Day two of the 2021 Civil Rights Trip began in Montgomery with the Equal Justice Initiative, the organization begun by Bryan Stevenson that is advocating for a thorough and honest reconciliation with America's racial history.
EJI's Legacy Museum builds a direct case for the connection between America's history of slavery and the current era of mass incarceration.
Four hundred years of history is told through a staggering variety of source documents, from slave advertisements to segregationist screeds from citizens councils, lynching postcards and letters from teenagers to their lawyers.
Everywhere, the voices of Black Americans are held in the center, through notes, testimony, interviews and recordings.
After the Legacy Museum, the EJI's National Memorial to Peace and Justice is jarringly quiet and almost wordless.
Pillars hang from the ceiling, one for every US county where a documented lynching or racialized killing has occurred.
Each pillar has the dates for each murder, and names, when they are available.
The space is peaceful and meditative.
It is also disorienting, and difficult to take in.
There's no one place to stand and see it all.
Instead, each visitor is silently swallowed up the history.
Things got loud again in Selma, with local activist Joanne Bland.
Her usual first stop, the steps of Brown Chapel, was occupied.
The Governor and the Mayor were having a press conference there later in the day.
Instead, Bland set up across the street and began telling stories about Brown Chapel that were probably not part of the afternoon's speaking program.
Bland is a lifetime practitioner of what John Lewis would call "good trouble".
She was arrested eleven times before she was thirteen, mostly for integrating lunch counters.
She participated in the famous 1965 marches across the Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge before she was in high school.
Since then, she has persisted: she is an intensely engaged citizen who has a story for every corner of Selma - and often, a critique.
She can perform a full textural and historical analysis of every plaque and sign in town.
She'll use a pebble and a scrap of sidewalk as a portal for time travel.
She will tell stories about neighbors that they probably wish she wouldn't.
It is a lot, and yet the students can't enough.
Some of her stories are hilarious, some are poignant.
Almost all of them come back to the importance of speaking up for what's right, even in the face of resistance.
Because, as she repeats, there's work that is still to be done.
She won't be able to do it herself.
So she extracts promises from Gordon's young people, a dozen times over the course of the afternoon.
Then she sends them across the bridge that she crossed when she was about their age, behind Dr. King as the Selma to Montgomery marches began.
How much of all of this penetrates an eighth grader's mind?
Some of them will process some of these experiences quickly.
Other things will unfold over years.
Here is a sample, then, some reflections they shared on the bus mic during the ride back to Montgomery:
It was very different going from EJI to crossing the bridge, because the bridge felt so hopeful. It kind of symbolized a switch from all of the negativity that happened, to a push for a better future and change. It was a good way to end the day.
This helped me think about allyship. Logically, of ourse, I knew that allies were important, and you should be one, but I feel like from all the stuff we did today - especially the bridge - I kind of realized how much it matters to be selfless. To not just fight for your own causes. To help other people as much as I help my own communities. I knew that logically, but I didn't realize it as much as I did today when I was imagining what the march across the bridge felt like in 1965.
Today was kind of an enlightening experience. We had already learned a lot of it in humanities, but it gave us the proper context to talk with somebody who is really passionate and experienced the entire process. Crossing the bridge helped top it off, and helped us think more about the future instead of the past, and just using the past to move forward.
Hear Ms. Bland tell some of her stories, including the one about car dealer O’Neal Hoggle, on NPR's true crime podcast White Lies)
A change of guard
This is the twentieth Civil Rights Trip.
The trip was developed by Assistant Head of School Lynn Bowman when she taught Gordon's eighth grade humanities.
The 2021 will be Ms. Bowman's last trip - she is leaving Gordon this summer - and the first one for Viva Sandoval, who is joining Gordon's eighth grade team officially in September.