Tag Archives: 16th street Baptist church

Civil Rights Tour #1

If you’re short on time, here’s my texted version of the trip:

It was overwhelming. Sad. Hard to digest it all. DT and EL were easy travel companions. Most things in sync. Each museum built on the previous one, so it was good learning. I think the thing that will haunt me the longest is the murder of Emmett Till.

Birmingham / Montgomery / Selma / Jackson / Sumner / Memphis.

Day one: Birmingham.

Red Clay tour guide Mike Cornelius at Bethel AME

We spent three-plus hours with Red Clay Tours, part walking / part driving. It’s a father, son team. White. Initially, I felt disappointed that we wouldn’t have a Black guide but not only was Mike extremely knowledgeable, he often modeled language of acknowledgment and atonement, giving his white customers another level of learning.

Birmingham has a nickname: Bombingham. You probably know that it was the site of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four girls. A devastating act of terror.

But bombings were so frequent that one whole section of town is nicknamed Dynamite Hill. Birmingham is a mining town (or was), meaning that dynamite was readily available. (Also meaning that its decline resembles that of Rust Belt cities.) Bad actors often flung lit sticks out of cars while driving by.

Dynamite hit lower right part of house

On Dynamite Hill, we saw houses with blackened bricks. Others with five foot cement brick walls around them. We heard stories about cars blowing up. Stories about the valor of men protecting leaders by being the one to turn the key.

Photo from National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, see below for precise photo credit

We learned about how one of those leaders, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, pastor of the Bethel AME, emerged from the rubble of his bombed home, energized by his miraculous survival. He refused to rebuild the structure.

Photo from National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, see below for photo credit
Info board from the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis
Bethel AME

It’s quite astonishing that more people weren’t killed. It’d be tempting to sneer at the incompetence of white supremacists if it weren’t for the fact that even with minimal loss of life the bombings created pervasive and abject terror.

Display at Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson

That same morning we learned about the marches that led to Birmingham’s desegration in 1963, including The Children’s Crusade. Next post.

Photo at Selma Interpretative Center (one of them) of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth

Readers: if anything here is wrong or needs refined/updated, please let me know. There was A LOT of information in a week and I’m bound to get things wrong here and there. And PS first versions of this post erroneously included a photo of Dexter AME, not Bethel.

My travel companions, DT and EL
Childhood home of Angela Davis

PPS I took that video above in our hotel, Hampton Inn/The Tutwiler. It took a lot of tries because often someone was waiting for the elevator (imagine their surprise) when the doors opened and I had to start over. It was worth it to me to look weird and possibly even suspicious to highlight the very cool black and white photos. They graced every landing and the inside of the elevator doors.