I spent three days this week in Montgomery, Alabama. Few cities in America are as associated with as specific a moment in history as Montgomery. Other cities are known for their landmarks or their cultures or even their food. Montgomery is known for its pivotal role in America’s civil rights movement.
We’re taught, of course, about the civil rights movement in school. We learn the names of those who played prominent roles: Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers. We think we know the story, but we have been taught only a pale, sound bite version. The whole truth always has many more layers than can be fit into a history textbook or regurgitated on a test. For example, I learned this week that George Wallace’s portrait still hangs in the state Capitol, just blocks away from a very different, and more famous, picture of him displayed at the Rosa Parks Museum. I learned that the Civil Rights Memorial, run by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has stricter security than the airport I took to get there. I learned the names of 40 victims, some of them innocent children, who were murdered in the ten years between Brown vs. Board of Education and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. I learned that the Confederate flag hangs still today in the House chamber used for the state of the state address. Think of the message that sends to all of the schoolchildren–and all of us–who watch this annual event.
Much progress has been made, but much remains to be done. Today the battle against racism has shifted to more of an economic one. Today there are new front lines in the civil rights battle around LGBT and disabled communities. The history in Montgomery is important to remember because we must not forget the fight is not over. Until all people are judged by the content of their character, and not by their differences, none of us should feel safe, lest tomorrow we find ourselves the ones who are different.
“It is often easier to become outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home.” –Carl T. Rowan