Daily photos by Patrice Stewart|
At the end of the exhibits at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, these figures depict a coming together of blacks and whites, with other achievements highlighted nearby. You can tour for free Monday, the Martin Luther King birthday holiday, and every Sunday.
King’s legacy lives on at museum
Visit Birmingham Civil Rights Institute for a lesson in history
By Patrice Stewart
BIRMINGHAM — Got a holiday from school and work Monday?
Instead of lounging around the house, put the family in the car and head for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
While many museums are closed Mondays, as this one usually is, this week is different. The Civil Rights Institute will be open Monday — with free admission.
A walk through these 12 galleries is a good reminder of why Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is observed as a federal and state holiday.
If you remember the turbulent decades of the civil rights struggle, the museum’s photographs, news and television clips, timelines and other displays will be a good refresher course.
The visual displays and settings — a church, schoolroom, soda fountain, bus, courthouse witness stand, jail cell — will catch the attention of children and the younger generation who were not around in the 1950s and 1960s and will help teach them a lot of history.
Barriers to equal rights
One section addresses the barriers to equal rights that were in place, such as separate and unequal schools, restaurants, theaters and even baseball teams (the Birmingham Barons for the whites and the Black Barons for the blacks).
Figures of a white couple enjoying treats at an ice cream parlor while a black teen watches from around a corner bring it all home.
Then there are the drinking fountains: a fairly typical one marked “Whites” and a rusting sink with a drinking spigot labeled “Colored.”
‘Signs of Segregation’
Among the other “Signs of Segregation” are a neon sign that says “The Shanty: Steaks and Chops” with “For Colored” underneath.
Among the “Signs of Segregation” on exhibit is this one.
The importance of church and music in the lives of blacks is emphasized, along with backbreaking labor in iron ore mines and steel mills.
“Some Kind of Justice” shows a black in a courtroom; nearby are photos of lynchings and a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.
Part of a Greyhound with shattered windows from the Freedom Riders journey can be seen in one section, with sit-ins, harassment and violence marked on nearby timelines for both Alabama and the nation.
Voices from the past
Voices from the past — and past injustices — trail you throughout the building as husbands and wives, mothers and daughters all discuss what to do or where to sit on city buses with signs directing blacks to the back. A Rosa Parks figure sits in front of the “Whites only” sign in a depiction of her legendary refusal to move to the rear of the bus.
Then you see the 1963 descriptions of the “Bombingham” and “Tragic City” era, when four girls were killed in the explosion at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Later, police dogs and fire hoses greeted marchers nearby.
The door from the same cell where King wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is displayed, with an audio of it.
Various exhibits detail the “constant struggle” of the civil rights movement. At the exit, wooden posts note achievements such as the election of the first black mayor of Birmingham and first black Alabama and U.S. Supreme Court justices. Nearby, statues show blacks and whites walking and talking together in the movement whose time had come.
Juan Perkins says he was hit by a fire hose in 1963 when police dogs also were used. This statue in Kelly Ingram Park across from the Civil Rights Institute commemorates the event.
Walk across the street to Kelly Ingram Park to view statues of the policemen and snarling dogs once dispatched there, as well as a statue of King and four reflecting pools in memory of the four girls killed.
You may get a guided tour from one of the well-spoken people in the park who has learned to turn his knowledge of that era into cash.
“I was there on May 20, 1963,when I was 16 and in the Children’s March,” a man said, pointing out the spot where he and others faced Bull Connor and the police dogs.
He identified himself as Juan Perkins, 59, a homeless veteran who lost his wife and two daughters in a car accident. “I was hit by the fire hose but not the dogs,” he said, “and one of my sisters went to jail.”
For a $2 tip, that’s a plausible piece of history. If you want to be sure of the authenticity, you can pay more and get the official audio tour.
How to go
What: Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Where: 520 Sixteenth St. N., Birmingham
When: Open and free on Monday, Jan. 15; open Mondays through February; normal hours Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.
Admission: Free on MLK holiday; free on Sundays; normal tickets adults $10, seniors $5, college students $4, those 17 and under free
Information: (866) 328-9696 and www.bcri
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