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Civil Rights Road Trip: Reflections by J. Williams

James Williams ’20 — Even though I grew up knowing the stories and the songs of the Civil Rights movement, seeing it, being there, hearing it and experiencing what had happened during that time took my breath away. Not only did we get to see the pictures, watch the videos and be in the same spot where some of the tragic and horrific events occurred but we had the chance to close our eyes and place ourselves in the shoes of these activist and leaders. One moment that emotionally dimmed my soul and brought me to the realization of the Civil rights movement would be when we visited the 16th Street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama. To see the head stones of Addie Mae Collins (Age 14), Denise McNeil (Age 11), Carole Robertson (Age 14) and Cynthia Wesley (Age 14), who had their lives taken far too soon at a place of safety and refuge, was extremely hard to cope with. I could not understand that someone hated a race enough to bomb a church killing four innocent young girls who were getting ready for “Youth Day” early that Sunday morning. Growing up in an African American church, I always felt a presence of peace and comfort at African American churches, even at funerals the atmosphere would uplift your spirits and give you peace of mind, but walking into the 16th Baptist church seeing the photos, watching the documentary and seeing the headstones made me feel the real effect of the Civil Rights movement allowing me to understand why so many people risked and lost their lives for this cause. Going on this trip to the south has impacted me in multiple ways not only by teaching me my history but teaching me how the past plays a vital role in the present and future and provides little comfort knowing that America has changed and is still changing as we all come together showing peace, love respect and equality.