined the historic marches in 1965 throughout the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, locations “a chunk of historical past” in Simon’s hand. (Picture: Caren Osten Gerszberg)

After pulling into town of Selma, we bought off in entrance of the First Baptist Church and have been greeted by Joanne Bland. Already a part of the motion by age 11, Bland joined the 1965 marches throughout the Edmund Pettus bridge, witnessing the vicious beatings of different marchers by Alabama State police. This march ultimately led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Bland spoke of her participation within the early 60s with the Scholar Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activists, who used the First Baptist Church as its headquarters. She ushered our group from the church to a close-by schoolyard and requested us to every discover a stone across the blacktop space. We shaped a circle and Bland informed us to carry the rock in our hand and lift it within the air. We have been, she identified, holding a chunk of historical past in our fingers — this was the place from the place they started the march that might ultimately change the course of civil rights historical past.

For Madison Goldberg, a highschool freshman from Rye Brook, New York, listening to the story firsthand made a deep impression. “It made me really feel related to the individuals who marched on a extra private degree than watching a film or studying a e book may ever give me,” she stated.

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Joanna Bland escorts our group to the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma. (Picture: Caren Osten Gerszberg)

Bland escorted us to the ramp to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge — named for a former Accomplice normal — which crosses over the Alabama River. A sunny day with visitors racing by, we marched our personal march, gathering on the opposite facet close to a monument and mural to recollect the 40 individuals killed on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965.

Again on the bus, we drove an hour and a half to Birmingham the place we checked into one other Doubletree (extra cookies!). At close by Temple Emanu-El, our college students met a gaggle of teenagers from PEACE Birmingham (Individuals Engaged in a Cultural Change), an interfaith youth group. After introductions, the kids broke into small clusters, performed ice breaking video games, and talked about stereotypes and prejudice.

College students from J-Teen Management and PEACE Birmingham. (Picture: Caren Osten Gerszberg)

With some free time and craving a little bit of barbeque, a bunch of us opted for the quick stroll to Jim ‘N Nicks for some much-needed soul meals — wings, ribs, and a few cheese biscuits.

When Willie Thomson and Jerome Dunson have been launched to us on the Incapacity Rights & Sources heart in Birmingham, I observed my son sit up in his chair. The civil rights of the homeless wasn’t an idea that many people had thought of, and we have been completely happy to fulfill the 2 males, who — because of the middle and their homeless outreach coordinator — would quickly be shifting off the streets of Birmingham and into their very own flats. 

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Getting a tour on the Incapacity Rights & Sources Heart in Birmingham, Alabama. (Picture: Caren Osten Gerszberg)

“How did you keep away from medicine?” Simon requested, after the lads agreed to take questions. “It was arduous,” Jerome answered, “However I knew I needed to in an effort to get off the road.”  

After extra questions from the kids (Had been they in contact with household? How did they discover meals to eat?), Simon and his friends provided the lads present playing cards to assist out with their new properties, and bought hugs in return.

We additionally met Josh Whitmire, a peer advocate on the heart who, maneuvering his wheelchair, moved by means of doorways, switched on lights, and led us round a metropolis block, declaring the significance of laws which might be important to a disabled particular person’s mobility. After this eye-opening expertise, I puzzled if Simon would think about to the peak of a lightweight change, the accessibility of a sidewalk, and the pitch of a ramp when he bought again residence. I do know I’ll.

The statue on the Kelly Ingram park in Birmingham, devoted to the non-violent Foot Troopers of the Civil Rights motion. (Picture: Caren Osten Gerszberg)

Youngsters had plenty of energy through the civil rights motion. Strolling by means of Kelly Ingram Park throughout from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, we stopped on the memorial sculptures and discovered in regards to the 5,000 youngsters who joined the Youngsters’s Campaign in Birmingham in Could 1963. Generally known as foot troopers, many of those youngsters walked for miles to hitch the non-violent protest, solely to be met by Birmingham’s police, their violent canines, and their high-pressure hoses that blew children to the bottom.

“It made me extraordinarily unhappy to suppose that an individual may do such a horrible factor to somebody so harmless,” stated Madison Goldberg.  

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The 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, the place 4 women have been killed in a 1963 bombing. (Picture: Caren Osten Gerszberg)

A type of harmless foot troopers was Ricky Powell, who was 15 on the time and had misplaced his good good friend, Cynthia Wesley, amongst 4 women killed within the bombing of the 16th Road Baptist Church in September, 1963. Now a 66-year-old singer and actor, Powell informed us: “We have been instructed if somebody spits on you, you bear it with no retaliation. It was an terrible time,” Powell stated. 

After sharing his story, he sat on a chair, seemed straight forward and in his deep voice, started to sing a civil rights hymn:

Ain’t gonna let no person flip me round
Flip me round, flip me round
Ain’t gonna let no person flip me round
I’m gonna carry on a walkin’, carry on a talkin’
Marchin’ right down to freedom land!

Again on the bus we settled into our cozy seats, however the work for the kids wasn’t carried out. One after the other, they have been requested to come back to the entrance of the bus to share a mirrored image from the journey. One scholar talked about being in awe of the kids’s bravery. One other puzzled how she would’ve reacted had she grown up through the civil rights period. Simon stated that he was impressed by the audio system’ consolation in sharing their tales. All of us knew we’d been fortunate to have heard them.

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