I had several days off from work recently. Even though I had planned a road trip centered around stops at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water house in Pennsylvania and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, I stayed home. It is much less expensive to have a staycation, and the “stay” part of the word had, in fact, forced my decision – five or six days of hotel/motel rates are far beyond my allowable budget.
Yes, there was yardwork. Yes, there were home chores. Yes, there was sleeping-in. Yes, there was dietary and physical self-improvement. And, yes, I spent a little time discovering parts of my city.
One thing I did was visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which is located directly across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church. The Church was the site of the 1963 bombing that killed four young girls. It is an iconic landmark, and the Institute – opened in 1992 – has become a must-see destination for visitors to the city. I had never been before.
So, 22 years after its opening, this Birmingham resident since 1987 finally gets there. It’s an immersive experience, the stiff but verbose ticket-taker told me. She also said that I would be takng the self-guided tour – do-it-yourself, if you will. However, there was a large group of mostly-elderly black visitors being led into the museum directly ahead of me, so I joined their tour. It turned out that they were former members of the Birmingham Black Barons baseball teams of decades ago, in town for the next day’s annual Rickwood Classic. I felt honored just to be in their presence.
Across the street from the Institute, kitty-cornered from the 16th Street Church, is Kelly Ingram Park (formerly West Park), a full city-block park that holds an interesting place in civil rights history. It was on this square of land that people would gather prior to heading out on protests during the ’60s. It has been updated as a stop on Birmingham’s “Freedom Walk.” A circular path around the park is dotted with statues and sculptures detailing highlights and aspects of the local battle for basic rights.
The Children’s Crusade monument has greater impact when viewed through the iron bars of the prison window, placed across the Freedom Walk. On May 2nd, 1963, 959 children, ages 6 to 18, were arrested under the direction of Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor.
The inscription at the base of James Drake’s monument reads: I AIN’T AFRAID OF YOUR JAIL.
“Police Dog Attack” by James Drake:
Dogs were used to frighten and attack protesters during this struggle. The Freedom Walk passes between two walls from which sculptures of vicious dogs leap out. It is quite unnerving. It is meant to be.
Again (below) with the dogs.
This statue is titled The Salute to the Foot Soldiers, and was created by Dr. Ronald Scott McDowell. The plaque at its base reads:
This sculpture is dedicated to the foot soldiers of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement.
With gallantry, courage and great bravery they faced the violence of attack dogs, high powered water hoses and bombings. They were the fodder in the advance against injustice, warriors of a just cause; they represent humanity unshaken in their firm belief in their nation’s commitment to liberty and justice for all.
We salute these men and women who were the soldiers of this great cause.
Richard Arrington, Jr.
Mayor of Birmingham