18. August 2016 15:23
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Was the Civil Rights Movement Necessary? by Charles Woods, III

18. August 2016 15:23 by Administrator | 0 Comments

           





     “Why did people want to treat Black people badly?” said the little girl looking up at me at my first outreach as the new Outreach Coordinator for BCRI. (This particular outreach is called Tug – o – War and illustrates the struggles between the establishment and equality during the Civil Rights Movement and how it was young people who were able to tip the scale and cause lasting change.)   All I could say at first was “Good question,” “Goood question,” then I thought about it and gave her the best answer I thought a 4th grader would understand. This question sent me back to my grade school days when I asked a similar question “Why did Black people have to go through all of this.” (Relax this is not going to be a talk about the horrors of slavery or how evil white people are), but I would like to attempt to answer why was the Civil Rights Movement necessary?

                The United States of America is one of the youngest countries in the world but has one of the oldest constitutions.  You can attribute this to many things but the most common one is that the constitution has an amendment process that allows for change as the people change and ideals change.  After the civil war during reconstruction we hear about many Blacks who were able to be elected to important political positions. People such as  Hiram R. Revels and  Blanche Bruce both of Mississippi, Benjamin Turner of Alabama, Robert DeLarge and Joseph Rainey of South Carolina, and Josiah Walls of Florida were all elected as the first Blacks to Congress. I know that these people were elected during reconstruction when Union troops were in control of southern state governments, but the point is that Blacks were using their newfound rights and participating in the voting process. Blacks were actively seeking the American dream, so what happened? Besides sharecropping, the KKK, terror, Jim Crow, lynchings, literacy test, poll taxes, etc.  Reconstruction ended and now the southern states were free to deal with the newly freed Blacks how they wanted.

                After reconstruction Blacks started many prosperous self sustaining communities, where they had all they needed, provided by Black business owners.  So why integrate? What was so important about having an integrated society? At this time Jim Crow was the law of the land and nothing was equal for Blacks especially in the south. Even in the North, Midwest, and West Blacks were treated as second class citizens, Why did we want to integrate with people like that?  We know that separate is not equal, but integrated didn’t mean equal either. So during the 50’s and 60’s Blacks with the help of others marched, protested, sat in, and boycotted to fight for equality. Not equality so that society would be integrated but for equality as a full citizen of this country. The 14th and 15th amendments were passed to give Blacks the rights they needed to be citizens of the United States of America, but socially and politically no one honored those rights. Many times absurd measures were taken to purposely deny or scare them into not trying to use their rights.  Then it dawned on me, the civil rights movement was not about wanting what white people had, or being able to sit anywhere on the bus, or being able to sit down and eat in an establishment, or even being able to vote.  It was all about making the United States of America live up to it’s promise.  It was about making all that rhetoric in the constitution true and real for everyone in the United States of America including Blacks. It was about holding people accountable when they purposely denied or inflicted terror to keep Blacks from exercising their rights. So the Civil Rights Movement was necessary, not because Black people were tired and fed up, but because this country promises to provide an environment where everyone has the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


Charles Woods, III is BCRI Outreach Coordinator 

3. August 2016 14:03
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Perspective by Ahmad Ward

3. August 2016 14:03 by Administrator | 0 Comments





As a Black man just entering his 40’s, I freely admit that there was a time when I believed certain things would not be achievable in my lifetime.  I thought that we may eventually see a Black Secretary of State or Attorney General, but I never thought that I would see a Black President or Vice President in my lifetime.   I realize that this sounds funny to say in 2016, but that was my reality.  Even with the impact that Jesse Jackson had in the 1984 and 1988 Democratic Primaries, and the attention to our issues those campaigns ushered in, still…in the back of my mind I couldn’t see it.  My basis for feeling this way was the history I had heard about and what I had seen.  I was born after the Civil Rights Movement, but right in the middle of busing and changing community demographics.  I was in grade school by the time crack was introduced in our neighborhoods and began to dismantle family structure in a major way.  By the time I was teenager, I knew I was an endangered species with a life expectancy of 21, depending on my decisions or by my living environment.   Fortunately for me, my living situation was stable and supportive by two parents who pushed their kids to excel and to get an education.  I also knew that everyone didn’t have that benefit.

