In March 2011, I was lucky enough to go to Alabama on the 11th Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage with my grandmother. This is an annual event sponsored by the Faith and Politics Institute. This year, over three days, we visited key sites of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma. People who were at the events that made these sites famous told their stories and recollections. I met Congressmen, Senators, and learned about history first-hand from people who lived it.
Our first stop was Birmingham. We visited the 16th Street Baptist Church, the church that got bombed by the Ku Klux Klan where 4 little girls were killed. We heard about the bombing from Junie Collins Williams, the sister of Addie Mae Collins who was one of the girls killed. Addie was in the basement of the church at Sunday School. Junie hadn’t felt like going to Sunday School that day so she wasn’t in the basement. She heard the phone ring in the church office, and went to answer it. All Junie could hear was a mumble, and she knew something wasn’t right. She was on her way to the basement to get Addie when the bomb blew. Glass shattered and rained on Junie. She was blinded in one eye and still has glass embedded in her stomach that the doctors could not remove. When Addie’s body was found in the debris, it was Junie who had to identify her. The only reason she knew it was her sister was because of her shoes.
Right across the street is Kelly Ingram Park, which memorializes how police attacked protesters who peacefully demanded their rights. The protesters had dogs released on them or were sprayed with fire hoses. Dorothy Cotton was a victim of the fire hoses, and she told us her story. The water was so powerful that it ripped her hair out. No matter how loudly or how many times she screamed “stop!” the police wouldn’t. Sculptures help you picture what it was like for these victims. You walk along a path that narrows to a passage along which are life-size sculptures of police dogs, set up as if they were lashing out at you. These dogs had teeth the size of, what seemed like, a lion’s.
One the second day we visited Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King was pastor. The main speaker here – and at the whole event – was John Lewis. When he spoke to us in church, it was amazing to think of the people who once sat in the church listening to Martin Luther King, as their pastor.
John Lewis was in Selma in 1965 when civil rights protesters tried to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge as part of a civil rights protest. In fact, he was right in front, leading the way. The police were waiting to beat him and release their dogs. When they did, John Lewis was injured so badly that he suffered minor brain damage. On our third day, while we visited Selma, we reenacted the bridge crossing with John Lewis Leading the way.
To find out more about the Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimages, visit http://www.faithandpolitics.org/
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.