(Author’s note: this was a jam-packed day full of activities, therefore this is a long post. So grab some munchies and a blanket and settle in).
Today was our first day in Montgomery and got a whirlwind tour of the city. The entire day was central to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.
First off, we went to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s parsonage, which our esteemed professors sweet-talked their way into because it’s currently closed to the public.
Our group was in awe of the entire house. Dexter Avenue Church members donated most of the furniture in the house but there are a few items that actually belonged to Dr. King and his family. We entered the living room first and saw an ashtray on the coffee table. The tour guide told us that Dr. King was a chain smoker, just not in public.
I think we were all overjoyed to stand in the kitchen where Dr. King had his epiphany about being the leader for the Civil Rights Movement. The story goes that it was about two in the morning when he was praying to God and he heard a voice inside him say, “Go for it” and the rest is history.
After Dr. King’s parsonage, we went to the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, which is part of Troy University. At the museum, we talked to Georgette Norman. Norman, like many other workers we met, grew up during the Civil Rights era and remembers riding around in her mother’s car taking people to and from the boycott.
We also got to sit on a reconstructed 1950s era Montgomery bus. Norman told us her experiences of riding on the buses in Montgomery. Unfortunately, the bus didn’t drive anywhere so we only got to hear the engine run and smell the leather of the seats.
After we got back on our modern day bus, which was a stark contrast to the buses of 1950s, we visited the Civil Rights Museum at the Southern Law Poverty Center (SLPC). They have a memorial to all of the events during the Civil Rights Movement. Maya Lin designed it and specifically choose Dr. King’s quote, “…Until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
The center was founded in 1971 and works to fight hate and seeks justice for those who do not have it. They do this by closely following the activities of various hate groups. The center stands on three pillars of ideals: fighting hate, teaching tolerance and seeking justice.
We also got to type our names into the “Wall of Tolerance,” which is supposed to remind us to take a stand against hate and work for justice.
We met another Civil Rights era worker, Dr. Gwendolyn Patton, at Trenholm State Technical College. Dr. Patton was a youth leader for the Montgomery Improvement Association, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and for the Youth Brigade meetings.
“The movement is wherever you are,” Dr. Patton said. “That’s still true for today.”
The next place we stopped in Montgomery was First Baptist Church, where Rev. Ralph Abernathy preached. First Baptist was under siege in Montgomery after the freedom riders were met with an angry mob outside the Greyhound Bus Station, which we also visited but it was closed, so we read the timeline on the outside of the building. The freedom riders made it to the church and were trapped there for most of the night.
We ended today with a bang when we ate dinner with Rev. Robert Graetz and his wife Jeannie. Rev. Graetz was the white minister of an all-black congregation. Their house was bombed two times, but Rev. Graetz continued to preach for First Baptist.
After a long, busy day, we headed back to the hotel and hit the pillows.