Montgomery to Selma to Atlanta
Eight years ago, Gordon’s Civil Rights Trip included a meeting with some lawyers in downtown Montgomery.
They called themselves the Equal Justice Initiative, led by Bryan Stevenson.
They were dedicated to approaching the contemporary criminal justice system as a present-day manifestation of the same historic and economic forces that produced slavery, lynchings, segregation and racial violence.
Public education was part of their plan.
The EJI got very good at that, very quickly.
Bryan Stevenson produced a memoir, Just Mercy, that became a movie.
They opened the Legacy Museum, an astonishingly well-researched, richly produced telling of American history that seamlessly connects the era of enslavement with post-Civil War racial violence, Jim Crow oppression and the mass incarceration of today.
They also built the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which covers six acres in Alabama’s capital city.
It’s America’s first memorial to victims of lynching and racial terror.
The memorial is a living museum, with new names being added as research advances, and an outreach programs that works with towns and counties that want to reckon with their legacy of violence.
Gordon’s eighth grade visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice this morning, as well as the Legacy Museum (where photos are not allowed).
Then they drove west to Selma, for a different kind of storytelling.
In a community center on Water Avenue, the eighth grade spent the afternoon with Lynda Lowery, who was the youngest person to complete the 1965 Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery.
Ms. Lowery is the sister of Joanne Bland, an old friend of Gordon’s who stopped in to greet the group.
For those alumni who remember Ms. Bland’s story of her sister being beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge: that was Ms. Lowery.
Those who remember Ms. Bland’s story of white blood and black blood: it was their mother who died when a transfusion arrived too late.
Ms. Lowery told her side of those stories, and many more, in a moving, deeply personal hour-and-a-quarter.
She was active in the Civil Rights movement at a young age; by age fourteen, she’d been arrested nine times for participating in protests, and she celebrated her fifteenth birthday on day two of the 1965 Voting Rights March.
Her story could be told simply: she was a young person, full of fire, who wanted to make a difference. She acted bravely, she helped change the world, and every day, she still notices and appreciates the impact she and her friends had.
And that’s all true.
But sitting with her, in person, in her own hometown, the eighth graders were privileged to get her story with a complexity and vulnerability that might be hard to access any other way.
She laughed about her youthful fearlessness, but then described the trauma of seeing herself being beaten in footage from 1965, and bluntly admitted she’s still struggling to process that experience.
She talked about savoring the small victories when she shops in Selma stores that were once segregated, but then called that past “a dark place to go in my mind.”
She is fiercely proud of what she helped accomplish, but confessed she wished her generation had hung together, and fought harder, for longer.
There was joy and pride, but also anger and sadness.
All of that belongs in a story that includes so much bravery, love and strategic foresight, but also so much violence, ignorance and cruelty.
After the eighth grade said their goodbyes, they retraced the 1965 marcher’s steps across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
Their Q&A with Ms. Lowery had finished with a poignant question.
A student asked her for the advice she would give her fifteen-year-old self.
She did not hesitate.
“I would tell her to keep her eyes open.”
“And to keep moving forward.”
She laughed and told the soon-to-be fifteen-year-olds: “If I had a hashtag, that’s what I’d want: #moveforward.”
Many more photos from today (100 uploaded of 175 at midnight EST)
Back to day two of the 2023 trip
Ahead to day four of the 2023 trip
More on the Civil Rights Trip at www.gordonschool.org/civilrights