Wednesday, March 26th:
We departed La Crosse, WI at 4:00pm and
started on our way to Nashville, Tennessee. Everyone introduced
themselves on the bus and got to know each other a little better. Then we
watched the movie, “A Civil Rights Journey,” by Sonnie Hereford, a
Huntsville, AL physician whose son was the first to be integrated into a white
We learned so much about what it was like here in the late1950's.
It was two different worlds in the south-- the white world and the colored world and people (most of which were Black, led by Black community leaders) wanted a change. The Civil Rights Movement was started in Huntsville, Alabama with non-violent acts of protest such as sit-ins and picketing with posters.The nations first sit-in was organized by Randolph Blackwell.
Many of the demonstrations at that time were led by students. Many of these demonstrators would be arrested and would use bail bonds that could be arranged with money that was donated from adults (Black and increasingly White adults)--the demonstrators received no help from the city. However, out of fear from the community the mayor set up a biracial committed which included two Blacks-- although the two Black people chosen were not active demonstrators.
Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior came to Huntsville, AL to speak at a church where there was a massive gathering. While in Huntsville, Dr.King Jr. also spoke at Oakwood University.
As a result of the protests and Dr. King Jr.'s speeches the Huntsville mayor put two Civil Rights Movement leaders on the previously formed committee. After this action of the mayor there were no longer any white people who wanted to continue to be a part of the committee.
There was an incident in which a three black women were arrested for sitting at a lunch counter. Two were wives of local medical professionals--One the pregnant wife of a doctor, the other, was the wife of a dentist who was there with her three-month old daughter-- the other woman arrested was a student.
After making national news for this incident the mayor was able to find a pair of white people that were willing to serve on the committee he'd set up. As a result of this, on Mother's Day, the local parks were officially desegregated.
Around this time the schools in the community, by court order, began the integration process.
Before leaving Huntsville we watched a piece called "Mighty Times: The Children's March" which was about Birmingham children and young adults who face jail time because of their choice to fight for their and other's civil rights. We also got to spend some time with community members who we sang some fitting songs such as "Soon and Very Soon."
The troupe continued the journey through the night, arriving early at Tennessee State University. We were provided a hearty breakfast at the TSU Avon Williams Campus where we continued our trip.
One of the speakers we were introduced to was Kwame Leo Lillard who in 1961 was a 21 year old TSU student and active demonstrator. In May or 1961 Kwame rescued several Freedom Riders who had been driven to the Tennessee border by Bull Conner. Bull Connor was, at the time, the Birmingham Chief of Police. Kwame brought safely these people back to Birmingham through Ku Klux Klan territory.
We were fortunate enough to meet two Freedom Riders, Mary Jane Smith and Allen Cason Jr. These two were reunited earlier in September of this year for the first time since their demonstrations in the 1960's.
While at the Avon Williams building, Dolorse gave a speech telling of the history behind Williams, a black attorney who represented Civil Rights Movement participants.
While in Tennessee we were able to tour downtown Nashville.
We visited a Walgreen's in Nashville where sit-ins took place. This particular Walgreen's was one of three places where the first sit-ins in Nashville took place. It is the only building still occupied by the same company. The first two businesses to be integrated in Nashville was the Paramount Theater and Walgreen's-- so it was interesting for us to visit the Walgreen's where it all began!
We already knew that most demonstrators had been students but TSU had a particularly large outcome at protests. The Civil Rights Movement that took place in Nashville was considered to be the most organized of the movements that took place around this time. Allen Cason Jr. and Etta (?) were Freedom Riders that participated in demonstrations in the same places we were revisiting! We learned that Kwame trained people to go on these Freedom Rides and was Nashville's Civil Rights Movement Leader.
While visiting places like the Walgreen's that began the integration process were very informative and interest for the troupe, visiting sites where segregation took place had a big impact on us as well.
Alleys: This was were the black's "restroom" was located. Their bathroom consisted of whatever they could find in the alleyway.
