One of the pleasures of driving to a destination, as opposed to flying, is that there are a myriad of opportunities to stop and see what life has to offer along the way. So it was in this spirit that I found myself in Birmingham Alabama. I planned to spend a few hours in Birmingham, not a lot of time by any standard, but it was enough to see a few sights.
I only went to one place. I spent the entire time in Kelly Ingram Park in the heart of the downtown. It is a pocket park, you could walk the whole thing in a matter of minutes, but it is doubtful that you would want to. The Kelly Ingram Park is roughly 4 acres, a city block. It is where the city pays homage to the Civil Rights Movement. This park was one of the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. It was where the black business district in Birmingham ended and the White Only establishments began. It was where police set up lines preventing Black citizenry from entering White establishments in protest. It was where the first mass beatings and arrest of freedom riders were performed. Firemen blasted protestors with high pressure hoses, police released K-9 units on the demonstrators and when they had arrested most of the adult protestors the police began arresting children as well. Over 1000 children were arrested, the youngest was only 6. Finally, it was the place that riveted a nation and created sympathetic outcries to the plight of the black community.
There are many monuments in this park, but the one that moved me the most was the most violent. I sat on that very bench and stared at the monument, trying to get a sense of the gauntlet that the protestors walked. I often love art for the sake of its beauty, but there was nothing beautiful about this monument. Yet I found myself drawn to it. I wanted to touch it, interact with it, stand in the middle of it. I wanted to feel what it was trying to tell me. I couldn’t superficially skim the work and move on mentally after noting my own thoughts. I was going to immerse myself in it and experience it fully.
I stood in the middle of it for several minutes before I began snapping pics. One of the interesting things about photography is that it allows you to engage in something in a completely impersonal way. Though the audience may see emotion and depth, all you see as the photographer is light, shadow, angle, relationship of the elements. As you compose the picture you are no longer part of the scene, but just an observer of it. I appreciate the medium of photography, but sometimes I have to put my camera down to really engage.
I put my hands and arms in the dogs mouths. I felt the coldness of the metal and sharpness of the teeth. I tried to imagine having a dog attacking me and knowingly and willingly walking into that situation. I think I have courage, but I don’t know that I could be so brave.
You walk thru many of the monuments in this park , as opposed to around them. It affords the unique perspective of being a part of the piece. In this piece you can see what it may have felt like to stare down the water cannons, to see the people cowering next to you. What would you have done?
Of course, there was a statue of MLK…
But finally, there was freedom…
I hope that you see why I couldn’t leave, why I couldn’t skim the surface of this place and move on to the next, why I had to sit with it for a while and let it soak in. Instead of walking away despondent. I walked away with gratitude, grateful for the sacrifices made by our forbears to see that I always have the opportunity to have an opportunity.