Like many parents, I took advantage of free admission to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on Martin Luther King’s birthday. King Day is one of the busiest days of the year, with lines forming outside. Simone, Nadia, and I weathered the 30-minute wait, before we were ushered inside a small theater.
An eight-minute film provided historical context, and then the screen rose. Simone, Nadia and other children were greeted by water fountains labeled “whites only” and “colored only.” For the next hour, I served as their personal historian. I answered question after question, some of them rephrased several times.
Shattered glass welcomes visitors to the Freedom Rider exhibit. “Why is the glass broken?” Simone asked. I explained that a group of whites and blacks traveled from D.C. to the Deep South on buses. After they stopped in Southern cities, they were attacked.
I wasn’t the only parent serving as a guide. After a father and his sons walked away from a KKK robe, one of the boys asked: “Why did they cover their faces?”
“Because they did bad things,” came the reply.
Simone asked a few questions, but Nadia researched her first book on civil rights. A sampling of the questions she asked:
1. Why do we celebrate this day anyways?
2. Why do you call him Dr. King?
3. He (King) led the black people. Who led the white people?
4. Did he (King) go to heaven?
5. Why didn’t the whites like the blacks?
6. Why were they arguing?
7. What does superior mean?
8. Did the four girls die?
9. How did the whites not get hurt by the bomb?
10. What ended the argument?