Lucy Roth, Staff Writer
In my short life, I’ve been touched by a lot of things. I’ve frolicked in the same streets Sylvia Plath would have, I’ve walked through the house Anne Frank and her family kept captive, and I’ve lost myself in the art of Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet and others. You think, “Wow. This is really where it all happened,” and you can almost feel the subject’s presence.
Through PTK and the work of Josh German, Kevin Dixon and Leigh Kolb, I and 21 other students had the opportunity to travel to Montgomery, Alabama. Here, we saw The Rosa Parks Museum and Library, The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
Before any of our tours began, though, we saw a mural. The mural (as pictured below) depicts the monumental civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Merely six blocks from Selma, marchers were tear-gassed and beat with billy clubs. Staring into the painted faces of these individuals, you feel an indescribable remorse. Sure, it’s just a painting, but the meaning behind it rings out with each stroke.
Across the street sits The Rosas Park Museum and Library. In the lobby, as we wait for the tour, I eavesdrop on a conversation happening across from me. An elderly man remembers his time on the “Colored Only” part of the bus and what this was really like. He was speaking to two white women.
The museum included an interactive model of what the night Rosa declined to give up her seat to a white man. We see “her” (a projection) entering the bus exhaustively, and sit down in the white-only seats. As the bus gets busier, we see more and more black people stand and offer their seats to any and all white people, but not Rosa. When speaking with a tour guide outside of the museum, he told me that it wasn’t the seat for which Rosa was arrested; but the purely inherent *wrong* of doing such a thing. Rosa Parks began the bus boycott — where hundreds of thousands of blacks refused to ride, rain or shine.
After lunch, we found The Legacy Museum. The only thing you can see from the outside of the museum is a lined plaque, designated reminiscent of the American flag, reading “From Enslavement To Mass Incarceration.” We enter, and I am overcome with emotion. Reenacted videos of lynching are juxtaposed with famous quotes about the horror. We continue walking, and in a nearly impossible-to-witness exhibit, holographic images of black people behind bars at the slave trading posts tell us their stories.
We see children, mothers, and a woman singing soul music. They were ripped and separated from their families, from mothers, fathers, friends, to come to the New World to slave away. In the beginning, a loose promise of escape was insinuated, but was never carried through. They knew they would be trapped for life.
Another captivating exhibit in The Legacy Museum was the letters of incarcerated individuals on death-row to attorney Bryan Stevenson. Each letter spoke to each of the various ill-fated problems of each inmate, and most were wrongfully penalized. Listening to and hearing the stories of these individuals was sobering. In one particularly familiar exhibit, a screen allowed to click around the states and see how many lynchings happened in each county. Clicking on Franklin County, Mo., brought me one result in Union. To know that these things were happening around my hometown, my alma mater, my entire childhood, was unbelievable. The soil from each of these lynchings was/is being put into jars and displayed. You can see the dirt of their labor.
Pictures were placed around the small room of the museum, and with each one I felt more and more enraptured. People, pictures, actual real footage of events, tell a better story than any words ever could. I remember vividly, a photograph of a young boy, probably 11 or 12 years old, chained to a stake in the middle of an open field, and as I looked into his human eyes, eyes like mine, eyes like yours, I was struck with an uncanny despair.
Next on the agenda was The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Pillars for each county where a lynching happened are hung from the ceiling. Each pillar has engraved the name(s) of those lynched. Walking through the pillars, with the information of what happened to them and the extent of which fresh in my mind, was unlike anything I’ve ever done. Later on through the exhibit, plaques stated different reasons for the lynching of one. Having a white wife, suspicious “flirting,” among other things were stated.
At the conclusion of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice tour stood a separate pillar with a poem. The last stanza reads, “Here you endure and are luminous. / You are not lost to us. / The wind carries sorrows, sighs, and shouts. / The wind brings everything. Nothing is lost.”
“True peace is not just the absence of tension, but the presence of justice,” Dr. King stated. Stevenson replies: “We remember with hope, because hopelessness is the enemy of justice. With courage, because peace requires bravery. With persistence, because justice is a constant struggle. With faith, because we shall overcome.”
Photo by Hayley Vawter