Movie Theaters: These were sites of many stand-ins. While theaters were still segregated, blacks were permitted to stand in line, however when they reached the front of the line they were denied tickets. When this would happen, after they were denied entrance to the showing, they would move to the back of the line and request a ticket purchase again.
Department Stores: We visited Harvey's department store which was the last department store in Nashville to integrate their fitting rooms.
The Social Action Theater group walked, together with Kwame, to the State Capitol building. Kwame spoke to us about the first silent march that too place here on April, 1960.
We were back in our element at our next stop. At Moses McKissack Professional Development Middle School we were able to perform several of our SAT skits. The students here really got into our performance and asked some excellent questions.
The silent march was in protest to a bombing incident. Black councilman and outstanding lawyer, Alexander Looby's house was attacked. Looby represented the Freedom riders and sit-in participants.
While at the Capitol building we were introduced to the State Senate as part of their delegation. Both Kwame and Bob spoke to the Senate gathering.
The Nashville Public Library was up next. After a great tour of the building we were able to speak with people about their thoughts on the Civil Rights Movement that happened here.Our final stop at the library was a wing that was dedicated entirely to the Civil Rights Movement events-- a special room, in particular.
Fisk University was up next where we had lunch in Jubilee Hall and listened to a special Civil Rights guest speaker.
After visiting Fisk University, our trip continued to Meharry Medical College.
Meharry Medical College was founded by Samuel Meharry. A man who wanted to return the generosity he received from Nashville. Meharry has a Methodist foundation that started helping the poor and underprivileged. The college still conducts a significant amount of research on diseases that tend to affect minorities. This college was a professional school, not an undergraduate degree school but it was more than just a medical college with it's multiple schools-- schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Oral Studies, Allied Health Professionals-- the physicians at the college gave medical help to Nashville students who were involved in the Freedom Rides and sit-ins.
We headed back to TSU to listen to another historian where we learned some more interesting things about what went on here more than 40 years ago.
Here are some of the highlights from this speaker:
The Civil Rights Movement goes back to the Civil War
Tennessee had 40% of the black troops in the union army
Winter, 1959 Civil Rights Movement started
November 1959, students grew tired of practicing sit-ins
February 1, 1960 Greensboro first spontaneous sit-ins
February 13, 1960 Nashville sit-in
March 10, 1960 Nashiville became the first integrated city
19 Jim Crowe States-- not all of these states were southern ones
The last college we visited in Nashville was American Baptist College, Kwame and Delorse accompanied us for this trip as well.
After a very busy visit in Nashville, we headed down to Huntsville, Alabama.
Here, two American Baptist College Seniors spoke to us, encouraging everyone to become the best person you can be so that you can help others.
Ms. Janet Wold, a civil rights historian, also gave a speech showing us another perspective on the Civil Rights Movement. Bob, Kwame, Delorse and the ABC President spoke to us, as well.
First up was Oakwood University for dinner.
Oakwood University (also known as Oakwood Industrial School, Oakwood Instructional School, Oakwood Jr. College, Oakwood Sr. College) began in 1896 with 16 students enrolled. It was started by a slave after the civil war where the first graduating class was 500 students.
One of the speaker's here was Sonnie Hereford. Sonny was a major player in the integration, his son was the first child to integrate into a white school in Alabama. The previous school was six miles from their home. It was surrounded by the city dump and had no science labs, library, gym or cafeteria.
Sonnie organized on the first sit-ins which was put on after he requested the mayor integrate lunch counters, restrooms, and drinking fountains-- his request was turned down. This lead to the Easter Boycott.
The process this boycott took was that the Banks let money to businesses to buy stock and merchandise but if they were to boycott them, the merchants would lose money and would be forced to integrate their facilities.
It was agreed upon to have a sort of integration trial period. The trial period would start July 9th and run through July 11th. Official integration started on July 11th with lunch counters followed by the schools.
