I would also like to do an advertisement for Staybridge Suites (three nights) and the Drury Inn (one night). They were helpful and took very good care of us. Their breakfasts are yummy: bacon, biscuits and gravy, sausage, oatmeal, fresh fruit, Belgian Waffles, cold cereal, and lots more – all we could eat.
We were up at 6:00 this morning. Since we don’t get in until 11:30 tonight, this is our longest day.
A few of us belong to the Southern Poverty Law Center and this morning we had a tour of the business offices. We had to go through the same safety procedures as we did yesterday. However, there was something new. The door from the lobby into the offices was the heaviest I have ever tried to open. Someone had to stand against it to keep it from closing. Why? It used to have bullet-proof glass, the same type of glass that was at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC when an anti-Semitic man killed the guard and shot his way into the Museum in 2009. Since hate groups feel the same way about the SPLC they do about Jews, the door was replaced with double bullet-proof glass. We worry about terrorists from the Middle East, but there are lots of terrorist groups within the country and they have their own agendas. As we are about to leave a man came in with a cart full of mail. Neatly folded on the cart were several white Ku Klux Klan robes. The Center has a closet full of KKK materials.
Less than two blocks from SPLC is the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. The ground was purchased in 1979 for $270. The land had been a slave trader’s pen where masters kept their slaves to await sales. The first worship service was held in its basement in 1885. In 1954 Martin Luther King became the preacher at Dexter Avenue. He and his new wife, Coretta Scott King, moved in to the parsonage two months after their wedding. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, the black community shifted into high gear to boycott the buses. Dr. King was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and the rest is history. We entered the basement to watch a video about the church. I sit in the room where the Montgomery Bus Boycott was planned surrounded by walls that had seen history made. I feel quiet, that I am in a sacred place. We then go upstairs to the sanctuary. Imagine my feelings when I stand at the lectern from which Dr. King spoke so eloquently so often. It was as though he reached back in time and took my hand.
This church is significant because Martin Luther King intersected history when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Before her decision he was a husband, father and preacher. After he was chosen as the leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association to deal with her arrest, his stature as a Movement icon began – as did threatening phone calls and notes.
A preacher needs a home and Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King moved into the Dexter Parsonage at 309 South Jackson Street two months after their wedding. The house is now a museum and we entered the house next door where we saw a video and got a talk from a feisty retired teacher, Ms. Cherry, who knew Dr. King. We congregate on the porch while Ms. Cherry hands Xavier, a high school sophomore, the key to open the door to the King home. Then we entered. I’ve seen the living room in pictures. And, the room is a clue to the rest of the house. It looked like my folk’s place in the 1950s complete with Melmac plates and cups on the table. There’s a plaque on the porch where the house was bombed. Two bedrooms, a dining room, a sitting room, a bathroom and a study made up the house where “they lived, loved and sacrificed.”
We were not supposed to take pictures, but I hadn’t heard that said. I only took one before I was reminded. Of all of the pictures I might have taken, it was the most important. It was the dining room table where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed – the group I joined to go to South Carolina in 1965. “Commitment” oozed from the walls of the house. After the bombing Coretta’s father came to take her and Yolanda to his home where it would be safe. She refused to go saying that she would stand with her husband. It was at the kitchen table that Dr. King finally chose to be a civil rights leader, rather than “just” a husband and father. My mind buzzed with the sense of commitment I felt before going to the South in 1965.
I felt myself standing a little straighter and feeling pride for what I had done and what I might yet do.
I came on this trip as a history teacher. I would have been satisfied on this level. But I felt something was going to happen, a direction would be given to me about where to go with the book. I’ve been thinking about a nation-wide voter project. But I’m only one person. How can I do it?