Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute Personalizes a Struggle
THE visitors were old and young, black and white, from neighborhoods nearby and cities on the other side of the world. But on a recent morning in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, they were all stopped in their tracks by one particular display....
The white, hooded robe was donated to the institute anonymously by someone who found it in a trunk in a house. The crude, partly burned wooden cross planted behind it was given to the museum by the local F.B.I. office. Together they stood in a plexiglass case, illuminated by a ghostly ceiling light, at the head of the museum’s aptly named Confrontation Gallery....
The Klan robe and the cross brought up vivid memories for another visitor, Pat’s husband, Willie Chambers, 67. “I was chased by the Klan,” recalled Mr. Chambers, who grew up in Selma, Ala., another flashpoint of the civil rights movement. “We knew who they were,” he said. “My mother told us, ‘Just don’t let them catch you.’ ”
Alabama, of course, was not the only part of the South involved in the civil rights movement. But some of the most infamous scenes unfolded in the blocks surrounding the 58,000-square-foot institute. Opened 20 years ago, the museum was built directly across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where on Sept. 15, 1963, a bomb planted by segregationists killed four black girls. The blocklong museum faces Kelly Ingram Park, where earlier that same year, the public safety commissioner, Bull Connor, blasted protesters with fire hoses and set dogs on them. Many of the protesters, who were trying to march in protest of racial segregation laws, were children....
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