Fun fact: I have never written a blog before! Well, I wrote one the other night, so a more truthful statement would be: I had not written a blog until participating in Marching Down Freedom’s Road. Ironically, for the IB French and Spanish courses that I teach, one of the text types that the curriculum requires the students to know is the Blog. In other words, students in IB language classes should be able to write blog. They have to produce between 450 and 600 words in the target language with a time limit of one hour and thirty minutes to be exact. As I write this blog entry, it strikes me as ironic that I had never written a blog prior to this tour. And they say that those who can’t, teach.
I recall that in the IB Formatting Guide, a blog can have numbered lists, so here goes…
1. That’s a lot of Civil Rights Museums: I would estimate that we visited around 8 different museums dedicated to the topic of Civil Rights. As someone who is not directly responsible for teaching about the Fight for Freedom in the United States, I recognize that I had (and continue to have) a lot of gaps in my knowledge. Fortunately, the overlap between all of these institutions we visited reinforced my understanding of key concepts, events, and individuals. In addition, the articles and resources provided by Dr. Naragon helped to improve my background knowledge about this important aspect of American History.
By visiting various museums, one can compare and contrast how the museums approach the topic of Civil Rights. Obviously, there are many similarities and quite a few differences. The newer museums tended to have all the “bells and whistles” that might make them more attractive to a younger audience. To be honest, seeing how well appointed some of the museums were gave me a sense of pride as an African American. When I considered the amount of money that had to have been spent to create these incredible resources, it felt good to know that the government officials and private donors found Black history valuable enough to preserve it. Also, I felt buoyed by the idea that African Americans no doubt had a hand in planning these wonderful repositories of knowledge. Furthermore, interacting with the employees of color who staff these museums gave me the impression that they take pride in their jobs and in the institutions they serve.
But not all of the museums were state-of-the-art however. One in particular comes to mind—The National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, located in Selma. This museum lacked a lot of the accoutrements that made some of the other museums, such as the Legacy Museum in Montgomery or the Birmingham Civil Rights Center, seem so attractive. The general state of the museum was noticeably poor. The building in which the museum is housed seems to be in a slight state of disrepair. There was a lack of interactive exhibits and there were even handwritten signs and placards. To some this may be slightly off putting or it may appear unprofessional. But on the other hand, the museum had a trove of information. In some ways, I can appreciate this museum even more because despite lacking the financial funds, individuals made such an effort to preserve this important history. And they did this seemingly without help. Meeting individuals like Joanne Bland and Michelle Browder also gave me a sense of pride in the sense of agency and entrepreneurial spirit they displayed. And I suspect if it were not for Classrooms Without Borders, I would have not had the opportunity to meet these capable, powerful women.
2. The moment I was kind of dreading: The idea of visiting the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed filled me some dread and apprehension. Perhaps the source of these emotions was the fact that I was not sure how I was going to react or even how I was supposed to react. What if I broke down? Or what if I simply felt nothing at all or numb? These were questions that were swirling in my mind the days leading up to Day 7.
In similar fashion to some of the other museums we visited during our visit to the lower south of the United States, the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel approaches the Fight for Freedom in a chronological manner, which was comforting as by the seventh day, I had become pretty familiar with the events represented in the museum’s exhibit. This is a testimony to all of the resources provided by Dr. Naragon and also by the visits we have made during the trip. Of course, even still, I knew how the story would end, and yet I was anticipating and dreading coming face-to-face with Dr. King’s final moments. The whole time I snaked through the museum, I kept bracing myself for this moment.
When I approached the fateful room 306, there was a back-up of sorts. Noticeably, there was a group of ab about eight young male students congregated in the last section of the museum. These young gentlemen were dressed informally in athletic gear and were conversing pretty loudly. I found their presence and their behavior to be distracting—and frankly, annoying. Part of me wanted to intervene by asking them to have more decorum in this part of the museum that could be emotionally difficult for others, including me. I quickly suppressed this impulse thinking that any effort to make them more respectful would be futile and might even be rebuffed. At any rate, they moved on and I could focus on the events of April 4, 1968.
As I read the description of his last moments, tears came to my eyes, and I felt a strong sense of loss well up inside of me. The feeling was brief, but acute. However, I didn’t have much time to dwell on that feeling because there was a couple behind me with a baby carriage. I felt as though they were losing their patience and were pushing me along. Maybe they felt pushed along by the people behind them. But again, I felt a slight feeling of annoyance. I thought who brings a baby to a museum! And, I thought: this kid is way too young to even remember anything. Then it occurred to me that perhaps the issue of Civil Rights was so important to the parents that perhaps they brought the young child to expose him the principles espoused by Martin Luther King Jr.; a baptism of sorts. Or perhaps they just couldn’t get a babysitter. Who knows.
My thoughts then turned to the young men who had annoyed me earlier. Perhaps even though they were engaged in conversation at the most poignant part of the museum, maybe it was still beneficial for them to be there on this day. I thought that maybe their presence at the museum was planting a seed in them that would germinate and later blossom. Perhaps they were conversing to help themselves deal with difficult emotions and I was judging them too harshly. Then, I turned the corner to find this group of young people in the small theater which follows the exhibit with King’s last moments, their faces illuminated by their mobile phones. They weren’t even paying attention! Rather than watch the movie, I simply exited the museum in a huff, entering the gift shop.
3. Focus on the principles: One of the practices that I hope to take away from this tour involves Dr. King’s Six Principles of Nonviolence. It may be surprising to some, but this is a new concept for me. When I first read the principles at the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, the one that caught my attention was: Nonviolence recognizes that evil doers are also victims. I am not sure why, but this idea has been stuck in my head ever since. One of the changes I hope to make is to look at all of these principles and to incorporate them into my life. I know that is easier said than done.