I felt the ghosts of segregation as I walked the downtown streets of Montgomery, Alabama today. It was difficult to imagine a time when a black skinned person could be jailed if they sat in the front of a bus, took a seat at a restaurant lunch counter or attempted to enter a bus terminal through a whites only passageway. The evidence was clear at the Rosa Parks Museum, however, that these heinous acts of racial discrimination against African Americans were once sanctioned by law in this city.
What exactly it meant to be black as I followed the segregationist path of history at this museum confused me. If you looked white, but we’re actually a mulatto black, you might obtain a first class travel ticket. If you were white and painted your face black, you could be adored as a performer in a vaudeville minstrel show. At the federal level, a black could be protected by the equal protection provisions of the 14th amendment but at the state/local level they were sure to be denied basic rights by racist, Jim Crow laws. Accordingly, inner city, public schools were technically integrated by mixed race, yet white flight to suburban communities ultimately re-segregated them over time.
I took a short walk along Dexter Avenue to find the imposing presence of the Alabama State Capitol and the adjoining First White House of the Confederacy. Along the way, rebel flags flew as an anti-abortion protest took place nearby. It was here that Martin Luther King and his freedom fighters ended their peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery after being viciously attacked by angry, white supremacists along the way. Only a simple, Civil Rights Memorial plaque remains today to honor the forty one people who died in this infamous episode of American History.
As I concluded my brief glimpse of Montgomery’s turbulent past, signs of a better times became clear. A black college student spoke to me of her plans to obtain a doctoral degree in her hometown. Restaurants were filled with integrated gatherings of many races. The Confederate flag no longer flew atop of the conspicuous dome of the State Capitol. Rosa Parks’ courage to peacefully reject the injustices of a blatantly, racist system reminded me that Americans must have similar resolve to preserve their “liberty, justice, and pursuit of happiness” for all. Donald Trump’s example of perpetuating violence and distrust among our citizenry cannot be tolerated in this pivotal election year.