So I became jaded.  I still am to an extent.  As a fairly militant college student, I buried myself in all of the positives of my culture.  I had Hip Hop music that encouraged me to stay in school and flaunted Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  We had television shows that showed normal Black families and talked about being positive and striving to be anything you wanted to be…..including President of the United States.   I soaked all of that in, but even with all that ammunition, I never had it in my mind that I would see a Black President in my lifetime.  Maybe we would see a woman.  That would have still been a victory, but no one from African descent.

Fast forward eleven years to Election Night 2008.  I was thirty-three with three year old and 7 month-old daughters.   As I watched the results come in, I still didn’t want to believe what I was seeing.  Even though Barack Obama appeared to have a commanding lead over John McCain…that jadedness, that feeling that life experience had given me still had me questioning to the very end.  “Something could still happen.” “They’re not going to let him have this.”   After the commentators called the contest, my wife turned to me with tears in her eyes and said “He won!”  I remember standing in the middle of my living room with my hands on my head…mouth open…trying to reconcile what just happened.   What I believed would never happen in my lifetime had just taken place.   I walked up the steps and went into the rooms of my two angels as they slept and stared at them.  Their world would be so different than mine.  Their experience would be so much richer and would be absolutely boundless.

Whatever your opinion is of President Obama’s time in office, the impact of his ascension to the highest office of the land cannot be measured.  Removing politics from the equation, the Obama presidency has taken the limits off of what little Black boys and girls can accomplish in the country and the world.  Recently, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to receive a Presidential nomination from a major party.  Ninety-six years after women secured the right to vote, there is a chance that a woman might lead the country.   Whether she wins the election or not, every little girl that wants to dream about being President now knows that it’s at least, possible.

I grew up not believing that I would see a Black President.  My children have only known of a Black President during their lifetime.  Now as females, they could see a woman take that office next.  Regardless if you’re a Republican or Democrat, that is a powerful thing to imagine.   My girls won’t know any barriers to their careers and lives.  In a country that has not always been open and accessible to minorities and women, there are no strikes against them that they can’t conquer.  No reason to be jaded about their prospects.  How incredible is that?

Their perspective is light years away from where mine was when I was their age.  I am very grateful for that.


Ahmad Ward is Vice President of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI

22. June 2016 12:46
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From Talk Radio to Trump by Josh Cannon

22. June 2016 12:46 by Administrator | 0 Comments

In August of 2014, on a local conservative talk radio station, I heard the host of a syndicated program liken African American protesters in Ferguson, Missouri  to “beasts,”  “animals,” and “savages.” He then equated people in Ferguson with ISIS, and said they are not deserving of “the rights handed to them.” He went on to tell his listeners they have to face "roving bands of violent black men terrorizing our communities."

The next day, I was worked up enough to write a complaint to the station’s program director. In the letter, I made it clear that what this host had said was hateful, dehumanizing, and racist speech, and that we have too dark a history of racial hatred and violence for this kind of talk to so casually fill the airwaves. The program director responded untroubled, danced around my point, and tried to assure me that this host “is not a racist,” just before he proceeded to share with me an inflammatory racist propaganda video alleging a black on white “race war” which this host (again, “not a racist”) had recently shared on his program.

Looking back on this now, it strikes me as all too familiar to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Most everyone knows that a year ago Trump announced his campaign saying that Mexico was sending their “rapists” into the US. Since then, he has made waves on several more occasions - like the time he called for a ban on all Muslims entering the US - or all of the times he allowed or even encouraged violence against protesters - largely African Americans - as he openly pined for the days when “there used to consequences for protesting.”

