Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Road to Equality

Magnet # 161: Rosa Parks Library & Museum

Material: Plastic

Purchased By: Me

Well, if it's February, then Black History Month is underway here in the United States and Canada. This monthlong remembrance dates all the way back to 1926, when the Father of Black History, Carter G. Woodson, founded it. Back then, there was very little mention of any history that pertained to blacks and he wanted to recognize the efforts and accomplishments made by his fellow black Americans. Initially, he dubbed it "Negro History Week" and set it during the second week of the month, when both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born, as they were both so important in the struggle for black freedom and equality. But, eventually, it grew to encompass the entire month. But not all blacks support this event. Some critics, even the talented African-American actor Morgan Freeman, claim that Black History Month is irrelevant and perhaps even a bit insulting. They hold that black history is American history, which makes some sense to me. Regardless, this is still a recognized observance this month and, as such, I think it's worthy of a post.

So how does one celebrate Black History Month? Well, there are the obvious ways - read up on famous African Americans by looking them up on the web or checking out a book about them at the library. Perhaps you could watch a movie that deals with black history like The Tuskegee Airmen, which tells the story of African American pilots who were some of the greatest fighters during World War II, or The Long Walk Home, a movie about the bus boycott that was filmed in my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama.  Glory, which is centered around of one of the first black regiments ever to serve in the U.S. military as they fought for the North in the Civil War is a particularly great film, and it features both Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, two of Hollywood's finest actors, regardless of race.  Really, there are all sorts of movies to choose from.  But if you're like me and want to travel, there are also plenty of places to visit and learn about black history.  In the Nation's capitol of Washington, DC, there are over 200 locations to explore black history, including the Willard Hotel, where Martin Luther King, Jr finished his "I have a Dream Speech," and the Lincoln Memorial, where he delivered it.  Cincinnati, Ohio is home to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which tells the stories of slaves who escaped to find freedom and holds artifacts pertaining to their stories.  In West Virginia, visitors to Harper's Ferry National Historical Park can tour the site where abolitionist John Brown led his raid to try to gain weapons that would allow slaves fight for their freedom.  The Black American West Museum in Denver, Colorado tells the stories of blacks who traveled West to taken on occupations as varied as cowboys, ranchers, teachers, and lawmen.  Fly into Atlanta, Georgia, to have a look at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport's exhibit honoring Martin Luther King Jr. - it even has personal items such as his glasses and wristwatch.  Then head over to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic site in the city's Sweet Auburn district to see more exhibitions about the man and even have a look at the tomb where he and his wife are buried.  Really, there are so many options, this list could go on and on.

Montgomery, Alabama is another great site to visit if you're interested in African American history.  Recently, I checked out their Rosa Parks Library and Museum and was impressed by what I saw.  It starts in a room whose walls are filled with the stories of leaders who fought for equality in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, both black and white.  A brief film here provides visitors with firsthand accounts of the ugly practice of segregation.  Then, the doors open, and visitors walk into a scene featuring a bus from that time period, although it's not the actual one that Rosa Parks rode on when she refused to give up her seat (that is on display at Detroit's Henry Ford Museum).  The bus is surrounded by a recreation of the street corner at the old Empire Theatre, the stop at which she made her stand - ironically, it lists the 1955 film A Man Alone as showing on its marquee.  The museum now stands on this spot.  Recreated films of Parks, the busdriver, and her fellow passengers are projected on the windows of the bus as audio supplies the words, so you almost feel as though you are watching her make her historic stand.  And when Parks is taken off the bus and arrested, you continue into other displays that feature stories and documents from the bus boycott, all leading up to the eventual triumph over segregation.  People have put a lot of time and care into this museum and it shows.  If you're ever able to stop by, I definitely recommend it.  Montgomery also has other noteworthy sites pertaining to black history, such as the Civil Rights Memorial Center and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. once served as pastor.

There's still plenty of time left this month to remember black history.  If you're interested in traveling, but want more options than I listed here, give a try.  And if you've never sampled jazz music or soul food, which consists of such tasty dishes as fried chicken, sweet potatoes, and all sorts of greens, here's your chance.  Sure, as some say, black history really is a part of American history, but this is the time in which that particular aspect of the history of our nation is given its due time in the spotlight, so go ahead and celebrate!

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