LET FREEDOM RING Touring Four Alabama Cities Integral to the Civil Rights Movement

By Andino, Alliniece T. | The Florida Times Union, February 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

LET FREEDOM RING Touring Four Alabama Cities Integral to the Civil Rights Movement


Andino, Alliniece T., The Florida Times Union


Byline: Alliniece T. Andino, Times-Union staff writer

********** CORRECTION February 5, 2002

John H. Cross was the pastor of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. Because of an editor's error the pastor's name was incorrect in a story on page D-1 Sunday.

**************

The story of the civil rights movement cannot be told without mentioning Alabama.

The Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 was among the early pivotal events of the movement and the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 was among the last.

A civil rights tour of four cities in Alabama -- Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery and Tuskegee -- shows places integral to the civil rights movement, places where American history took shape. Tourists view cold brick buildings and stone statues. But each stop offers tourists something more compelling as well, the foot soldiers, the students and teachers, preachers and parents who fought for the same freedoms that others had already been granted.

Frances Smiley, assistant director of the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel, said it's still possible to meet some of the people involved in the civil rights movement.

"The real history makers, those folks who paved the way, many of them are still alive. Many of them can share that story as if it was yesterday," Smiley said. "It's not just an African-American experience. It's American history."

BIRMINGHAM

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute uses pictures, newspaper clippings, video, recorded speeches and artifacts to place visitors in the times and settings of the movement, when blacks insisted that "separate but equal" was not enough.

Drinking fountains labeled "white" and "colored" and copies of laws prohibiting simple acts like blacks and whites playing together embody the segregated South.

The museum uses statues to show the impact of those laws. White teenagers socialize in a malt shop, while a young black girl stands outside downcast, unable to enter.

In another section of the museum, the focus is on confrontation. Renderings of people are suspended on glass. Voices spit out the racist, separatist opinions of the 1940s and 1950s.

The museum exhibit ends in a bright room where stone people are marching. They gaze upon a large picture window that overlooks the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where four girls died in a 1963 bombing. Overhead, the words of "We Shall Overcome" stream in. In the near distance is the faded voice of Martin Luther King Jr.

The Civil Rights Institute overlooks a small park where demonstrators met to organize major events during the movement.

Colonel Stone Johnson was involved in the protests at the time. At age 83, Johnson still struts around the park showing curious visitors what Birmingham contributed to the civil rights movement.

Johnson swept his fingers through the air, guiding onlookers to where fire trucks lined up on a September day in 1963.

"They wasn't going to let us march," Johnson said.

Johnson described the scene. The force of water hoses pushed Fred Shuttlesworth, pastor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, across the church stairs. The street was blocked.

Men, women and about 4,500 children were arrested and sent to jail. When Birmingham jails were full, protesters were sent to jails in nearby towns.

Statues in the park of two children behind bars and another of two children crouched against a wall to keep from being washed down the street illustrate that day.

Among the gripping pieces in the park are fixed but menacing dogs with mouths open, teeth bared lunging at visitors from both sides.

"See these dogs," Johnson said. "Just as vicious as they looked."

Across from the park is the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Carolyn McKinstry was a church member back in 1963. She was 14 years old, the same age as three of the four girls who died when the church was bombed. …

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