By Vivian Jacobs, Mitzvah Corps Civil Rights Journey 2016 Participant
My dad grew up in South Africa during the apartheid. He can remember the segregation like he was there just yesterday, even though he immigrated to the United States over twenty years ago. I chose to go on the Mitzvah Corps Civil Rights Journey to hear Southerners’ stories of their experiences in America, knowing that their stories might be similar to my dad’s. Although we have visited many important sites that have made history during our time in the South, it’s the people that tell the real stories.
As a group, we went to visit the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. On the morning of Sunday, September 15th, 1965, a horrific bombing occurred there. Four innocent African American girls, just a few years younger than me, we killed due the explosion, and over twenty others were injured. Church bombings were unfortunately a frequent occurrence during the time of the Civil Rights movement, but this particular event took the attention of the nation due to its young victims. Today, the church continues to operate and has a strong congregation behind it. They also open their doors to the public for tours to educate the world about the history of the church.
Our tour guide, Ted, led us into the church where we watched a video, and he gave an in-depth presentation about the terrible events of that morning and its aftermath. He then told us about where he was the exact moment the news broke. Ted was a young adult attending a church service in Atlanta. The service was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church, whose reverend was the great Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The bomb went off at about the time that Dr. King’s sermon was about to start.
Ted told us that Dr. King did not begin his sermon, but went back to his office to receive a phone call. The call was about the bombing of the church. Dr. King then told his congregation of the bombing. This was hard enough for the members to hear, but they didn’t know about the four little girls yet.
Then Ted lowered his voice and put his hands on his head as he described, through choked back tears, what followed, as if he was still that young man. He told us that a few minutes after Dr. King told the church the news about the bombing, he received another call. That was the call where one of the greatest Civil Rights leaders learned of one of the greatest tragedies of the movement. Dr. King came out to address the people, but could not bring himself to a sermon.
After hearing Ted’s story and all of the emotions and history that people experienced, I thought of the memories that I’ve made on this trip. How I can use the memories that I have made to change the lives of others in the future? Ted’s telling of his story added depth to an already deep story in our history.
My dad has shared his memories of apartheid, another difficult time in our world. His stories give others a new perspective. Both of their views have added to my own personal outlook, and I hope that I can share that with my own community.