By: Nanci Scarpulla, M.Ed.
Each year, a traditional rite of passage for Alabama fifth graders has been a trip to Washington, D.C. It’s a chance to see our nation’s capitol city and experience up close and first hand the many exhibits from around our country. It is a life changing experience for most, filled with memories and inspirations of what has been the foundation of our great nation’s history.
During Black History Month, Birmingham is ground zero for the incredible contributions to our nation’s success as well. A travel around our own great city is the perfect on-site classroom to teach your children the valuable lesson of perseverance, ingenuity, and integrity.
Why Black History Month?
Black History Month is nothing new. It’s beginnings can be traced back to 1926 but at the time was recognized as Black History Week. February was a good month to celebrate it in collaboration with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass, two gentlemen instrumental in the advocacy of freedom and civil rights.
Our neighbors to the north, Canada, join us each year in celebrating and recognizing February as Black History Month. Our friends across the Atlantic Ocean, the United Kingdom, celebrates Black History Month in October.
Birmingham: The Black History Tour
As a mom, I wanted to teach my children first hand an appreciation of our own historical sites around the Birmingham area. There are so many places to visit and exhibits to see that offer a better understanding of Black History.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a great place to get started. Not only does it reflect back to a time where African American’s helped establish our Magic City, it also looks forward and offers a glimpse of unity and understanding that displays a time of peaceful demonstration. Located across the street as you are ending your tour of the Civil Rights Institute, you can see the beautiful Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. It’s a moment to both honor and remember the lives of four little girls who were killed in the bomb that was heard around the world. It was the pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement that made international news. Right across the street from the Civil Rights Institute is Kelly Ingram Park. It is the perfect setting for a picnic. Afterwards, start the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail that winds through the streets of Birmingham. This self-guided tour includes stops along the way with maps and information.
As you approach the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail near McWane Science Center, take a right and head toward The Alabama Theatre making particular attention to the “Stars” of Alabama located in front of the theater. Do you know who Nell Carter is? She is one of the many talented performers and singers from our beautiful state.
Other notable talents from our State include W.C. Handy, Octavia Spencer, Lionel Richie, and Nat King Cole, to name a few.
The Southern Museum of Flight has a great exhibit of our famous Tuskegee Airmen. We recently watched “Red Tails” before we visited the museum. It really drove the lesson home to see the movie then see a replica of what the movie taught us about these brave men who dared to fly and make sacrifices for our freedom.
Ensley and Tuxedo Junction are located off I-59 toward Bessemer. Ensley was known as the safe place to socialize during segregation for Birmingham’s black citizens. It was filled with dance clubs, social clubs, and other events that catered to Birmingham’s elite and prosperous black citizens. Tuxedo Junction is famously known in the song, “Tuxedo Junction” by Erskine Hawkins. Many famous and very talented musicians came from that area including Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams from the Temptations. We love to pop in a CD of the Temptations Greatest Hits while we drive through and look at the former places that were influential during their time.
While you are in the area, check out the old Rickwood Field, America’s Oldest Surviving Baseball Park. It is located at 1137 Second Avenue West, in the West End area. Known as the home of the Birmingham Barons, Rickwood has hosted games since 1910 and was also home to the Birmingham Black Barons, a talented group of young men including the legendary Willie Mays.
Other ways we incorporate Black History living lessons include reading the “Addie: An American Girl” book series. She has become a beloved character in our home. The libraries around the Birmingham area are loaded with great fiction and non-fiction stories to share.
You need not travel far to enjoy the contributions and honor the men and women who achieved greatness despite obstacles and challenges in life. It’s when we look back on our past, acknowledge it, and appreciate it that we can move forward to a productive and peaceful future.
Every mom wants that for their child!