Freedom Ride 2008
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 Alabama school.
We also sang songs, including Soon and very Soon several times
Later we watched “Mighty Times: The Children’s March,” about Birmingham children and young adults who faced jail time fighting for Civil Rights.
We continued driving through the night until we arrived at Tennessee State University at 6:00am. We ate a hearty breakfast at the TSU downtown Avon Williams Campus and listened to a speaker.
Then we went on a foot tour of downtown Nashville.
· Walgreen’s was 1 of 3 places where the first Nashville sit-ins took place…it is the only building still occupied by the same company
· Most demonstrators came from TSU (Freedom riders…etc.)
· The Nashville CRM is considered one of the most disciplined and organized movements
· Jean Smith participated in Nashville sit-ins as well as freedom rides
· Allen and Etta were Freedom Riders and participated in sit-ins and stand-ins
· Kwame Leo Lillard trained people to go on freedom rides, and was Nashville CRM logistics leader
· Paramount theater then Walgreen’s were both integrated
· We saw many sites where segregation took place, such as:
-Alleys: blacks had to use the “restroom” because they were not permitted anywhere else nearby—most people had to relieve themselves in whatever they could find—a box, bush, can or just a spot along the wall.
- The Movie Theatre: “Stand-In’s” took place (blacks protesting for the desegregation of theatres). They would wait in line until denied tickets and moved to the back of the line so whites could not purchase them either.
- Harvey’s department store was the last Department store in Nashville to integrate fitting rooms.
· Walked to State Capitol building with Kwame and learned about the first Silent March protest which took place on April 19, 1960 after the bombing of the home of Alexander Looby, a black councilman and brilliant lawyer who represented the Freedom Riders and sit-in participants.
At the State Capital we were introduced to the State Senate as a delegation (on the state senate floor [well]). Both Kwame and Bob spoke to the Senate delegation. We then went to the Nashville Public Library. We received a tour of the library, and spoke with people about their thoughts on Civil Rights. In the library there was a special room and a whole wing dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement.
After we toured the library, we went to Moses McKissack Professional Development Middle School and performed several Social Action Theater skits. The students really seemed to enjoy them. They asked good questions and were really into it.
Then we went to Fisk University to have box lunches in Jubilee Hall, and to listen to a CRM historian.
After visiting Fisk University, we went to Meharry Medical College.
Then we returned to Tennessee State University to listen to another historian.
· Civil Rights Movement goes back to the Civil War
· Tennessee had 40% of black troops in union army and 20% of all union army
· Winter, 1959 CRM started
· Nov. 1959, students got tired of practicing sit-ins
· Feb 1st, Greensboro first spontaneous sit-in
· Feb. 13th, 1960 Nashville sit-in
· Mar. 10th, 1960, Nashville became the first integrated city
· 19 Jim Crowe states…not all in south
The last Nashville college we visited was American Baptist College.
· We sat in a circle facing each other, which gave an open atmosphere feeling in the room.
· Two American Baptist seniors spoke about becoming the best person you can be in order to help others.
· Ms. Janet Wolf, a civil rights historian, also gave us another perspective on the civil rights movement.
· The ABC President spoke to us as well. Bob, Kwame, and Delorse gave a joint last talk before we left Nashville.
Afterwards, we continued on our way down to Huntsville, Alabama. We arrived at Oakwood University at about 7:00pm and had dinner there.
Friday, March 28th, 2008:
We started early, departing for Birmingham, AL at 7am. We arrived at a predominantly black high school to perform SAT skits, but were detained in the library for an hour and a half for an unknown reason. After waiting, we went to the auditorium to perform two skits. When we finished the skits everyone sang “Soon and Very Soon." After boarding the bus, the principal told us of the school's being on a last-minute lock down. Bob later told us that a bullet was found in a student’s backpack and a potential gun was being searched for.
Next, we went to a K-8 Academy School and performed 5 skits. All the students were very enthusiastic, eager to ask questions, and everyone wanted to participate. They did a great job and really understood our purpose. The Academy was gracious enough to provide us with lunch there.
Next, we went to the 16th Street Baptist Church and spoke with Birmingham historian Dr. Bob Corley. He told us about his life growing up in a privileged white family in Birmingham and a story about his family's house maid. The 16th Street Baptist Church is where a bomb went off in 1963 killing 4 young girls, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, and injuring many others.
