While Montgomery and Selma seem stuck in the past, Birmingham is positively forward facing with a robust economy. Birmingham experienced significant civil rights related strife in 1963, including the Children’s Crusade. The downtown is in the beginning of a renaissance and the Civil Rights scars appear to be healing. We started our Sunday at church.
After worship we sought sustenance in the form of brunch. One of the parishioners recommended a restaurant and we walked several blocks only to read the notice that it is permanently closed. The sign suggested we try Mr. Z’s Take Away. We went off in pursuit and ended up deciding to dine at Roots & Revelry, a newish restaurant in a bank redone as apartments and cafes. My chicken and waffles was divine. I’ve added a rule, besides trying pie whenever the opportunity presents, I am going to try fried chicken when in the South and it is on the menu.
My friend made the mistake of wearing fashionable shoes and we’d done a lot of walking already. We were determined to visit the Civil Rights Institute and Kelly Ingram Park was just alongside both the church and Institute. Ingram Park has most of the stops along the Freedom Walk. There are multiple moving statues that tell the story of the Children’s Crusade. Even with the visual aids it was hard to imagine turning fire hoses and dogs on young children (until the recent tear gas at the border on women and children seeking asylum). Some things change and some things stay the same.
When we saw for ourselves the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church location at one corner of the park, we could better understand how it was used by the children as sanctuary and then how it became a target. This is the church that was bombed resulting in the death of four young girls.
Sometimes when I am sitting towards the back of our big sanctuary in Sacramento, I think of how safe I think I am–how little I worry about someone with violent intent coming into our midst. This is a luxury of a mostly Scandinavian Lutheran congregation. With the Charleston shooting, and church burnings, and then more recently the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, I begin to understand what a violation it is to attack a “sanctuary”–a place where we go to worship God and fellowship, a place were strangers are made welcome. The events of 1963 are still relevant.
We did arrive in time to visit the Civil Rights Institute. It offers a comprehensive timeline of the Civil Rights movement. I wished this was our first stop instead of the last on our crawl. We spent quite a long time reading the exhibits and left just before the museum closed. The sidewalks were starting to roll up, so we made our way to the hotel.