The South and Me by Trichia Bravi

 

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Trichia Bravi (on left) and her classmates

Ecstasy is the best way of describing my feeling when I signed up for this class. Before entering college, I seldom traveled, and this class was the best opportunity to travel.As a northerner, I never envisioned enrolling in a southern university, let alone going on a nine-day road trip through the Deep South. However, I have always been open to new experiences that put me outside of my comfort zone. As a result, I can say the South has had its effect on me, as my mom points out whenever I say “ma’am” or “y’all.”

I cannot imagine a better way to be introduced to the Deep South than through this journey. Prior to the class, I did not know there were nearly as many museums dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement. I can say without a doubt that I had strong emotional responses at every stop. I could not stop thinking about my family. My sister is biracial, and it terrifies me that the community might have persecuted her as well as her father, and our mother. We would have lived in fear, and it makes me realize that people still live in fear and there are still many hateful people in the world.

However, I also realized that there were so many sympathetic people of every race. During the Freedom Rides, people came from all over the country (and other countries) to risk their lives on buses for the simple right of integrated travel. One of the most heartwarming and surprising facts that I learned was about the 12-year-old girl in Anniston, Alabama who brought water out to the freedom riders as they were choking on smoke. This girl, whose father was complicit in the bus bombing, knew that people needed help and put race aside in order to do what needed.

I wish I could say that I understand why people had such an issue with integration; it does not make sense to me. I know that people were afraid of miscegenation and white women losing their “racial purity,” but sitting next to a black man in school or on the bus does not automatically result in pregnancy. I did learn, however, that I do not need to understand why people have those opinions and perspectives. Rather, it is my job to stop injustices when I see them and to try to change hearts and minds. After all, I did make a pledge and I intend to keep that pledge.

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The Monograph, the Documentary, the Story by Trichia Bravi

  Raymond Arsenault’s Freedom Riders gives an extensive account of the Freedom Rides of 1961 within the context of the Civil Rights Movement. Reading the monograph and watching the documentary film helped bring the actions of the freedom riders to life. Sometimes the human aspects of the past are lost in the study of history.Hearing individual stories from the riders themselves makes the experience more real and personal for those who study this information in the twenty-first century.

After finishing the book, I want to read the unabridged version so that I can learn more about the courageous individuals who participated in the rides. When the Civil Rights Movement comes up, most people immediately think of Martin Luther King Jr. However, despite everything King did for the movement, so many other people deserve credit for

North Carolina A&T University Sit-In in Greensboro, North Carolina

their brave acts. Even though none of the freedom riders were seeking fame or trying to become martyrs, it does not mean that history should not recognize them. The freedom riders were just as brave as those who participated in sit-ins, jail-ins, and the many marches of the 1960s, yet many of these people seem anonymous and unknown.

In the eyes of many, King was responsible for the successes of the Civil Rights Movement. However, historian Raymond Arsenault notes that initially King did not  support the freedom riders. It was not until the rides began to garner national attention and violent reactions that some movement leaders started to voice unified support. King’s refusal to participate in any freedom rides upset many riders, but was best since his presence on a bus would have incited more violence and turmoil in cities like Birmingham and Montgomery. I understand the desire to have the iconic Dr. King on the trip to give the rides gravitas in the eyes of the public and other activists who were skeptical.

According to Arsenault, King had little to do with the Freedom Rides. I find it most impressive that men and women my age (and even a few years younger, in some cases)

Diane Nash

took this terrifying yet crucial movement into their own hands. For Attorney General Robert Kennedy to ask “who the hell is Diane Nash” is simply incredible to me. Nash not only organized and motivated fellow students and activists in the Nashville Movement, she also managed to anger the Attorney General of the United States prior to the age of the internet—this seems like quite the feat for a young, college woman.