Really, ever since he loudly questioned President Obama’s citizenship while briefly flirting with a presidential run back in 2011, Trump has been unusually (for a major party presidential candidate) uncoded in his racist appeals, loudly announcing himself with a tornado siren at a party traditionally filled with dog whistles. In short, he has brought to the campaign trail what is generally reserved for talk radio hosts.

Throughout all this, of course, Trump and his supporters have publicly denied any racism. Just like the person who begins a sentence they should have never started with, “I am not a racist, but…” Trump assures us he is “the least racist person you have ever met.” And even with his latest screeds, as he digs in claiming he is being unfairly treated in a civil case because of a federal judge with “Mexican heritage,” Trump is reportedly now telling his surrogates that it is the people questioning him on this who are “the racists.”

Meanwhile, the general tendency within the media has been to merely pose the question, “Is Donald Trump a racist?” At the same time, pundits have seemed anxious to cling to seemingly non-racial narratives to account for Trump’s support. Working class economic anxiety and a lack of jobs and wage growth, we have been told, supposedly explains a large swath of the potential voters lining up for Trump; Trump himself regularly says “we have to bring jobs back.” And yet, to thunderous applause from supporters, he has derided black protesters at his rallies, telling them to “get a job!” not so subtly hinting at a strong stream of racial resentment behind Trump’s appeal, resentment which Trump almost certainly understands and has gladly nurtured.

But the media tendency to keep the focus on whether or not to simply assign racism personally to Trump is indicative of the way we as a society attempt to keep racism at arm’s length. We seem to prefer treating racism as an elusive, distant, and individual matter of the heart, rather than a deep and long-running narrative of racial difference and a myth of racial hierarchy, both of which continue to infect and haunt our society.

The more compelling and pressing question is, why has Trump succeeded in securing the nomination of one of our two major parties, while running such a clearly racial and nativist campaign? Surely it is no coincidence that Trump has emerged, and made it this far with this kind of campaign now, in the midst of the second term of the first African American President in a nation that is growing increasingly diverse.

We have come a long way, and undoubtedly made progress. But throughout our history, moments of increased diversity and struggles or sudden advances toward greater equality have almost always sparked a racist backlash and an increased resistance to change. A major response to the Civil Rights Movements of the 1950s and 60s, for example, has been a half-century now of the deliberate political “Southern Strategy” to foster white racial resentment and anxiety while simultaneously denying white racism.

In Trump, we are seeing the latest and most bitter fruit of that strategy, but also a dark reminder of our history of racial injustice, built upon an ideology of white supremacy, the legacies of which are still with us. We need to remember that history, recognize that tragic legacy, and we need to reject Donald Trump.


 Josh Cannon is Deputy Program Manager with the Equal Justice Initiative 



27. May 2016 12:22
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MAKE AMERICA (fill in the blank) AGAIN by Ahmad Ward

27. May 2016 12:22 by Administrator | 0 Comments


“Make America Great Again.”   This is Donald Trump’s slogan for his current Presidential campaign.  You can usually see him with his customary red hat, emblazoned with these words as he travels all over the country.  It is his opinion that America used to be a great country, but now we are far removed from those halcyon days of yore.   Obviously, he is entitled to his opinion as an American citizen because this is a free country and free thought and opinion is valued here.

Recently, a young lady who works for Home Depot was photographed wearing a white hat with the words: “America Was Never Great,” and the picture and the story went viral.  Her patriotism was questioned, her character was besmirched and just for good measure, there were racist statements made about her due to her color. There were people that decided that they would no longer frequent that store because of the worker’s thinly veiled swipe at Trump’s slogan. Home Depot has stated that they did not allow their employees to make political statements with their clothing while on the job and have made strides to reinforce that rule.  

