Montgomery to Selma
The second day of the Civil Rights Trip began at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
At the SPLC, lawyers, educators, researchers and community organizers work daily to challenge unjust laws, dismantle systemic racism and undermine hate groups.
Taken alongside both of yesterday's stops, the SPLC represents a third model for social change.
Like Alabama State University and the HBCU tradition, the SPLC uses established institutions to achieve its goals.
Like the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, as presented at the Rosa Parks Museum, it represents a coalition of like-minded individuals coming together in common cause.
What the SPLC does differently is that it professionalizes social change in a way the others do not.
For fifty years, people have been working full time at the SPLC "on behalf of the exploited, the powerless and the forgotten."
It's neither the "miracle" of the HBCU nor the "coincidence" of the Montgomery Bus Boycott legend.
It's a job. It's a profession. It's something that someone can grow up to be.
For young people who are starting to make decisions about what they want to do in life?
For young people who are looking to find their own place in these stories?
For young people who are inspired by stories of social change?
That's a powerful idea.
The next stop was Selma, Alabama, where students met Joanne Bland.
Joanne Bland has begun to get a national profile, but she is fiercely tied into the life of Selma.
Driving down the street with her, she has a story for every storefront, and the stories leap across the centuries.
A cell that held enslaved people fin the 1820s is next to a building rebuilt after a visit from President Clinton in the 1990s, across the street from a hotel owned by Selma's first black city councilperson, elected 1869.
"They weren't going to let that happen again," laughs Ms. Bland. Selma's next black city councilperson wasn't elected until one hundred years later.
Then Miss Hattie had fifteen children in that house, next to the church that was the SNCC headquarters, down the street from the car lot owned by the man who murdered James Reebe.
It can be dizzying.
It can also be hilarious.
In front of Brown Chapel AME, Bland explained the site's role in the march by talking about the relationship of Episcopal bishops to their congregations, the relationship of the church to movements for social change, and, finally, the relationship of the Bishop's wife to the Bishop.
Then she launched into a thoughtful, rich critique of the story told by the plaques in front of the church.
After yesterday's deconstruction of the Rosa Parks Museum, the students followed carefully as Ms. Bland tore apart a simple memorial.
Underneath that tree, Ms. Bland played a sort of memory game with the students, based on the names on one of the memorial plaques.
It was a fun way to illustrate some basic ideas about the importance of organization and the power of teamwork.
But it was also a stunning illustration of how deeply Ms. Bland knew this town.
As students named the citizens on the plaque, one by one, it became clear that Ms. Bland knew each one of them personally.
She could sing. He was "one of my boys". Another was the worst preacher the town had ever had. One more was her first boyfriend.
If the SPLC presents activism as a profession, Ms. Bland was embodying it as an all-immersive way of life.
The movement, as Ms. Bland describes it, is one grand story.
Before leaving the neighborhood to walk the children the Edmund Pettus Bridge, she took a few minutes to help them find their place in that story.
This patch of pavement is where we met to begin the first march from Selma to Montgomery in March 7th, 1965.
Each one of you, pick up a rock from the ground.
You, show me your rock.
Hosea Williams stood on that rock, back in 1965. He led that first march.
If you have that rock, you must be a history-maker too. Are you? Say it like you mean it.
Now you, your rock is one John Lewis stood on. Who can tell me one fact about John Lewis? Who can tell me another fact? He was a what? And another?
He was a history-maker and if you are holding his rock, you must be a history-maker too.
Now you. Hold that rock up.
I stood on that rock fifty-seven years ago, right here on this ragged cement.
I was eleven years old when I stood on that rock.
I followed John and Hosea to the bridge where we were beaten by law enforcement.
That day became known as Bloody Sunday.
Look at you holding that history in your hands.
You must be a history-maker too.
All of you are holding history in your hands, every one of you.
I think when you reuse, rename, tear down, new history begins.
But the history here is too important to the fabric of this nation to be forgotten.
What happened to us can never happen to another people.
By the grace of the creator, it was me that time, but next time, it could very well be you.
And you will be ready.
You are the ones I've been waiting for.
Thank you for coming.