When I was young, I used to think that museums were boring and I suppose a lot of other kids my age did too. But as I got older, I started to appreciate the preservation of artifacts that were part of history.
We visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the its on-site museum. The exhibits were very realistic instead of just using pictures or only one or two actual pieces from the time period. It was like immersing yourself into a 1950s classroom. I think this is a good way to bring history to life. They also had the piece of brick that embedded itself into church-goer Denise McNair’s head during the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church.
Museums can be really interactive. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was limited on interaction but right next to the museum was Kelly Ingram Park and the 16th Street Baptist Church, which are essentially museums themselves even though the church is still in use today and people use the park for various activities. I think those provided enough interaction just because of the history that happened there.
The 16th Street Baptist Church was the site of a bombing in 1963 and killed four young ladies and one boy and injured another boy and girl. Kelly Ingram Park is the sight of many protests, the largest and most notable one being on the 5th day of the Children’s March in Birmingham. Eugene “Bull” Connor ordered police to spray high-pressure water hoses on people, including children, and to make dogs attack people.
It’s also hard to believe that we were walking in the same places as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and every important person in the movement, including the children who marched there (well, they didn’t walk in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute of course since it was built in 1992).
We visited Meridian, Miss. and went to the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and the Freedom School, but all we had to look at was the overgrown grass lots where the buildings once stood. COFO was a coalition of organizations that encouraged blacks to vote and ensured that no one stopped them from voting. The city of Meridian decided to take the buildings down because they were not well kept and stood empty.
Our tour guide, Roscoe Jones, said that a few a people tried to save the buildings by registering them on the National Historical Society list but they were too late. Jones was a civil rights worker during the movement and still is for issues in the Meridian school system. Meridian schools are placing young kids under arrest for insignificant things like the wrong color socks with their uniforms.
It’s important that we preserve artifacts from history so that future generations learn how movements, laws and social change affect them and how they can go about changing things.