Any organization has to right to set the tone for their respective employees.  Based on the rules of the company, the young lady was in the wrong for wearing the hat.  Here’s the question however:  Despite the dress code rules, what is the difference in Trump’s hat and the individual from Home Depot?  We respect Mr. Trump’s opinion on his hat, but her hat troubles people beyond her choice to wear it to work.   Americans believe they live in the greatest country in the world.  This is good ole fashioned “Nationalism.”  There has been a narrative present for decades that “back in the good ole days”…”in a much simpler time”…things were golden and pure in the land.  This belies the notion that for some, America has not always been great.  In fact, there are many people that feel the exact same way as the lady from Home Depot….that it has never been great.

This is open for debate, but isn’t that what really sets this country apart?  The freedom to feel how you want to feel.  Express what you want to express.  Obviously, that freedom does not protect you from consequences from your employer, but the freedom is still there…in theory.  Do only certain people get to express their feelings about America? Why do certain individuals get to march and protest and call it the American way, while others are told to “love it or leave it?”  Does our respective attachment to Life Liberty and Happiness waver depending on how we look, who we love, or who we worship?  As we enter into a potentially “game-changing” election, we have to examine these questions.  We also have to acknowledge and accept that people can feel as if America has not opened its arms to them. Those individuals should be able to voice that opinion without being told to leave or that they aren’t American.

I will admit to feeling that I have not always felt that America has reciprocated my affection.  It is my right to feel that way.  It doesn’t make me less American…it in fact proves that I am.  Hat or no hat.


Ahmad Ward is the Vice President of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI

 

15. December 2015 14:24
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The Impact of Fear by Ahmad Ward

15. December 2015 14:24 by Administrator | 0 Comments


Fear. It causes the best of us to make problematic decisions and say regrettable things.  Historically, fear has been at the root of some of the worst examples of discrimination and oppression this country has seen.  Fear of an emancipated Black populace that started to achieve political power, caused this country to enact laws gave birth to Jim Crow segregation.  Fear caused the United States to close its borders to European Jews who were desperately trying to escape the Nazi menace.  A few years later, fear led us to imprison Japanese Americans and other immigrant groups in internment camps in response to the Pearl Harbor attack.  After 9/11, our Muslim American brothers and sisters faced violence and vitriol based on their appearance.  We are currently watching the extension of this with the Syrian refugee crisis and the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting.

I am a North Carolina native who has been a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination for my entire life.  I just happen to have a first name that has Arabic and African roots.  After September 11th, I can count at least 8 different instances where I was pulled out of airport security lines for “random searches.”  I have a vivid memory of a check-in worker at an airline that will remain nameless, who looked at my ID and back at me with a stare that screamed: “I’m about to call Security!”  Even though it got uncomfortable from time to time, I was never targeted for violence as actual Muslim Americans were.  As crazy as it may sound, only being a Black man (who just so happened to have a bald head and a full beard), was a positive to people who were anti-Muslim.  President George W. Bush even defended Islam as a peaceful religion that just happened to have extremists who were acting in contrast to their supposed beliefs.

Fast forward to present day, the fear of terrorism has people infringing on the rights of U.S. citizens again.  Presidential candidates are calling for travel bans for all Muslims trying to enter the country which would have an effect on family members who live here.  Teachers are stopping students at school and asking them if they have bombs in their book bags.  Elected officials are doing interviews where they openly wish they could go to Islamic countries and “shoot them all in the head.” A country that prides itself on “Religious Freedom” has elected officials and citizenry that want to close down Mosques and other places were Muslims “congregate.”    People who aren’t even Muslim are being attacked based on their appearance.    One of the most troubling things is the turning of our backs on Syrian refugees who are trying to escape the same terrorism that we are trying to fight. This appears to be an unfortunate repeat of the shame that happened before World War II with the scores of Jews who tried to escape Europe.  This is still the same America with a Statue of Liberty that implores the world to:

 

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Does this message now come with a disclaimer for the “huddled masses” that come from Islamic countries….or even Central America…that states: “except YOU?” Many of you may say that I’m being idyllic or downright soft-headed for advocating that we receive people we may fear into our country.  If we had always let fear dictate our actions, we would never have become the country that we claim to be today. 