Then Reverend Anthony Smith, our Birmingham March and Rally host, surprised us by taking us to an IMAX movie at the Birmingham Science Museum. We watched a movie on the largest IMAX screen in the country about ancient Pharaoh History. After the movie, and the closing time of the museum, the museum allowed us to order pizza and eat it upstairs. After dinner we all headed back to the hotel and relaxed for the long day tomorrow that awaited us.
Saturday, March 29th, 2008:
We boarded the bus at 7:30am and went to the old New Pilgrim Baptist Church to start our historic march, the first Birmingham CRM march since 1963 when Martin Luther King was jailed and wrote his famous letter from a Birmingham jail. There were three TV stations, newscasters, newspaper, and escort police waiting for us. There were more than 200 participants marching down the streets of Birmingham singing inspirational songs. We marched two-by-two to Memorial Park. The 1963 March went to the park as well. The police station was across the street, the same one in which many students were jailed during the 1960s movement. At the park several pastors prayed over Birmingham and all of our Civil Rights efforts. We held hands in a big circle and sang more songs together.
Afterwards, we went to 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 of some of today’s issues. Reverend Johnson was our first speaker. Then Bob spoke. Next a Reverend spoke about homelessness in the community and how it is a growing problem that needs to be recognized. Then, a Reverend talked about racial reconciliation. Next, a state senator informed us that we must support the democratic political process. Next, an attorney talked about justice in the penal system. Then a Birmingham news reporter spoke about past, present and future Civil Rights efforts. Then, another speaker spoke about 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. Then, a six year old Civil Rights activist delivered 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 speech hit hard because of his impeccable dialect and powerful words. Everyone took in his words deeply. Our chief guest, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, the person whose statue stands in front of the BCRI, spoke from his wheelchair. Now 88 years old and suffering from a stroke, he was still full of fire. To end the rally, an R&B singer sang a song he wrote about the Civil Rights Movement.
After the rally concluded we went inside the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute for a tour of the entire building, starting with a movie introducing the Institute. Then we went on a self-guided tour. The Institute's intent of the tour was to send you back to the 1960's and to feel what it was like to live then. Everyone seemed to enjoy the tour and the detailed displays.
Afterwards, we had lunch outside and walked to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, where we listened to several jazz bands. The music was beautiful and everyone seemed to connect with it. Then we met with professional clarinetist and HOF Director Frank ‘Doc’ Adams who wrote and played a song for us on the spot.
Then we boarded the bus for a tour of Birmingham. We learned about the history and architecture of the city. We stopped at an old preserved steel factory and were free to roam and look at the different artifacts on our own. We boarded the bus and continued on our tour to a park with the Vulcan Statue (Man of Iron). It had a beautiful view at the top of a hill overlooking downtown Birmingham. Many people took pictures here and enjoyed the nice weather.
After the tour we headed back to the hotel to relax and get ready for tomorrow.
Sunday, March 30th, 2008:
After eating breakfast at the hotel we departed for 6th Avenue Baptist Church for the 8:30 a.m. service. Here, we participated in worship which was led by the men’s choir. We sang “Just a Little Talk with Jesus,” “God is Faithful,” “What if God is Unhappy With our Praise,” and the service was closed with “Soon and Very Soon.” Prior to the sermon which was led by Dr. Al Sutton the teenage boys Step team preformed their competition piece to a prayer. The sermon was about interpreting proverbs and the need for repetition, knowledge, and wisdom when reading the bible. Our Social Action Theater students also preformed “Are You Game?” and received good questions about the choice that the teenage girl faced; whether or not to steal a game which she couldn’t afford.
Next, we traveled to New Pilgrim Baptist Church for a 10:45 service. Here, worship was also lead by the men’s choir. A member of the congregation sang a song which she wrote during the civil rights movement called “On my way to Freedom Land.” Angie participated in the song along with her mother and soon the whole congregation joined in. Pastor Brooks spoke about allowing the Lord in our lives. Our final meal in Alabama was prepared by volunteers at the church. Prior to eating, we heard a story of a man who experienced discrimination while on a Birmingham bus during segregated times in the 60's. Later, the same couple who discriminated against him allowed him to sit where he wanted—when they realized later that he was in the military serving our country. After the meal, the bus was loaded and we headed back for Wisconsin.
We arrived back in La Crosse at 6:00 am Monday March 31st.