The History Lesson

At a time when folks would rather you not know exactly how America has worked historically, places like Birmingham, Alabama kinda smack you in the face with it.

During the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Birmingham, Alabama, there was a session called “The Attack on Black History”.

The session talked about how people like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and talk show host and “educator” (notice the quotes) Dennis Prager would rather your kids learn how beneficial slavery was to Black people than learn that America hasn’t been the land of the free and the home of the brave for everyone.

(By the way, slavery didn’t benefit Black people. At all. There is no benefit in forced servitude. Just thought I’d clear that up.)

While the moves made by folks like DeSantis, the Central Bucks School District, Moms for Liberty, and all of the other groups that are practicing revisionist history have led to such things as book banning and a general insult to everyone’s intelligence, they have failed to take one thing into consideration.

They’ve failed to take into consideration that places like the corner of 16th Street and 6th Avenue North in Birmingham exist.

On the corner of 16th Street and 6th Street North in Birmingham sits the 16th Street Baptist Church. During the Civil Rights Movement, it was a place where Civil Rights campaigners in the city met to plan demonstrations.

It was also a place of worship, which is why what happened there on Sept. 15, 1963 rubbed people from as far as Wales the wrong way when they heard about it. On that Sunday morning, a bomb placed under an outdoor staircase attached to the church by the Ku Klux Klan blew up, killing four young girls and injuring a fifth.

When the church was rebuilt, the outdoor stairway was replaced by a marker to the four young girls – 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and 11-year-old Cynthia Wesley — and a stained glass window created by Welsh artist John Pitts and financed through a penny campaign in the country was put in the back of the sanctuary.

And since it’s not only on the National Registry of Historic Places but is also across the street from the National Park Service’s Civil Rights Museum and Kelly Park, which features statues depicting the dogs and water hoses trained on Civil Rights demonstrators during marches, it’s not going anywhere. In fact, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson will speak at an event reflecting on the 60th anniversary of the bombing this September.

Neither is the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where marchers including the late Congressman John Lewis were beaten as they tried to cross into Montgomery to register to vote.

You’re also not going to get rid of the museums on the National Mall in Washington, DC that tell the stories of marginalized communities, survivors of the Holocaust and others to whom America hasn’t always been kind.

And you’re definitely not getting rid of the President’s House here in Philly, which honors the slaves that George Washington brought with him to Philadelphia as president. You do not want the smoke you would get from the Avenging The Ancestors Coalition.

Going to the 16th Street Baptist church was heavy. The clock that was on the wall when the September 1963 bombing happened is part of an exhibit in the actual basement that you can’t take photographs of. Seeing the pews and the pulpit where frightened parishioners took shelter from falling debris caused by the bomb is poignant.

But it’s the kind of heavy that reminds you that while we’ve come pretty far as a country, this history isn’t all that distant.

I say this because a little over eight months after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church happened, I was born.

I turned 59 this year.

Contrary to what some folks want you to think, that’s not a long time.

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