(TUSCALOOSA, AL)-- The city of Tuscaloosa is making an effort to have its experiences in the Civil Rights
struggle share the limelight usually placed on Birmingham and Selma. Now visitors can see the places where these events happened on Tuscaloosa’s Civil Rights History Trail.
Lonnie Neely lead the crowd at last week's grand opening and that was just the warmup act. Work on the Civil Rights Trail Task Force that has been underway since 2016 and Wednesday was the big unveiling. Scott Bridges is the president of the task force.
“Was there ever a formal apology given to the members of the group who were hospitalized and sent to jail during Bloody Tuesday?” he asked at the event.
He’s was referring to an attack that became known as Bloody Tuesday. On June 9 1964, demonstrators attempted to march from First African Baptist Church to the new Tuscaloosa County courthouse. They were protesting the segregated drinking fountains and restrooms in the building. Reverend Thomas Linton helped organize that march.
“White people was lining up from 28th avenue to Greensboro Avenue," he said. “We thought they were spectators, we didn’t know they would assist the police in attacking.”
Linton’s barber shop is one of the 18 stops on the Civil Rights History Trail. He said that attack continued beyond the street.
“What makes it so sad, they drove them back to the church, they got back in the church, they shot tear gas through the stained glass windows and the fire department came and shot water hoses in there. They went in there and beat people, they beat peoples all through, they beat people out of the church,” he said.
Bridges said that original question got things moving.
“That led to the formation of friends who looked at civil rights in Tuscaloosa, and eventually that lead to more formal designation from the city which was the formation of the task force," he said.
Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox attended the event to unveil the civil rights trail.
“We see a rise in white supremacy, we see a rise in rhetoric that’s destructive and divisive," he said at the event.
His message to the crowd was the importance of remembering events of the past. He said efforts like this are needed in the times we are currently facing.
“Understanding that the difference that divide us make us stronger, understanding that it was a point of crisis
in this country during the civil rights era both whites and blacks, males and females, people from all parts of life came together to understand that all men are created equal,” he said.
Maddox also said there are a lot people who can learn if they pay attention to where we as a people have been in the past.
“To know where we’re going we have to certainly understand where we’ve been and in Tuscaloosa we have a deep history when it comes to civil rights, whether its stand in the school house door or bloody Tuesday," he said. "I think this is a very remarkable step for our city to acknowledge our past and to get better from it. Also to celebrate our future because we can become better by learning from the quiet heroes of Tuscaloosa’s civil rights movement.”
One of the major aspects of the Civil Rights Trail is a racial reconciliation effort. Betty Wells is a member of one of the circles dedicated to exploring this. She said its time something like this program exists.
“Now here it is these many years later, I am so excited that a program like this has come along," she said. "I never would have thought I would be involved in something like this that was so moving and so positive.”
Wells said while working on this, she met people whose stories helped clarify how some people think.
“In this group I met a woman who was my age whose great-grandparents owned a plantation and she talked about what her grandparents taught her, her great grandparents and her parents and where she is with all of this and for me to hear her tell her story, it puts the whole thing in a whole different perspective,” she said.
Bridges said Wells’ experience is what they hoped to achieve, to get people talking.
“I think that’s one of the things we’re trying to accomplish is simply asking people to sit down and dialogue, talk to each other and listen," he said. "It’s not easy, but it’s the best we can do.”
Bridges hopes to implement the next two phases of the trail in the next couple of years. Phase two will include stops at Stillman College and locations on the west end of Tuscaloosa. Phase three will include sites on and around the University of Alabama. While all of this is underway, efforts to continue racial reconciliation will press on. Wells is ready for it.
“I think Tuscaloosa is ready for it, and we have people in Tuscaloosa who have been involved and they’re ready to move forward, we want to make this happen," she said. "It's racial reconciliation. I want it. Do you want it?”