Here in 2015, the entire country appears to be engulfed in fear.  Not just the fear that has come along with the rise of ISIS and Islamic extremism, but also the fear of our neighbors, law enforcement, and people we don’t even know.   On any given day, you can find an instance of a simple dispute that turns into a gun-related assault or murder.  Black and Brown people are afraid that interactions with law enforcement officials will turn deadly.  Law enforcement officials who are doing the right thing are afraid of the reaction they may receive, based on the numerous instances of excessive force circulating the country. When does the fear of fear become too much for us to take?  Can we decide that this is no way to live in a free society? Can we begin to temper our fear-based reactions and start to work towards reasonable and morally sound solutions?

We can’t be scared to try.

 

Ahmad Ward is Vice President of Education and Exhibitions of BCRI

19. November 2015 10:02
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Spider Martin: Image and Activism by Ahmad Ward

19. November 2015 10:02 by Administrator | 0 Comments



BCRI is privileged to have several subject matter specialists who are great resources for the media, scholars, educators, among others.  One of the most knowledgeable and accomplished is Ahmad Ward, BCRI's Head of Education and Exhibitions.  As an example, The University of Texas recently asked Ahmad to contribute an article about Spider Martin and activism.  Please click the link to go to Ahmad's Blog.


29. September 2015 14:56
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"Trey's" Story by Willie Wells, III

29. September 2015 14:56 by Administrator | 0 Comments


September is Sickle Cell Awareness month. I have personally learned a great deal about the disease from working with the exhibit “Sickle Cell on Canvas,” the past two years at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI). After working on this exhibit last year, I also learned a dear friend of mine had the disease and ended up in the hospital while the exhibit was still on display. All I knew was that pain was a key symptom and a crisis sent one with SCD to the hospital frequently.

As we approach the opening of this year’s awareness exhibit, I had the honor of interviewing my friend so I could really understand the disease and shed light on this chronic illness that he lives with every day.

 Kendall Chew, BCRI Education Assistant





“Trey’s” Story

 

Sickle Cell Disease is a hereditary disease. My dad’s sister has it and he has the trait.  My mom didn’t know she carried the trait as well.

The only reason my parents knew I had it was because I had seizures at a very young age. I was less than a year old. I was with my aunt, my mom’s younger sister.

(Since both of Trey’s parents carry the trait t was inevitable that there children could have Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) or Sickle Cell Trait (SCT). Trey’s brother has the trait.

It’s like any other disease, but African Americans are the majority demographic that gets Sickle Cell. 

What is a day like with SCD?

I have to always be mindful and stay hydrated with plenty of fluids. In my childhood I had the most trouble because as a kid I wanted to play, so I had to learn patience. I work out and that really helps with Sickle Cell. It’s called a Crisis when you have a flare up. 

You have to watch out when the weather changes. When I was in the hospital this past December, I did too much in the cold and wasn’t covered up properly. They had to take my spleen out in 2008, which happens. I was 26, newlywed. It was a crazy time. St. Vincent’s was my second home. You can work out outside you just have to listen to your body.

Sickle Cell Community 

There is a lady at church that has SCD, so we do a walk in the spring at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Fairfield. The national community is based in Baltimore and I have done design work for them in the past, so I stay connected with the SCD community. 

Planning the Future

If my wife had SCD or SCT, when it came to having children, it would be a conversation we would have to have. I have SC (a type of SCD), but if my wife had the trait, our child could have SS, which is the worse kind SCD.

The Body & Sickle Cell

You are susceptible to other diseases like pneuomonia. A regular cold can progress and become fatal if you don’t jump on it properly. Your vision is changed. A lot of people with sickle cell go on disability.(Trey was hospitalized at least once a year until sixth grade).

 I stayed with my pediatrician until college because he knew a lot about the disease. African American doctors seem to know more about it. If you have the trait, you aren’t at risk to getting it, but you could have symptoms.

