Witnessing History in Montgomery, Alabama

Juanita Ziegler, Guest Contributor

    The best way for me to describe my trip is with the word “powerful.” We visited three different exhibits which each had its own story to tell. The Rosa Parks Museum was not your average museum experience. As I waited for our entry into the main museum, I read a children’s book from the gift shop titled “The Black Frog”. The story focused on a single black frog in a world of green frogs. His desire was to be accepted by the others. Despite his efforts and the help of another, he does not manage to gain acceptance from the green frogs but learns to accept himself the way that he is. What a way to start the day! 

   From there I walked into the main museum where I watched videos of people who had lived through the era of Jim Crow Laws. Hearing their stories was very saddening. We next moved to a room that was modeled after the street and bus stop where Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat. Video was projected onto the side of a bus. 

    As we walked through the museum I learned that she wasn’t actually breaking any laws at the time, which is contrary to what I was taught in school. I also learned, from police reports, that the city officials were following many innocent African-Americans to and from church. The police reports suspected the churches of being secret hideouts used to plan a revolt against the white people but they never found any evidence. It was difficult to read the police reports and news articles. 

   The next place we visited was The Legacy Museum. We were allowed some free time to grab lunch before the museum tour. Our path led us to the court square which had a very large and beautiful fountain which I was immediately drawn to. As I walked around the fountain I noticed a building with black and white headshots of citizens from all age groups and races with the words “WE ARE THE DREAM,” in bold print. It was breathtaking and emotional. 

   As we entered The Legacy Museum we immediately learned about the main slave markets which were held in the center of town, in the exact spot as the beautiful fountain. The museum contained stories from slaves as well as stories from inmates currently on death row. The room was filled with facts that were presented in a multitude of ways. Seeing the signs that read, “WHITES ONLY,” and, “NO PUERTO RICAN MEXICANS,” was surreal. I myself am of Hispanic descent. I can’t imagine being persecuted by the majority of society on a daily basis. Especially with many of the persecution being inflicted by officials and prominent members of society. Who is left to protect you?  

   One fact that stood out to me in particular was that there are currently 13 states in America that try and convict children as adults. These children are abused in the worst ways because they are so vulnerable and helpless against an adult. It was hard to hold back tears. It is important for us to talk about these issues. I loved that the end of the museum was dedicated to asking hard questions about social injustices that are still happening and what we can do to end them. The Equal Justice Initiative has been working hard to end segregation and other injustices. 

   The last stop on our trip was the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. As I walked toward the memorial I was mesmerized by the repetition of the steel columns. There were so many columns. As I walked through I read each name. I knew that I could not remember them but I wanted to acknowledge them. Each of “them” being a person who was put to death by a mob of people. They were usually tortured first. These vicious acts of violence were committed against people for almost no reason at all. For “crimes” that were not even criminal or intentional most of the time. 

   As I walked through the memorial I noticed the columns rising in height. When I saw that the columns were hanging above me, as if from a tree, I stopped abruptly. I was sick to my stomach, my eyes were burning and my throat was dry. How could anyone do that to another human? For any reason? For no reason. Near the end of the hanging monuments we were able to read some of the reasons for a person to be lynched. One example included the brutal murder of a family of four when one of the male members voted. One fact that hit me hard was the number of people in the crowds for these heinous crimes.. The society would treat it as though it were a festival or fair. 

    One plaque stated, ”Horace Duncan and Fred Coker were lynched in Springfield, Missouri, in 1906 by a mob of 5,000 people.” I thought back to the Legacy Museum where I saw many photos and postcards with hands of smiling men surrounding a mutilated body hanging from a tree or a bridge. 

   After you get through the hanging columns you can see rows and rows of casket-like columns laying side by side. It was reminiscent of the photos I saw with African American people stacked next to each other and on top of each other below the ships deck on their way to America to be sold as slaves. The impact of standing there was deep emotionally and physically. 

    I’m thankful for the opportunity to have taken such a trip. I plan to research how I can do my part to end segregation and other social injustices.

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