February 10, 2002
For those in need, the Institute is fully handicap accesible and the volunteers inside are knowledgable, helpful and friendly.
The permanent exhibition begins in a short 10 minute film about the history of blacks in Birmingham, from the industrial revolution and the staggering facts that most hard labor workers were black and barely paid. The film takes the viewer through to the 1950s, where the screen lifts so you can enter the exhibit.
The first image set is the segregated water fountains, the "colored" fountain rusting and barely sanitary. The first room is focused on segregation in the 1950s. On the discussion of Brown vs. The Board of Education (1954) it is noted that schools did not become actually segregated until 1964 due to fear and white attacks.
The Institute takes the visitor year by year through the peaceful struggle led by the inspirational Dr. King. The milestones are recognized right away: Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Freedom Riders attacked in Tennessee, the KKK, 800 children arrested and jailed in Birmingham, Lunch Counter Sit-Ins, March at Selma, and of course, the horrid photos of police in Birmingham turning firehoses on peaceful protestors...and the attack dogs.
But the Institute is thorough. It lets you know about the not so publicized incidents like the brutal attack on blacks who dared step foot on an all whites only beach. The Institue also gives you the names of other prominent black leaders and heros you may not recognize.
By the time I got through to the fabulous video presentation of Dr. King's beautiful speech at the March on Washington I was ready for some inspiration. I was struck with the question of WHY? And I was filled with hope when his words rang clear: "Free at last, Free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last."
From journal Exploring Alabama