Freedom Riders is a magnificent book that includes individual accounts of riders, reactions from the Kennedys, and descriptions of the vast southern opposition, all while noting this troublesome history in the context of the Cold War. While the corresponding documentary film evoked an emotional reaction in me, the book certainly did as well. A monograph must be written incredibly well  in order to make someone want to yell, cry, act, and read again, and Arsenault made me feel more than I could describe.

Tracking Hate by Trichia Bravi

Hate is not only a strong word; it is also a powerful emotion. Hatred has caused many acts of violence and contempt. During the 1961 Freedom Rides, the American Nazi Party drove from Arlington, Virginia to the Lower South in a hatebus2“hate bus” to assist the Ku Klux Klan by intimidating the Freedom Riders. Hate was prevalent during the Civil Rights Movement, but I would argue that people were far more fearful than hateful. People fear the unknown. Within the last five decades or so,  Americans have feared desegregation, miscegenation, communism, terrorism, and people who are different.  More recently, the most feared group are Muslims.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) formed in Montgomery, Alabama primarily to battle hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.  Its museum exhibits the horrible results of fear and hatred. Too many people, as demonstrated by their Civil Rights Memorial, have suffered at the hands of hate and fear. People may say, “Well the Civil Rights Movement was fifty years ago, our society has moved passed that now.” Wrong! According to the SPLC, there were 892 active hate groups organized in the United States in 2015. Yes, Jim Crow segregation is not as explicit anymore, but hatred remains a problem as demonstrated by 190 separate KKK groups that are active more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement. The hatred is not limited to blacks, however. No one is protected from hatred. SPLC_NeoNazi_02There are neo-Nazis, neo-confederates, anti-LGBT, extremist religious groups, black separatists, and many other hate groups scattered across the United States. As a country, we are at a point in history when hatred and fear are being exploited. The best example is Donald Trump’s campaign and the widespread support he has gained from hate groups, and their spokesmen like David Duke..

Cruz and Kasich have both halted their campaigns, and Trump is virtually guaranteed the Republican nomination. He has overcome a large obstacle on the road to the White House, and while many find it frightening, his success is deeply intriguing. In part, hate and fear fuels his campaign, yet he has unending support. As he said, he could go out onto the street, shoot and kill someone, and would not lose a single voter. However, I neither believe that every single person who supports Trump is a hateful person, nor do I believe his supporters are fearful and that Trump makes them feel safe.

I believe the same was true of  white southerners during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1961 Montgomery, not every person who supported segregation attacked Freedom Riders at the bus station.  Most people who supported segregation were afraid of change, miscegenation, and losing their white privilege. Segregation was normal and familiar to them, and it is understandable that they did not want to lose that. However, when fear turns into hate and hate turns into violence is when we should be worried.

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The “Hate Map” adapted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, tracking active hate groups by their location and the groups they hate

Selma as it Stands Today by Trichia Bravi

Driving down Broad Street and Water Avenue, the only things I noticed were closed businesses and dilapidated buildings. Once a beautiful, prosperous city, Selma is the seat of Dallas County, the poorest county in Alabama and one with a rich history rooted in the Civil Rights Movement. As my classmates noted, Selma has wonderful potential. 13177127_10204842273616787_8294727921831880143_n.jpgThe Edmund Pettus Bridge brings tens of thousands of visitors to Selma, according to Jerria Martin, candidate for mayor. However, many visitors take their picture at the foot of the bridge, and then go on their merry way. The bridge brings people to Selma, but nothing keeps them in there. We told Martin that we were spending two days in Selma, the longest stay in any one place on our trip.  She was very pleased and appreciated our quest to learn more about Selma and its problems.

The Selma Interpretive Center, Brown  A.M.E. Chapel Church, and the National Voting Rights Museum are vastly educational, but our discussion with Jerria Martin about the current condition of Selma has remained most salient in my mind. The city that people recognize for “Bloody Sunday” and the Voting Rights March, still has strained race relations. The schools and neighborhoods remain segregated. Racial disparity even extends to public facilities, like the separate YMCAs—the one for whites is an open, large, beautiful facility, and the one for blacks closed years ago.

