- Posted August 28, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Everyday racism: Your stories
Freedom and Equality - Alabama in 2013
As we recognize the 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” Speech in Washington D.C., and key civil rights movement events in Birmingham, Alabama, we remember that our home state has long been at the crossroads of freedom and equality.
For many years, this crossroad was not a pleasant place. It was full of hatred. Intolerance. Cruelty. Exploded bombs. Fire hoses. Vicious dogs. Arson. White hoods and capes. Bloodied young people. Dead children. Images from 1963 that are forever etched in our memory.
Governor George Wallace began the year with his first inauguration speech, calling for “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”. In April, two Birmingham lunch counters filled with twenty young people that were to be served nothing but a jail sentence. That same week Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in Birmingham for parading without a permit. A week later he composed a letter to eight white clergymen from his jail cell, writing on the margins of a newspaper and scraps of paper. Dr. King addressed the fellow clergymen’s criticism of his work, explaining that he was in Birmingham to face injustice, having been compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond his home town.
In early May, the Children’s Crusade began. Over a thousand black children took a stand for social justice, skipping school and marching non-violently from the Sixteenth Street Baptist church towards downtown: most were arrested and thrown in jail. The next day, hundreds more students did the same. They were met with fire hoses and attacking dogs, sent by the Commissioner of Public Safety. In June, the Governor who had vowed segregation forever made good on his promise, standing at the door of Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama, blocking two black students from registering. In July the Fifth U.S Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that Birmingham schools be segregated that fall: eleven days later the Birmingham City Council repealed the segregation laws. In August, the same young dynamic minister spoke before a crowd of a quarter of a million people in our nation’s capitol, sharing his dream of freedom and equality for all.
And on September 15, in an act of racially motivated terrorism, four girls were killed and dozens of worshippers were hurt, when 122 sticks of dynamite blew apart the beloved Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. A sole stained glass window was left partially intact: Jesus, faceless following the blast, was still leading a group of little children.
The crossroads of 1963 did not represent either freedom or equality. They represented sad days of strife and discontent, prejudice and violence, bondage and inequality.
The road from 1963 to 2013 has been a long one. It has been filled with bumps, detours, and potholes. It has been marked by uneven pavement, unpainted lanes, and unlit sections. We have struggled to not only integrate our classrooms, but also to integrate our thinking. We have struggled to be blind to external skin color and insightful to internal soul color. We have struggled to understand that loving our neighbor also includes loving those neighbors that live across town and around the world. We have made progress in our journey towards racial equality, but still fight prejudices and judgment against others that differ from our majority thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, abilities, and appearance.
Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa and former prisoner on remote Robben Island, continues to offer a beacon of hope and example of perseverance, as we journey towards the goal of true freedom for all. Following his release from prison, he refused to be angry or bitter but led a national movement for forgiveness and reconciliation. Mandela’s life - before, during, and after his 27-year imprisonment - mirrored his teaching: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
In 2013, we are still at a crossroads. We still face racism and inequality. But we have options, insights, and mentors that continue to guide us on a path that is not filled with hatred, violence, and intolerance, but is instead filled with compassion, kindness, and understanding.
“I have a dream that one day…right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers”. We have more dreams left to dream, more crossroads left to cross, more battles against injustice left to fight, more inequalities left to balance, more freedoms left to secure.
But, thankfully, part of Dr. King’s 1963 dream has come true in the Alabama of 2013.