Panthers Visit Civil Rights Museum

By DiPAOLA, Jerry | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 2, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Panthers Visit Civil Rights Museum

DiPAOLA, Jerry, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Across the street from where Pitt's caravan of buses was parked Wednesday, the grass is a deep green, and carefree children can now go there to play.

Fifty years ago, however, 16th Street North in the heart of Birmingham was no place for small children. Before the Pitt football players and even some of their parents were born, schoolchildren peacefully protesting 1960s segregation were threatened by attack dogs, water hoses and jail.

That was the sobering history lesson about 70 Pitt players, coaches, staff and family absorbed after practice during a visit to the museum at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

"It teaches you a lot of lessons," redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts said. "It gives you a vision of what was going on before our time."

The trip to the museum has become an annual event for the Panthers, who will make their third consecutive appearance Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl in nearby Legion Field. Bowl officials invited Pitt to tour the museum that chronicles in sometimes graphic detail the fight against desegregation in the South. Ole Miss players, Pitt's opponents in the game, visit Thursday.

The museum sits across the street from a black Baptist church where four schoolgirls died and 20 worshippers were injured in a 1963 bomb blast. Inside Wednesday, the Pitt group watched a video that showed how Birmingham was born not long after the end of slavery in 1872 and grew into the largest segregated city in the south in a half-century's time.

The players knew about segregation before their visit, but the museum brings it to a harsh light, displaying "white" and "colored" restroom sinks, streetcars, buses, clubs and even hearses.

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