My First Memory of SCD

I was probably in third grade… I just remember being in a little room in the school, a sick room, and I was probably outside playing and my arms, joints or my legs started to hurt. My parents never treated me like a patient though. I played basketball at the Y. But I was also last during the mile. It was hard for coaches, especially white coaches, to understand why.

One time, I didn’t run a mile fast enough and had to run it again. And I was struggling up this hill. My dad had to come get me and I was hospitalized because of that. I was kneeling by my locker and other students saw me struggling. That was in seventh grade, so I was about 13. I was in the hospital for a week. From that point on I would spend time in handicap P.E. or sit out at general P.E.

Hydration is key to helping the pain. Last time I was in the hospital I got an allergy to an antibiotic I was on. I got off penicillin in high school and I was taking it daily. I try to take folic acid. I always have to have a flu shot. Sometimes stress brings on a flare up and you have to step away from work and relax.

What Can We Do

Always give blood. We need plenty of transfusions. We can’t give blood. Now we have a sickle cell tag for your cars, so support your national and local organizations. We have a Sickle Cell ball in February in Birmingham.

They’re testing a cure in rats, so there could be a cure in our future. I have a heart for the younger generations with SCD and parents of these children. Education is key.


About Willie

Willie Wells, III, is a native of Birmingham, AL and husband to Dr. Valencia Wells. He is the owner of EscapeGFX®. Willie has worked earnestly to get it up and running smoothly. "Art has always been a clear destination for me ever since I was in elementary school. I was not sure what particular field I would go into, but I knew that the creative field would be ideal for me." A graduate of the University Of Alabama, Tuscaloosa with a double major in Graphic Design and Advertising, Willie is a person that is adamant about being punctual and giving the best efforts that he can, and this concept overflows into his company's operations. He understands that there are deadlines that need to be met, and other problems that may spring up, so the clients' work is done with a sense  never discarding the high level of creative design. "The customer is number 1 to me, and we, as a company, will venture many avenues to reach your project's escape from mediocrity."

 

 

17. September 2015 09:41
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Reflections by Andrea L. Taylor, President & CEO, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

17. September 2015 09:41 by Administrator | 0 Comments

                                                



  Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on September 15, 2015 

Today marks the 52nd year since the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four little girls, in an act described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity,” that also injured 22 others.

We stand on sacred ground. I feel a presence here that is similar to the experience in other places visited where horrific events occurred such as Hiroshima, Japan where the first atomic bomb was dropped, killing 174,000 people, or Goree Island and the Door of No Return where millions of Africans were enslaved and shipped to America.

Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were ages 11- 14 when they were slain. If they were alive today, they would be ‘baby boomers,’ part of the post-World War II generation, who have witnessed unimaginable political, social, economic and technology changes.  Most likely they would be parents, grandparents or even great grandparents…they would be active church members, artists, entrepreneurs, librarians, scientists or teachers…and valued members of their community. 

Instead, their lives ended during a tragedy that transformed a nation.

Just three weeks before their deaths, actor Ossie Davis had described the 1963 March on Washington as “A year of ecstasy and triumph.” They may have even watched the historic event on television or listened on the radio and been inspired by Dr. King’s visionary “I Have a Dream” speech about a better future for “little black boys and girls.” I recall my own attendance at that historic March and the realization that it too was a turning point in a struggle that captured the attention of the entire world and still offers lessons about liberation for people around the globe.

They were surely familiar with Dr. King and his battle against discrimination in Birmingham including the Children’s Crusade launched in May 1963 to desegregate lunch counters, restrooms and other public facilities. They were surely aware of the reign of terror by Police Chief Bull Connor and segregationist Governor George Wallace.

As a baby boomer born in the North, I vividly recall the national impact of the slaying. Indeed, Addie, Cynthia, Carole and Denise are linked to all who gather here this morning and to the republic.  Some among us may still bear the scars of that bombing and we must pray for healing in every sense.

