March 13, 2008

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor not the victim.– Elie Wiesel

Non-violence in fist, in tongue, and in heart.– Martin Luther King, Jr.

The capitol of Alabama! Here we met Bob Graetz, the only white minister involved in organizing the Montgomery bus boycott. His house was bombed twice, and his children threatened. But he stayed and helped, and was accepted into the black community. What a great man! He came to speak to us with his wife, who would butt in and remind him of details he was forgetting. Later, the two of them joined us for a dinner on the Alabama State University campus. I went to meet them and shake their hands, and told them they were a beautiful couple. He said that he could not do a thing without his wife. That is a lucky woman. What a special chance to meet someone who will not be here much longer.

Also at dinner was Vera Harris, the King’s next door neighbor. Her children grew up running in and out of the King’s parsonage, and she his the Freedom Riders for 5 days when they passed through Montgomery and were beat up at the Greyhound station. She is 89 years old and as “spicy” as ever. She, too, is a piece of living history- and there we were, chatting her up over iced tea. The most moving thing was hearing her describe the riders gathering at the foot of her stairs for a final prayer before walking back to the Greyhound station once again. “They were like lambs going to the slaughter”, she said. “I could not help but feel that way, knowing what they went through at our station and knowing that they could be facing the same thing at the end.”

We visited Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. It was small and simple. It’s still a very active church, and well loved. I loved the windows- they are copies of the originals, though the top part is original. I just love them!

Then we saw the parsonage that King, his wife, and his two eldest children lived in while he was the minister there. It was small but beautiful. In the front rooms the side tables were covered with white doilies, edges starched upright into something like a bowl shape, but with pleated folds around the sides.  Very odd- I had never heard of anything like it. Our guide said that that was exactly how Coretta Scott King kept it. In fact, when she was alive she came to the house and made sure it was set up just right. My favorite part of it was kitchen- not only were the chairs amazing (!), but it was where King would retreat each night to pray about his involvement in to movement, and where he believed that God spoke to him.

Next was our visit to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Very interesting. The man who founded SPLC is Morris Dees, and his best friend from college founded Habitat for Humanity. They basically make it their business to prosecute and track hate groups all over the country. They have a beautiful Civil Rights Memorial outside of their building, designed by the girl who designed the Vietnam Wall.  Their website has a Hate Groups Map, that shows any known hate groups in each state. It’s definitely something I don’t usually think about. I disagree with some of their stances, but they do good work prosecuting hate groups on behalf of victims.

What a long entry…this was by far the busiest day that we had. We were all glad to be along for the ride but exhausted by the end of the day. I’ll by saying how interesting it was to be on the ASU campus. ASU is a historically black college with about 6,000 students. It is public, and so gets state funding, which explains why it is so much larger and better maintained than Dillard University down in New Orleans. It has a much bigger campus than SMU, and a much nicer cafeteria (formerly their basketball stadium!).  They just opened a brand new Forensic Science building, too!

What I thought was most interesting on the campus (which was big, but not at all beautiful)  were the Greek “plots”. There was one for each of the historically black fraternities and sororities. Basically, in front of a building a tree would be painted in the group’s colors, and painted benches would sit around it. Painted rocks would be arranged to spell out the Greek letters of the particular group. Some even had statues of their shields, or a garden in the shape of their letters, or a painted trashcan. It was very odd, and kind of tacky but also very cool. It made it seem like everyone on campus must be Greek, but I suppose that is not true in the same that it isn’t true at SMU.

As a closing note, did you know that while giving his famous speech at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march, MLK stood on the exact spot that Jefferson Davis stood on when he was inaugerated as the president of the Confederacy? I am telling you, history is full of ironies.

More on our second day in this city coming soon.


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