This April, I presented research at the Southern States Communication Association’s Theodore Clevenger Jr. Undergraduate Honors Conference (a mouthful, I know), which was held in Montgomery, Alabama. In between attending the conference, I was able to visit several of the historical sites that told the story of Montgomery.
National Memorial For Peace and Justice
This memorial was powerful. It consisted of a trail that wound up a hill with these giant metal boxes hanging from the ceiling with the names of people who were lynched because of racial terror, and the counties or states where they were lynched. There were plaques on the wall that told the stories behind the lynchings – for example, one man was killed simply because he walked behind the wife of his white employer. This memorial brought to life just how much racial terror affected our country as a whole.
The Legacy Museum
This museum was located in a warehouse where slaves were formerly held before being auctioned off. What I loved about this museum is that it didn’t stop with the Civil Rights movement, but continued to talk about how racism was affecting those today, especially in the prison system. It did a beautiful job of telling the personal stories of those who have been affected by this cyclical racism, and it provided interactive learning opportunities in addition to the traditional presentation of information.
The Rosa Parks Museum
This museum (obviously) focused on the Civil Rights Movement, telling the story of what exactly happened when Rosa Parks said no. It was fascinating and quite engaging, including reenactments, films, and a time-traveling bus ride. Another perk with this was that my group tagged along with school, and so in addition to the guided tour, we got to enjoy the third-graders’ commentary (such as a little boy saying “Oh snap!” when Rosa Parks refused to move in the reenactment).
The Little Things
Food: Within walking distance of our hotel, we had Venezuelan, Jamaican, Japanese, Southern, and Mexican food. It was great.
Public Art: There were murals and wall quotes everywhere in this city.
Walking: We walked past the places where the Civil Rights Movement actually happened. We were only a few blocks from the Rosa Parks Bus Stop, we walked past the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor, and we walked on the streets where these key players walked to work every day.
This city was a perfect representation of Southern culture. People would say hi as we walked past, and one lady even came out and hugged us. Everything was calm, and even though it is the capital of Alabama, there was almost no traffic. The story that this city tells is both of pain and triumph, but the interesting thing is that for the first time in my life, the predominant story being told was not about caucasians. Everything rightly came back to civil rights and the history of African-Americans in America. I had never realized that I had been surrounded by whiteness, but I felt almost like an outsider the moment I wasn’t. I think as a caucasian, it is so easy to minimize racism. We generally aren’t personally affected, and so it can’t be real. But as soon as we are not in the majority, we experience culture shock. And it was good for me. My immediate culture is such a small part of the world’s story, and that perspective is vital.
My five days in Montgomery impacted me more than almost any other trip I have ever taken. The perspective it offers makes racism real in a way that nothing else really can. It is for this reason that I would highly recommend visiting Montgomery, Alabama.