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Montgomery and Birmingham

(part of an ongoing series about activities during my sabbatical)

Our last stop in Montgomery before departing for Birmingham was the Rosa Parks Museum. The museum focuses on the life and legacy of Rosa Parks whose arrest on December 1, 1955 was a major catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted over a year and eventually led to the  end of segregation on the Montgomery buses.

While learning more about the Montgomery bus boycott, I realized that I had never truly noticed how long the boycott lasted and the corresponding challenges for those boycotting. Many of the boycotts in today’s society cost next to nothing for those involved in the boycott: whether it’s boycotting a particular movie, brand of beer, or a particular store. There are other movies to see and other stores to shop at.

But, for those who were boycotting the buses in Montgomery, this was something that affected them deeply every day. This entailed finding an alternative way to get to work and the grocery store for over a year. It was not unusual for people to walk eight miles per day to work. Churches worked to fund carpools and provide meals to boycotters. And they did this not for a week or two while it was in the headlines, but for 381 days. That is commitment and faithfulness.

One of the other fascinating and moving parts of our visit to the Rosa Parks Museum was a temporary exhibit entitled “Illusions of My Childhood” by Stephen Mangum. Mangum is a white artist who was born in Mississippi in 1954 who has fond memories of playing kick the can and riding his bike but was unaware of the plight of his Black neighbors, whether it was the lynching of Emmet Til or the murder of Medger Evans. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr when Mangum was a teenager awakened him to the hatred and bigotry that surrounded him.

In his art, he takes famous photos from the Civil Rights movement and then superimposes current day portraits of his grandchildren. He hopes through this to link the past and present and point to how the racism and inhumanity of his childhood have implications even for today. You can read more about the exhibit here or see a full selection of the artwork along with a corresponding description on Mangus’ website at

Below is one of the pieces of art. Note these were extremely large; this particular piece measures at 6’ x 9’ in size.

From Montgomery we drove to Birmingham and visited Kelly Ingram Park which was an assembly point for participants in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) Project "C," (for Confrontation)--sit-ins, boycotts, marches, and jailings designed to end segregation in Birmingham. These took place under the leadership of Rev Fred Shuttlesworth and Dr Martin Luther King Jr during the first week of May, 1963. It was as a result of these protests that Dr King was arrested and placed in jail during which he time he penned The Letter from a Birmingham Jail (mentioned in my previous article.)

In addition to King, the police jailed hundreds of other adult protestors. To add to the ranks of the protestors, the SCLC called on children to join in the protests. On May 2, Sheriff Bull Connor ordered the arrest of all picketers and by the end, nearly 1,000 children (some as young as 6). The protests continued and the police increased the violence of their response, turning water cannons on them (including the children) and unleashing police dogs which lead to several being severely wounded. Some of these incidents of racialized violence are commemorated by sculptures in the park (see below for two pictures.)

The perseverance of all involved led shortly to the desegregation of lunch counters, and shortly thereafter the repeal of the city’s Jim Crow laws and the desegregation of the library, city golf courses, public buildings, and finally the schools (remember that Brown v Board of Education had ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional in 1954 - this was 1963.)

In addition to the sculptures highlighting the courage and perseverance of those protesting racial segregation, there is also a sculpture in the park commemorating the four young girls who died in the bombing of the 16th St Baptist Church on September 15, 1963. This act of terrorism by white supremacists (the KKK) proved to be yet another galvanizing event and one that highlighted the work still to be done to end racialized segregation.

The park was a powerful place to reflect on the tragedy of those who suffered and lost their lives as well as the triumph of the SCLC and other organizations to highlight, combat, and end segregation through nonviolent protests.

We will remember,
Carl Franzon, Pastor