Our first stop in Birmingham was at a predominantly black high school where we would perform some of our SAT skits. After an hour and a half of being detained in the school's library we were informed that the school had gone into lock down and was in search of a potential gun that would match a bullet found in a student's backpack.
After performing some of our skits, the audience joined in with our group to sing "Soon and Very Soon"
We then moved to a k-9 Academy School where we performed five skits. The students here were very enthusiastic and were eager to participate and ask questions. They did a great job and really understood our purpose. The Academy was gracious enough to provide us with lunch here.
Our next tour stop was the 16th Street Baptist Church. Here, we spoke with Dr. Bob Corley, a Birmingham historian. Dr. Corley shared with us what it was like to grow up in a privileged white family in Birmingham around that time. He told us about the tragedy that took place in the 16th Street Baptist Church we were in.
in 1963, a bomb went off on the stairs of the church. This bombing killed four young girls, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, and injured many others.
We returned to LaCrosse early Monday morning on March 31st. This was a very emotional and influential trip for all who participated.
On Saturday, March 29th we went to the old New Pilgrim Baptist Church where we would start our historic march-- this would be the first Birmingham Civil Rights Movement since 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed and wrote his famous letter from a Birmingham jail.
To cover the event, there were three news stations there among many newscasters, jounalists as well as police to escort us.
There were more than 200 participants marching down the streets of Birmingham singing inspirational songs.
We marched two-by-two (as they did in the original march) to Memorial Park where across the street was a police station--the same police station in which many marchers were jailed in 1963. Here, as a group, we formed a circle hand-in-hand and sang some songs-- it was an emotionally intense moment for all.
After the march we visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and witnessed a rally just outside the doors of the institute. The rally honored Reverend Fireball Smith, Reverend John T. Porter and Reverend A.D. King. The rally consisted of different people in the community raising awareness for some of today's issues. Reverend Johnson was our first speaker followed by Bob. There were several speakers here: a reverend spoke about racial reconciliation, a state senator informed us that we must support the democratic political process, an attorney spoke about justice in the penal system, a Birmingham news reporter spoke about past, present and future Civil Rights efforts and another speaker discussed the importance of youth participation in Civil Rights.
Our host EMCEE talked about economic justice and how it is a rising issue and needs to be acknowledged followed by a six year old Civil Rights activist.
This young boy delievered a powerful speech on Civil Rights, explaining that it's very simple--everyone is born with equal inalienable rights and should be treated so. His impeccable dialect and powerful words really drove his speech home for everyone.
The chief guest, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth spoke from his wheelchair. Now, 88 years old and suffering from a stroke, he was still full of fire. A statue of him stands in front of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in honor of his actions.
To end the rally, an R&B singer sang a song he wrote about about the Civil Rights Movement.
After the rally concluded, we went inside the BCRI for a tour of the building which began with a movie introducing the institute. An interesting aspect of the tour was that it was intended to send you back to the 1960's so that you would see how it was to live then.
At the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame we were able to listen to professional clarinetist and HOF Director Frank 'Doc' Adams. He was very talented-- he even improvised a song for us!
We took a bus tour of Birmingham where we learned more about the history and architecture of the city. Some of the stops we took were at a preserved steel factory and the park with the Vulcan Statue (Man of Iron).
On Sunday, March 30th we attended service at the 6th Avenue Baptist Church. During the service many songs were sung, a teenage boy's step team performed, Dr. All Sutton gave a sermon about interpreting proverbs and the need for repetition, knowledge and wisdom when reading the bible.
Our SAT students performed "Are You Game?" and received good questions about the choices that were face in the skit.
We attended 10:45 service at the New Pilgrim Baptist Church which was led by the men's choir. One of the song's sung at this service was one written by the performer during the Civil Rights Movement called "On My Way to Freedom Land." Our final meal in Alabama was prepared by volunteers at the church. Before eating we heard a story of a man who experience discrimination while on a Birminham bus during the 1960's.