Of the 20,000 people currently in Selma, about 80% are black. Even after the passage of the 13139307_10204842273456783_8999698574501624113_nVoting Rights Act of 1965, and increased numbers of black registered voters, Selma did not have its first black mayor until 2000. The election of James Perkins ended Mayor Joe Smitherman’s long 36 years of service. Although small, the white population of Selma has remained in political power, systematically keeping Selma in perpetual state of segregation. According to Martin, Selma’s decline began in 2000–business have continued to close; buildings are crumbling; roads are sinking, the crime rate soars, and the numbers of impoverished people are staggering.

Martin agrees with our enthusiasm and vision of Selma’s possible future prosperity. She is tired, yet hopeful: she wants to see the infrastructure improved, roads rebuilt, public transportation St. James Hotelinitiated, and businesses restarted. Running for mayor as the youngest candidate, and first woman, she is up for a challenge against James Perkins and incumbent Mayor George Evans. While I am not in any position to determine which candidate is best for Selma, my hope is that the citizens of Selma exercise their voting rights and elect the best person for the job. Selma has been too important to the history of this country to fall apart now. The people of Selma, white and black, are more resilient than that. Selma deserves more than simply its historic reputation. One day, I hope I can go back to Selma and genuinely say that it is once again a beautiful city.

Justice for 16th Street Baptist Church by Trichia Bravi

Until this week, I thought I had a good understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. I knew of the intimidation tactics used by the Ku Klux Klan, the beatings of nonviolent protesters, and the bombings of various activists’ houses and churches. However, I was unaware of one of the most troubling KKK attacks: the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Two years after the initial wave of Freedom Rides in May of 1961, and the violence ensuing in Birmingham, the Civil Rights Movement was still in full swing, with the focal point then on city-wide desegregation integration of schools rather than interstate travel. The most prominent black church in Birmingham, the 16th Street Baptist Church, became the center for civil rights activists and community mass meetings, thus making it a target for violent retaliation in 1963.

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Ku Klux Klan robe donated to Birmingham Civil Rights Institute 

On September 15, 1963, just eleven days after the integration of schools in Birmingham, four Klansmen ignited multiple sticks of dynamite under the steps of the church. At 10:22 that morning, people heard and felt the explosion many blocks away. Glass shattered, walls crumbled, and a place of worship was damaged..

Sunday School was in session and the congregation had begun to gather. The explosion injured over twenty people and killed four young girls. They were Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson.

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Pictured from left to right: Addie Mae Collins (14), Carole Robertson (14), Denise McNair (11), Cynthia Wesley (14)

The oldest was fourteen years old. Their killers were aKKK splinter group called the Cahaba Boys. Despite this horrible crime, not one of their perpetrators—Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton or Bobby Cherry—were convicted until 1977, 14 years later. Only one of them, Robert  man (Chambliss) was found guilty of murder.

Two of the other men listed, Blanton and Cherry, were convicted of murder in 2001 and 2002, respectively. Cash passed away in 1994 at the age of 75 before the reopening of the case which resulted in Blanton’s and Cherry’s convictions.

Many have been critical of the delayed justice. While I do believe everyone is entitled to due process and a fair trial, I also believe in proper justice for victims. Four girls lost their lives. While three of the four men  responsible for this crime were convicted of murder,  justice was not served. A jury convicted Chambliss at the age of 73. Blanton was convicted when he was 70 and Cherry when he was nearly 72. Cash lived until he was 75 without a murder conviction. They lived full lives, which is more than I can say about their victims. That is not justice, and not fair.

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Newspapers from around the country after the bombing on September 15, 1963

The most justice that resulted from this horrific tragedy was passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and national realization of the dire consequences of southern discrimination. I find it distressing, however, that it took the death of four children for the nation to take serious action.