Since leaving Memphis, we’ve traveled through Alabama, visiting Birmingham and Selma before driving into Meridian Sunday night. We’ll be in Meridian now until we leave at the end of the week. Yesterday we took a day trip up to Jackson, MS to visit two civil rights veterans at Tougaloo College.
Today is Tuesday, but it feels like its been more than 4 days since we left Fairfield. Each day has been full and we’ve been covering a lot of ground (literal&metaphor). Being in the deep south is surreal at times, like attending church service at the 16th street baptist church in Birmingham where 4 little girls were killed by bombs that were set off by the Klan in 1963. Being at palm Sunday service there 50 years later was special, especially being my first time at a black baptist church. The service had mixed races, and many visitors Sunday when we were there. The church was right across the street from the park where thousands of children were jailed and fire hosed for marching together in defiance of segregation laws. Walking the park and attending church brought me in touch with the spirituality of the people there and how it gave them faith and strength to rise up again and again.
After church service that day we went down to Selma and met some more civil rights vets and got a tour of the city. Once thriving and bustling, Selma felt like a ghost town, with empty store fronts down town and on side streets. We’ve heard so many stories and traced steps where history was made. We marched across the Edmond-Pettits bridge, tracing the footsteps where people once set out to march from Selma to Montgomery to challenge voting rights laws. We were led by a man who was just a teenager at the time when he participated in that march, and he explained his vantage point watching the front line of the marchers get attacked and beaten by the police. In what is now infamously known as “Bloody Sunday” the people were met on the other side of the bridge by state troopers and local police, who incited a police riot by throwing tear gas and beating the non-violent marchers. That was a turning point in the movement, and served as a testament to how brutally unjust the south was at that time.
It feels good to be in Meridian now, where we’ll meet more local folks who Patti Miller met when she came here as a student, to register voters in the early ’60’s during that time of struggle. This is clearly more than a spring break trip. Visiting these places and talking to people who were there during those times is really bringing the history alive. This transmission is important. The torch is being passed. But what is really being passed on to us?
More on that later…