Blog by: Nate Butts ’23, Heisman Skeens ’23 and Logan Smith ’23
The focus of our group was the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial, and the path of Selma and the monuments within it. We were certainly excited when receiving these two locations. We didn’t know much about Tuskegee, so we would get the opprtunity to learn something new; and Selma was the location for a lot of sorrow and success in the Civil Rights Movement.
Selma is very important in the progression of the Civil Rights Movement because of its relation with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The groups traditionally did not like working together, but when the citizens of Selma called the SCLC in, members of SNCC, such as John Lewis, felt that it would benefit the city and other towns to unite in campaigning for voting rights. These great men and women of the Civil Rights Movement — notable leaders including Lewis, Hosea Williams and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — were the reason there was so much support in Selma.
During our visit to Selma, we were able to walk the path that all the protesters took during the several different trips across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where many people were beaten mercilessly the first time they attempted to do so. We were, quite literally, walking a historic path where many civil rights activists were not sure they would come out alive. We also visited the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church where many of the out-of-town visitors showed up to participate in the second and third marches. We got to see how, even today, the church stands as a center for the community around it.
One thing we noted during the Selma to Montgomery march was how steep the bridge was and how you have no idea what is on the other side. We discussed how it had to strike fear into the protesters on every march when they would walk up the hill and find a large police force on the other side. The protestors knew the dangers going into the march, but many of them were so fed up with the killing and unfair treatment of Black Americans that they felt it was worth it to risk their lives if it meant they got to vote and choose the leaders of the country. Being in this place where so much struggle occurred is not something that can be replicated in a book. We were blessed to be able to walk the path these people took and learn about the hardships they went through for the right to vote.
Tuskegee was another great part of the trip that we had not discussed very much prior to going to the memorial. It was interesting that even though the Black airmen, who came to be known as the “Red Tails” from the red on the tail of their planes, were very skilled fighter pilots, yet they were very disrespected by a large population of the armed forces and civilians. We examined many informational panels about the expert training the pilots received and it was interesting to learn that most of these men were trained further than white pilots. We also watched videos in the memorial of living Tuskegee airmen discussing what it was like to be a in Tuskegee as a Black man at that time. The videos were very powerful because many of the men talked about how Tuskegee was avoided by many pilots throughout the war, and a few planes even crashed because they ran out of fuel skipping over Tuskegee. The idea of having Black and white airmen in the same base was enough for people to want nothing to do with the entire base. These Black men risked their lives to defend the people of America, and they were still treated as subhuman by the people they fought with, and the people they fought for.
Being in this space allowed us to reflect on the struggles that these men would go through and the fear they felt just being in the same place as people who didn’t want them there. It truly speaks to the dedication and heart that was required for these men to serve in the war.
These experiences were truly unique, and will be ones which we carry with us the rest of our lives. While it is nice to be in Indiana with our families, we would never get the chance to see the locations where these historic events occurred if we did not just get up and physically go to them. These spaces have their own feelings and atmospheres, and this is something that is hard to understand simply reading about them. We are forever grateful for the opportunity to feel the sorrow and success of these people who sacrificed so much to get what they were promised in the first place: dignity and equality.