Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day 10: Montgomery, AL - Tuscaloosa, AL

Miles today: 100
Total: 2200

This morning, we visited the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University as well as the museum's research center and their children's wing. The museum occupies the block by the corner of Montgomery and Lee streets where police arrested Parks for not relinquishing her seat to a white person (and thereby violating segregation laws). The ensuing 380 day bus boycott of Montgomery buses is viewed by many as the beginnings of direct action campaigns of the Civil Rights movement to eradicate unjust laws or unenforced rights (such as voting) that took place between hte mid-1950s through the mid-1960s. It was also this boycott in which King rose to prominence as an inspirational orator and leader.

We then made our way to the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of my personal favorite sites of the trip. The Civil Rights memorial out front, designed by Maya Lin [who also created the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC, with similar effects], memoralizes the deaths of 40 activists killed during the movement.

Inside, a small museum gives further details about the deaths of these individuals through both exhibits and a video. It also chronicles how Morris Dees started the SPLC in reaction to the murder of Michael Donald in 1981. Two Klan members abducted Donald and lynched him in Mobile, AL, and his death is often referred to as the "last lynching." In response, Dees and others started the SPLC, whose primary aims are to promote tolerance through education [they provide amazing curriculum plans around tolerance and social justice activism at no cost to educators nationwide] and legal action. On the legal front, their aim is to bring hate groups to court in order to bankrupt them and thus leave them with little ability to operate. They recently won a case against the largest Klan group in the nation.

In addition, the SPLC memorial center chronicles contemporary hate crimes, including those committed against gay men and lesbians and those deemed "terrorists" for their Middle Eastern looks following 9/11. At its end, the center asks that visitors pledge to promote tolerance by signing the wall of tolerance. While some students always express frustration that mere tolerance is simply too little to ask, they do come to the realization that we have not yet even reached this goal.

On our way out of town, we stopped by the old Greyhound bus terminal, where the Freedom Riders were arrested and beaten in 1961. It's a wonderful outdoor commemoration of this event. [Freedom Riders traveled as an interracial group on bus lines from Washington, DC through the Deep South to challenge the unconstitutional segregation of interstate bus travel practiced by southern states. Riders faced bombings, beatings, and death to make the trip.

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