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Freedom Ride 2021

"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."

We started our journey on Sunday, July 25 at 2:00 pm as we drove to Atlanta, Ga. with 11 high school youth. We settled in our hotel and then had dinner.

On Monday, July 26, we met Omar, our Atlanta Black History and Civil Rights tour guide in Atlanta. The highlight of the tour was the Historic West End, Atlanta's oldest neighborhood. We toured Vine City, one of the oldest Black neighborhoods in Atlanta, where we saw Booker T. Washington High School, the first black public high school. We drove on Martin Luther King Drive, a thriving area for black businesses, including Paschal's restaurant. We ended our tour at Sweet Auburn Avenue, the most famous black neighborhood. We visited the King Center, where Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta were laid to rest. We saw the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the homeplace of Dr. King, and MLK Park as well, though much of it was still closed due to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, July 27, we drove to Birmingham, AL, and went straight to the 16th Street Baptist Church. I loved how the opening line of the tour was, "Welcome to 16 Street Baptist

Church, where Jesus Christ is the main attraction." 16th Street Baptist served as headquarters for civil rights mass meetings and rallies in the 1960s. There were many marches and demonstrations in Birmingham. On Sunday, September 15, 1963, at 10:22 am, the church became known worldwide when a bomb exploded, killing four young girls attending Sunday School and injuring more than 20 other members of the congregation. The tragedy of that Sunday produced an outpouring of sympathy, concern, and financial contributions to restore the church's damage. I thought

it was interesting that the people of Wales sent a unique memorial gift of a large stained glass window with an image of a Black Jesus. The window is at the rear of the church on the balcony level. We then went to the Civil Rights Institute just across the street, where we were given a preview of what we were going to see and hear about in Selma and Montgomery. For a different angle of our trip, we proceeded to Rickwood Field, the oldest baseball park in the US. Opening day was August 18, 1910. A volunteer, Gerald Walters, gave us the tour, and we focused on how Jackie Robinson, the first black ballplayer, got his start with the Birmingham Braves at this field. Other famous players, like Babe Ruth, played at Rickwood Field, and they have all the photos.

On Wednesday, July 28, we drove to Selma, AL. There met Anne Catherine Reeves, a resident of Selma and

a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church there. She was our tour guide. We toured the Tabernacle Baptist Church, founded by Christian Stewardship and Justice. This church had identical front and side entrances; the front entrance was on the main street, which the church members (black) were not allowed to use. They could only enter on the side street. The home in which Martin Luther King stayed and conducted negotiations with President Johnson has been preserved in its 1960s state. We visited Brown Chapel Church, which played a pivotal role in the Selma marches that helped pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act. We went to The Old Depot, which is a catch-all of Selma's history. We were reminded of the Episcopal saint, Johnathan Myrick Daniels. He was a seminary student in the 1960s and went to Selma to help organize for voting rights. When we toured St. Paul's Episcopal Church, we learned how he attended there and when he tried to attend with his black friends, they were all turned away. But the event caused the Vestry to re-examine its mission and soon voted to allow anyone to attend. Later, Jonathan Myrick Daniels was shot and killed, protecting Ruby Sayles, a young Black girl, from being hit.

On "Bloody Sunday," March 7, 1965, 600 civil rights marchers headed east out of Selma onto US Route 80. The marchers got only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge six blocks away, where state and local law enforcement officers attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas and drove them back into Selma. Then, we walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge and went to the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. Afterward, we left and drove to Montgomery, AL, along the same route the civil rights marches took on their way to Montgomery. Later they would be remembered as "foot soldiers."

On Thursday, July 29, in Montgomery, we toured the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). The EJI is an initiative of Byran Stevenson, the author of the book Just Mercy. The museum was an interactive experience and was the most impactful moment of our trip.

EJI chronicles the history of slavery and racism in America, including the enslavement of African-Americans, racial lynchings, segregation, and racial bias. A different, even more, moving experience is EJI's National Monument for Justice and Peace, informally known as the National Lynching Memorial. The monument memorializes the Black victims of lynching in the United States with thousands of hanging blocks of steel engraved with the names of all lynching victims of every county in the US.

The purpose of the monument is to acknowledge past racial terrorism and advocate for social justice in America today. There were 120 lynchings in North Carolina and three lynchings in Buncombe County, an unbelievable tragedy. We also visited the Rosa Parks Museum in downtown Montgomery. Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Her action sparked the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ended with the US Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional.

Lastly, we toured The Alabama State Capitol and Aaron Irby, our guide, an African American who was part of the Selma marches to Montgomery and wrote Selma's screenplay.

Freedom Ride 2021 was such a powerful and impactful journey. My emotions ranged from guilt to shame to pride in those who risked their lives and livelihoods to speak out for justice. Our whole group reflected each day with the reading of scripture and prayer. Several reflection questions throughout the week stayed with me. What is the difference between justice and fairness? Who is your neighbor? What does it mean to "Do Justice, Love Kindness, and walk humbly with God?" I realized many courageous people rose up against the injustice of racism and slavery. Slavery has been a part of our nation's story from the very beginning. Change came about when Jim Crow laws were abolished, and The Voting Rights Act was passed. The work of the Civil Rights movement brought minorities closer to equality, but the work is far from over. In 2020, Black Lives Matter grew into an international movement that recognizes and works against the systemic racism in our country. In God's eyes, we are all the same. We are his children, and I hope that one day we will realize this equality.

Debbie Cox


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