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Civil Rights Road Trip: Selma and Montgomery, AL

Niki Kazahaya ’18 — This morning, we arrived at the Historic Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Selma, AL. We met with Diane Harris and Evelyn Babcock, two longtime members of Brown Chapel and individuals involved with the Civil Rights Movement. As a fifteen-year-old student, Harris became increasingly frustrated with the arbitrary and ambiguous evaluations her parents had to face when registering to vote, thus leading to her heavy involvement with the Selma to Montgomery marches.

Interacting with Diane Harris has made what the material we have previously covered much more tangible and real. In Politics of the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Gelbman, we have briefly touched on how this era is often perceived and framed to be a very distant event. However, being able to meet an individual who walked alongside prominent individuals like Dr. King or John Lewis is an alarming reminder that times of racial divide and discrimination was actually not that long ago. Furthermore, I think hearing the stories of Harris forced many of us to reflect on the Civil Rights Movement in relation to the current state of racial tension in the United States. In particular, Harris ended her talk by saying something along the lines of “We’ve come a long way since 1965, but the struggle continues…” Even fifty-two years after Selma and Montgomery, she remains still very active and dedicated to cause. As she uttered the words “the struggle continues,” I think many of us left Brown Chapel AME Church with a renewed sense of inspiration and conviction to approach these difficult racial issues that continue to be pervasive in the United States.

After visiting Selma, we also visited the Civil Rights Memorial of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, AL. A main attraction of the SPLC was a circular granite monument inscribed with the names of martyrs during the Civil Rights Movement. As an ode to King’s famous words “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” water flows from the center of the monument and over the engravings of each name. Visiting this museum touched on an important theme we have discussed throughout the semester. With each reading or discussion in PSC-210, we try to think about how it shapes our understanding of what is referred to the “master narrative”, or the traditional synopsis of the Civil Rights Movement. One flaw I have noticed with the master narrative is that it tends to oversimplify the Civil Rights Movement as being led only by individuals like Dr. King, President Kennedy, and President Johnson while glazing over numerous other individuals. I appreciated the attention to detail in the museum’s effort to document and honor the individuals that still played pivotal roles but are often neglected in the traditional narrative.