By Michael Gutterman, Mitzvah Corps Civil Rights Journey 2017 Participant
Last week, we went from Memphis to Birmingham. The next day, the entire group headed to the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four innocent little girls were killed after a bomb went off in the basement on September 15, 1963. Before we listened to two speakers – Rev. Carolyn Maull McKinstry, a survivor of the bombing, and a rabbi – we went to Kelly Ingram Park. Here we saw touching and impressive sculptures, including sculptures of police dogs attacking protesters and a sculpture of people lined up against a wall with a gun aimed at them. This touched me very personally. I tried to think about what if I was in a synagogue that was bombed. It was just too hard to imagine and the hate swallowed me.
Next, we headed to Selma, Alabama, where we learned about one of the most important events of the entire Civil Rights Movement. The crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge was the most significant moment of the entire trip for me. I learned about the bridge and Selma in school and from movies, but I had never experienced it in real life. I was able to walk in the footsteps of John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr.,, and even President Barack Obama, who walked there several years ago to honor the 50th anniversary of the march. We heard from a woman named Joanne Bland who lived in Selma and was 11 years old when the march took place. She showed us rocks that she stepped on along with John Lewis. It was so hard for me to take in all that went on during Bloody Sunday and the march from Selma to Montgomery.
From a historical perspective, visiting the 16th Street Baptist Church and Selma were the most important moments of this journey for me because these are places that signify a movement whose march is still continuing. Today, walking in the footsteps of all those significant people, along with people whose names I may never know, inspired me to take more action for the similar problems that exist today.