Our tour of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House wasn’t the only highlight of our Rochester detour. Across the street sits another tribute to the titular champion of women’s voting rights. Alongside her is a great man, a close friend of hers, and a well-known name in other circles then and now: the great abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass.
Like our stroll around Birmingham on the morning of Day Two, we spent the morning of Day Six walking up and down the much wider, more gleaming, less shaded streets of Montgomery, Alabama. I’m terrible about remembering to check maps for scale and was unprepared for the fact that the state capital’s city blocks were two or three times larger than those of Birmingham’s comparatively claustrophobic downtown. Our walk was consequently longer and more draining, but no less dotted by indelible moments in state and national history.
The doves are symbolic, but the scene is otherwise as remembered from September 15, 1963, a quiet, graceful Sunday morning at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where kids were suiting up for their next choir performance to celebrate another day of joy with thanks to the Lord.
At 10:22 a.m. an explosion of dynamite sticks and unconscionable racist rage left four little girls murdered, two dozen or more injured, and a gaping wound in the side of the Lord’s house.
If you’ve seen Ava DuVernay’s powerful Best Picture nominee Selma, you know when and how it begins. On this very block in Birmingham, across the corner from Kelly Ingram Park, is exactly where too much began that should never have happened.
During our sobering Sunday morning walk through Ingram Park, we saw small circles of chatting friends sharing the central commons area, while homeless stragglers reserved an errant bench here, inspected yesterday’s discarded leftovers there. All of us were equally surrounded by statues honoring those who fifty years ago walked, gathered, and fought on this very block for a better world. The reminders are impossible to ignore, but it’s up to each of us to heed them.
Day Two, early Sunday morning in Alabama: we arrived at our first stop in the heart of Birmingham, a few hours before most of the city would wake up, some fifty years after our country began to wake up.
The four-acre Kelly Ingram Park is an idyllic public gathering spot, a touch of verdant life in a graying downtown, and a momentous landmark of tumultuous times. In the 1960s the stone walkways beneath our feet once hosted impassioned demonstrations against oppression, segregation, and various acts of racism both institutional and internal. Today various signs and statues around the park serve as reminders of what it was like to walk in their footsteps and stand where they took a stand.