A Journey To Alabama

A Journey To Alabama
26 apr 2024 · 8 min. 14 sec.

On vacation, we travel for rest, relaxation & adventure. Other times, we brace ourselves and head out into a great unknown to bear witness, to expose ourselves to the horrors...

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On vacation, we travel for rest, relaxation & adventure. Other times, we brace ourselves and head out into a great unknown to bear witness, to expose ourselves to the horrors of history, to learn about people and actions that have impacted countless others, for generations, so we don’t let it happen again.
Visiting the Theresienstadt and Auschwitz concentration camps years ago was like that for me. Seeing where the horrors took place and hearing from people who lived it made history come alive in a very different way. Yes, it was painful, but unlike so many Jews, including my great uncles, I got to walk out and reboard the bus.
In many ways, my recent civil rights trip to Georgia and Alabama was like that. When you’re face to face with people who were there, on the very ground where atrocities were committed, you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. And knowing can lead to action.
As a child, outside of Boston in the early 1960’s, I heard about the civil rights movement. Of course, everyone is created equal, I thought, no matter their skin color. Why then could Hattie, our cleaning woman’s daughter, come and play at my house but I wasn’t allowed to visit her? If her neighborhood was dangerous, as my father warned, why did she live there?
The more I’ve learned about our country’s history, from slavery, through Jim Crow, the great migration, the fight for voting rights, police brutality to young black men, and mass incarceration, the more curious I’ve been to hear personal stories, especially from those who were on the front lines. As with Holocaust survivors, time is running out to hear first person testimonies from Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and from the park in Birmingham where vicious dogs and high-power water hoses were set on Black children.
Reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching films about the arc of African American history is powerful and, I believe, essential. To understand race relations in the U.S. requires an understanding of what’s taken place for hundreds of years and what is taking place today. But sitting with people – face to face – and hearing how their lives have been defined by the civil rights movement provides a deeper level of impact.
“I don’t know what it’s gonna take to make the world right. I do know that you should not be sitting, waiting for it to happen, for somebody else to do it.”
That’s the voice of Joanne Bland, a wise, passionate, straight talking, 70-year-old Black woman from Selma who vividly recalls staring into the window of the local drugstore where only the white kids could order sodas and sit at the counter. We met her in a large, dark space filled with artifacts and memorabilia from her life of activism. As a child, she told us, the women of her church were organizing to be able to vote in the upcoming elections. Then Reverend Martin Luther King Jr came to town and organized a Sunday protest march across the Edmond Pettus bridge. Joanne was 11 and she went with her then 15 year old sister, Lynda. When they came up over the high point on the bridge, they saw sheriff’s deputies, mounted on horseback, blocking their path. Within minutes, they were being chased and beaten. Lynda sustained serious head injuries but a few days later, stitched up and ready for more, Joanne’s sister went on to be the youngest person to march all the way from Selma to Montgomery.
Joanne Bland is among many featured in an excellent NPR podcast series entitled “White Lies” from which this audio was taken.
“When you talk about reconciliation, you have to talk about a way to distribute the power and nobody wants to give up any power. Any time there’s a minute shift in power, from the people who are holding the power, a battle ensues. I can give you a perfect example: the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Tell me one year it has not been under attack. C’mon, I’m listening. So, if voting’s not important, why would you try to keep it away from me and why would you try to stop people from voting after they get the right to vote if it wasn’t important?”
Joanne Bland co-founded the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma. Her sister Lynda Blackmon Lowery’s book “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom – My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March” is appropriate for young readers and is available on Amazon. In Birmingham, Alabama, we had the privilege of spending an hour with the Bishop Calvin Wallace Woods Senior, perhaps the feistiest, most passionate 90 year old I’ll ever meet. He told us about the March on Washington in ’63, what it was like the day the 16th Street Baptist church was bombed and those four young girls were killed. Hearing his voice crack as he shared the pain he and others endured at the hands of Bull Connor, then commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, was so powerful.
“During the movement, the Lord brought different songs to us. Sometimes, we didn’t know what people were going to sing but he always taught us to join in with those songs of heaven that he gave us. And let’s begin with one we used to sing, “I ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around, turn me around. I’m gonna keep on a walkin’, I’m gonna keep on a talkin’, marching up to freedom land.”
Our group of 26 was both white and Jewish and it was evident that each of us felt the pain and applauded the courage of these civil rights heroes. We returned to our homes, changed and resolved to do more, as the battle for voting rights continues. White Lies on NPR npr.org/whitelies
See the full video of Bishop Calvin Wallace Woods Snr. speaks to our Etgar 36 group at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yxAMUh4i6c
To purchase "Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March" on Amazon go to https://www.amazon.com/Turning-15-Road-Freedom-Voting-ebook/dp/B00KWG9J3Q/ref=sr_1_1?crid=L8MY8HX4IZ5V&dib=eyJ2IjoiMSJ9.6_xxEGWushkq6o17Ten5jyg9aPx4ziePIZ08MZ57Ajf1auRQ4oO5XHxHnlVrB9VU0XIxSC5pWQga-xRWxeBzoRaGAWGS2v6Mjabtk1VnEsgIBgJjA4r3yNKPUZnvlTJ0_8TWgm7IAuoeF-U0ILxeRuvePxpNVeBGxCkQzUn_lwuWV2mJOHdW3WLmiCgeQUNbdQ-P0yxel-b3AygRvCcsJAHGwSiwjU0y0MrHMd6U_8Q.N3FXXt_IdmUa21l_6ZfTMA-wu6qn8s4x804Q_ESqRdI&dib_tag=se&keywords=turning+15+on+the+road+to+freedom&qid=1714076701&sprefix=Turning+15%2Caps%2C202&sr=8-1

Joanne’s book, “By Accident: A Memoir of Letting Go” is now available from your favorite online book seller. Stay tuned to hear if Joanne will be speaking at a bookstore near you. If you’re interested in having her come to your local bookstore, contact her directly at joannergreene@gmail.com or get updates on her website at joanne-greene.com and make sure to sign up for her newsletter!
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