On a cold rainy spring day, I toured several critical locations in the city of Mongomery Alabama which is ground zero of the Civil Rights Era in America. In 1877 the Dexter St. Baptist Church was founded when congregants moved from the First Colored Baptist Church in Montgomery Al.
In 1954, at 26-years of age, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was chosen and assigned as the full-time minister for the Dexter St Baptist Church, which became the primary meeting location to when the decision was made to boycott the Montgomery City Bus lines. In 1974 the church was designated a National Historic Landmark, and in 1978 the name of the church was officially changed to Dexter Ave. King Memorial Baptist Church.
Literally around the corner is the Southern poverty law center civil rights memorial which is unique in its own right. Alabama lawyer and businessman Morris Dees who sympathized with the plight of the poor and the powerless was the son of an Alabama farmer, who grew up witnessing firsthand the devastating consequences of bigotry and racial injustice. Attorney Dees decided to sell his successful book publishing business to start a civil rights law practice that would provide a voice for the disenfranchised. His decision led to the founding of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Attorney Dees partnered with another young Montgomery lawyer, Joe Levin and they began taking pro bono cases others were never willing to consider.
Their early lawsuits successes had far-reaching effects resulting in the desegregation of recreational facilities, the reapportionment of the Alabama Legislature, the integration of the Alabama state trooper force and reforms in the state prison system.
The lawyers formally incorporated the Southern Poverty Law Center in 1971, and civil rights activist Julian Bond was named the first president. The two attorneys sought nationwide support and people from across the country responded with generosity, establishing a sound financial base for the new organization.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has been extremely successful in shutting down some of America’s most violent white supremacist groups with multimillion-dollar jury verdicts on behalf of their victims. Their work has dismantled the vestiges of Jim Crow, reformed juvenile justice practices, shattered barriers to equality for women, children, the LGBT community and the disabled, protected low-wage immigrant workers from exploitation, and more.
In the 1980s, the Southern Poverty Law Center began monitoring white supremacist activity amid a resurgence of the Ku-Klux-Klan and today its Intelligence Project is internationally known for tracking and exposing a wide variety of hate and extremist organizations throughout the United States.
For me, one of the most critical aspects of the organization is the launch of its pioneering Teaching Tolerance program to provide educators with free, anti-bias classroom resources such as classroom documentaries and lesson plans.
Today, it reaches millions of schoolchildren with award-winning materials that teach them to respect others and help educators create inclusive, equitable school environments.
When I was a young child in elementary school, (4th-grade) I wrote a book report about the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and what he meant to me as a child.
To sum up the report, It was the 1963 March on Washington speech that instilled in my mind the belief I could travel anywhere I wanted in the US and around the World. The following quote is what I remember most from the speech. (“black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boy’s and white girls as sisters and brothers.”)
It is because of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights workers and the Southern Poverty Law Center I congratulate and honor them because of their dedication, and sacrifices to ending the era of “Jim Crow laws” allowing me to travel around the US unencumbered without a fear of racial segregation, prejudice, and bigotry,
One of the more ironic aspects of my tour was learning the Alabama State Capitol and the Dexter Ave King Memorial Baptist Church share the same street with the Alabama Attorney General’s building in between as seen in the panoramic photo above. It is also ironic, that the first Capitol of the Confederacy and the Southern Poverty Law Center sharing the same street behind the above buildings.
I have toured the King Center for Nonviolent and Social change established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King in Atlanta which is the official Memorial dedicated to the advancement of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Many years ago I enjoyed my tour and visit of the Dr. King memorial statute positioned near the tidal basin in Washington DC. So if you are ever in the US, and want to discover and learn about the civil rights era check out these locations to discover, experience and learn.
So if you are ever in the US, stop by and tour these incredible locations to discover, experience and learn.