Sadly though, black church violence is part of America’s history and is an ongoing story in the North and South. The most recent tragedy in Charleston (Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church) reflects “a pattern of random racialized violence against religious institutions,” says Valerie Cooper, associate professor of black church studies at Duke University. As we now know, this follows a prior burning of the same church in the 1800’s involving a controversy surrounding Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s organizers and a leader of a major slave rebellion in Charleston.

The irony is that the events that took these lives happened in a church…a place where you thought you’d feel safe.

Yet, the church has often been a target as the place where civil rights leaders and the community convene. History shows that black church arsons are a recurring theme when 73 black churches were burned, firebombed or vandalized in the 1990s and President Clinton created the National Church Arson Task Force.  

Fast forward to 2008 when a church in Springfield, Massachusetts burned hours after the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. In the late 1990s, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute collaborated with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's "Lift Every Voice" program to provide support to African American churches that had been burned.

We must still educate citizens and work to promote peace and goodwill.  As an adult who now occupies an office overlooking the historic Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, I’m reflecting on the tremendous debt of gratitude that I and millions of others in the North, South, East and West owe to Addie, Cynthia, Carol and Denise for their sacrifice which is priceless.

Every day at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute begins for me with a moment of silence for these four little girls: when I open the blinds and gaze through the window at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and at the painting on the wall behind my desk entitled “The Flowers of the Fall of 1963,” by artist Ronald Scott McDowell (2007) that depicts the four girls and the two young boys, Virgil “Peanut” Ware, 13 who was shot and killed by a white youth while sitting on the handlebars of his brother’s bike, and Johnnie Robinson, 16, shot and killed in the back by a policeman for allegedly throwing rocks at a car on that same September day in 1963. 

Looking back, we know that children played a key role in the civil rights movement – in the home, in the streets and in the jails; inspiring adults to break down barriers to equal access, withstanding hoses and dogs and serving jail time, often with hardened criminals.

Because of their courage and sacrifice, we have indeed made progress. Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an immediate by-product followed by passage of the Voting Rights Act a year later.

Birmingham today welcomes visitors at the Fred Shuttlesworth International Airport, Mayor William Bell, the city’s fourth African American elected to this office continues to promote urban revitalization and Police Chief A.C. Roper is spearheading innovative community policing programs. Subsequent legislative and policy changes are linked to this era of the civil rights movement and to Birmingham in the 1960’s.

However, we must avoid the risk of complacency and continue to enlighten each generation about civil and human rights by exploring our common past and working together in the present to build a better future, which is the mission of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

These history lessons can help us to process the modern day acts of senseless violence such as the death of Trayvon Martin and countless other young black men or the slayings of nine individuals at a Prayer Meeting in Charleston.

During our lifetime, there are too many examples, all over the world, where children have become iconic global symbols of inhumanity…Anne Frank, Emmett Till, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, Virgil Ware, Johnnie Robinson, and recently the Syrian refugee boy whose body washed ashore while his parents were attempting to flee from persecution and violence.

These senseless deaths of innocent children diminish us all and remembering is important as a reminder to keep the passion for justice alive and to never forget the price that has been paid for our freedom and dignity. To that end it is incumbent upon each of us to make the most of every day, to savor each moment, to love and respect one another in a genuine effort to build community and to let our light shine, let it shine, let it shine, as a beacon of hope and peace.

I conclude these reflections with a poem by a friend and former poet laureate of Ohio, James Kilgore, entitled “That Black Reef,” to remind us of the precious gift of life.

 

That Black Reef

They tell us each evening,

Sometimes by fire,

Sometimes by dancing earth,

And sometimes by burning winter winds,

That he who is three may be halfway there

And he who is one hundred may be seven

Years from shore.

We cannot know how soon the waves

Will leave us on the beaches

Of that dark land;

We cannot know how many days or nights

We have to love or hate;

We cannot know how many summers or

Winters

We have to weep or laugh upon the waves

Before the boat sails

Or drifts

To that black reef.

       James Kilgore

 

Thank you. This is the day!


Remarks made by BCRI President and CEO Andrea L. Taylor on September 15, 2015 during the commemoration of the 52nd anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.