Thursday, December 11, 2014

Birmingham, Alabama, November 17

In Birmingham, I was excited to reunite with more friends!  Adrienne and Bill lived in Texas for a couple of years when our kids were young.  Adrienne and I were both social workers who had offices near each other and we became fast friends.  She and Bill have two daughters who are close to my daughters' ages so our families hung out together and did "kid stuff" together. Then they moved to Amarillo and later, back to Alabama, where they were from.  We figured out we hadn't seen each other since around 1999.  But we've kept in touch at the holidays and with an occasional phone call over the years and I knew I wanted to see them when we set our route for the road trip.

You know how you have those friends where you can just pick right up where you left off, as if no time had gone by?  That's how this visit was.  We started talking and laughing and it was as if time had fallen away.  They were both very welcoming to Rich and he enjoyed them very much. We went out for some "real" southern cooking and had lots of great conversation about life.  Adrienne had to work the next day but left us some breakfast and a huge goodie bag of snacks, water, and necessities for the road--how thoughtful is that?   Bill is retired so we spent the morning together and he went with us to see some Civil Rights sites in Birmingham.  We wish we'd had more time and I think we've convinced them to come see us in Alaska next summer.  :)  Thanks, Adrienne and Bill, for taking care of us!

The 16th Avenue Baptist Church, where four little African American girls were killed during a bombing by white supremacists in 1963.  Such an ugly part of our history.

Their names are:  Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair. What grief their families, friends and the community must have felt. To think that your children are not even safe inside a church must have broken the hearts of all but the most heartless.
At least 20 more people were injured and two more Black teens shot to death in the aftermath, leading to Birmingham to being nicknamed "Bombingham" during the Civil Rights movement. However, the church bombing was seen as something of a turning point throughout the country.  As the news story reached the national and international press, many felt that they had not taken the struggle seriously enough.  A Milwaukee Sentinel editorial stated, "For the rest of the nation, the Birmingham church bombing should serve to goad the conscience. The a sense are on the hands of each of us."  (From Wikipedia).

Many years later, some of the men who bombed the church were finally brought to justice.  Alabama Attorney General William Baxley reopened the investigation when he took office in 1971.  He stated he had been a student at the University of Alabama when the bombing took place in 1963. "I wanted to do something but I didn't know what." In 1977, former Ku Klux Klansman (okay, am I the only person who thinks this is such a ridiculous name for an organization??) was indicted for the murder of all four girls, tried and convicted of the first degree murder of Denise McNair and sentenced to life in prison. He died eight years later in prison.  Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr. was tried in 2001 and found guilty at age 62 of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.  Herman Frank Cash died in 1994 without ever being charged.  Bobby Frank Cherry, also a former KKK member, was indicted in 2001.  He was first found mentally incompetent to stand trial but later convicted in 2002, sentenced to life in prison, and died in 2004.

Kelly Ingram Park, where many demonstrations and actions took place, is located right across the street from the church and the Civil Rights Institute, which we also toured.

 Dogs were regularly set upon protestors.  As you walk through this area, it's as if the dogs are actually coming at you.
 Water guns that were used on protestors

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After a full morning of history, we met some more friends at the Art Museum for lunch.  Mona was a classmate of Rich's and mine when we went to high school in NJ.  Although I did not know her very well in school and I left after sophomore year, Rich stayed till graduation and shared some classes with her. We had reconnected on Facebook a few years ago and she messaged us that they live right outside Birmingham. Since we had limited time, she suggested we meet at the Museum. We had a great time catching up with Mona, her husband Bill and their adorable little granddaughter.
It's always fun to see people from the past and get reacquainted!  Thanks, Mona and Bill, for coming out to meet us!

After lunch, we hit the road for Selma.

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