We began our journey by meeting in the brisk morning air outside of Rodef Shalom & receiving our Classrooms Without Borders merch!
After a few hours of sleep we stopped in Beckley, WV for some much needed caffeine & snacks. We selected from sandwiches & genuine WV pepperoni rolls & got to observe some creations of talented artisans from all around the state.
On we went to our first destination, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro, NC.
As we neared the ICRC&M we learned that while the first lunch counter sit in was held in Greensboro, Winston Salem has the distinction of being the first successful sit in. At Greensboro four initial activists challenged segregation at Woolworths. This protest grew to include college students from both white and black only colleges & universities, women’s only colleges, and then later high school students from the local segregated schools. These young students kept the protest going when summer break started. Much like the Montgomery bus boycott, the lunch counter sit ins also put an economic pressure onto local business owners and their employees.
The ICRC&M demonstrated many of the participants and methods of the Civil Rights Movement by highlighting various struggles like Woolworths sit in, the March on Washington, the Children’s Crusade. Pictures, audio, the preserved Woolworths Counter and artifacts throughout created a comprehensive experience for us.
To me the most provoking exhibit was the Hall of Shame. Within this room we saw intentionally fragmented images depicting horrifying scenes. African American children and young adults being attacked with fire hoses. African American men’s lynching were documented and the sneering, disgusting and celebratory looks on white participants faces were also documented. We witnessed pictures of a victim and survivor of the 16th st Baptist church bombing & learned how the young child was blinded in the blast & stained glass had to be carefully removed from her skin. To close the exhibit we looked at the startling images of Emmett Till, prior to and after his attack.
A quote seemed to reverberate in my brain as we looked at these images & heard the stories of victims and survivors. These people who lived with the lasting consequences of racism and hated – endured “man’s inhumanity to man.” The fragmented images showed a divided country that was both torn apart and brought together by hatred. The extremes that white people in the south went to in order to maintain the social & economic order were barbaric & hard to grasp. It’s unbelievable but also extremely believable. The exhibit was challenging and made us all think about the consequences of hatred and ignorance.
Following the ICRC&M we did a walking tour of Greensboro and observed several coffee cups representing the four integrationists’ efforts at Woolworths, each with their own unique quote related to the Civil Rights Movement.
Across from the last cup we see a historical marker for the site where Jefferson Davis and his cabinet discussed the confederacy’s surrender. The sign includes the dates but not the actual event that’s occurring. Leading one to possibly interpret the meaning differently or possibly view the confederacy as a legitimate government.
We interpreted this juxtaposition as perhaps historians challenging the narrative – providing a conversation by having the art & the easily misinterpreted historical marker across the street from one another
Our group then went to check in to our hotel & grab some dinner. Our first day, filled with history conversation & many hours of travel came to a conclusion.