On April 19, 2001, forty-five students from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse arrived in Nashville, TN. Nashville is the home of the Grand Ole Opry, Opryland Hotel, and many Historic Black Colleges and Universities.
We spent our first day of the Freedom Ride in Nashville. Bright and early, we performed at Pearl-Cohn High School.
Then we heard Kwame Leo Lillard's powerful presentation about his experiences as a student at Tennessee State University (TSU) and a logistics planner/coordinator of Nashville sit-ins and marches to end segregation. And he was with us 41 years to the date to do a commemorative march that was centered around reparation. (See pictures to the left)
One of the things Social Action Students will take away from our experiences in Nashville is "the time we spent with Kwame, marching and learning about reparation. Kawame is a magnificent and inspiring man whom we will remember always. The march was awesome because we helped take a step towards reparation." Kwame will be remembered as "a true crusader. He gives people the strength so they can fight for their own beliefs. The power to persuade is the greatest power and the methods that Kwame teaches makes him an outstanding model for everyone who wants to change the world."
We couldn't leave Nashville without sightseeing. We visited the Opyrland Hotel and had lunch there.(Pictured to the Left) Then we were back on the road to Tuscaloosa, where we stayed in the dorms at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
Officially designated a city in 1871, Birmingham has had a rough history. In 1933 it boasted the highest unemployment rates. When a Freedom Rider was attacked on Mother’s Day of 1961, Police Commissioner Bull Conner told police to do nothing. In 1963, Martin Luther King wrote "Letter from A Birmingham Jail" and in September of the same year, four young girls were killed in the infamous bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. (Pictured to the left)
We were presented with the Key of Birmingham while we were visiting Carver High School. We performed Social Action skits at Carver High School, Lincoln Middle School, and Washington Elementary School. (Pictured to the left)
Our afternoon was spent learning much more about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. We had lunch that was provided by Chris McNair at his Photography Studio. Chris McNair is the father of Denise McNair, the youngest of the four girls killed in the bombing on September 15, 1963. Chris McNair was an inspiration to many students. "This man has led an astounding life, not only with the tragedy of the loss of his first daughter, Denise, in the bombing, but also just being so involved both politically and individually in the movement is an amazing contribution." While he was speaking to us, he showed us some of the photographs of him and his daughter, and other prints he took during the movement. "His photographs spoke to me more than his words. To look into the eyes of a child murdered in the fight for Civil Rights killed me inside. Although Mr. McNair's pain was not easily seen on his face or heard in his voice, the picture of him and his precious daughter showed clearly what was lost on that day. He was robbed of his baby girl and that continues to define how he lives his life."
Our next stop was the 16th Street Baptist Church where we heard speakers Edward La Monte and Bob Corley. Both men have doctorates and both did their dissertations on happenings in Birmingham. Bob Corley specializes on Birmingham's history from 1948-1963 whereas Edward La Monte focuses on the city's history after 1963. And after a tour of this historic church and meeting place we spoke with a women who was in the church the day it was bombed.
We spent most of Saturday at the Civil Rights Institute. It is a wonderful interactive learning experience. One student found the Civil Rights Institute "to be an experience that was worth more than any money could buy. Being able to see the pictures, newspaper articles, and Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech was something I only dreamed of. Yet, the picture of the lynching is what touched me most. For one of the few times, I was ashamed to be white." Other students echo "I stood and watched first hand the terror of living during the Civil Rights Movement. The fear that was cast into me was only minimal in comparison to the reality of the past."
http://bcri.bham.al.us/ Click here to take a virtual tour of the center of education and discussion about civil and human rights issues during the Civil Rights Movement. Barriers Gallery is designed to give a feeling of what everyday life was like for Blacks in Birmingham and everywhere else, during the post-war era.
The remainder for the afternoon was spent listening to music and learning the history of Birmingham Jazz music at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. http://www.jazzhall.com/jazz/ Follow this link to take a virtual tour of the Alabama Jazz Hall of fame.
We heard Frank "Doc" Adams play "Tuxedo Junction" on his clarinet. (Pictured to the left) It was neat to hear him perform it in the same city it was written by Erskine Hawkins and made popular. Also at the Jazz Hall of Fame, we were invited to a special music concert where we were graced with the musical presence of Consula Lee (Spike Lee's Aunt) on piano and Rickey Powell singing.
To one student, the Jazz Hall of Fame "has nothing and everything to do with the civil rights movement in Birmingham. The musicians weren't leading marches or rallies, but they exemplified the pride and passion. that fueled the movement. Jazz was a beacon of hope for the black community."Dinner was sponsored by Operation: New Birmingham. We performed Social Action skits and had a chance to sign the Birmingham Pledge. (Pictured to the left) http://www.onb.org/racerelations/bhampledge.html Click here to view and sign the Birmingham Pledge, as well as get more information about Operation: New Birmingham.