When we first arrived at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, I was so excited to be standing in front of such a historically significant church. There we stood, on the same ground where a Klan-planted bomb exploded under the stairs of the 16th Street Baptist Church on September 15th 1963, killing four young girls. This was where thousands of children were violently sprayed by fire hoses and chased by vicious police dogs in a march for equality, where leaders such as Martin Luther King and Fred Shuttlesworth once rallied crowds of followers to stand against the injustice of segregation. There we stood in the midst of this intense history, in the city that witnessed so much of the fight for civil rights and continues to carry this message. This is what made the experience so real and meaningful for me. In addition to the rich history of the church we were visiting, we all were really glad to visit another black church, since our first experience at the church in Virginia was so enjoyable. We sat in our OU mixed rows as the rest of the congregants filled the pews around us and welcomed us so warmly to their church.
The entire service was so beautiful and moving. I especially loved listening to the soulful songs from the choir, their voices creating an uplifting aura in the church and igniting such passion that people were actually lifted from their seats. As I was listening to the music I began to recognize certain lyrics and tunes from civil rights marches, rhythms similar to those we heard from the Gullah Geechee queen, Queen Quet, and soulful melodies hauntingly like the simulation-reenactment of slavery that we took part in the day before.
The songs reflect the faith, hardships, and triumphs that have been passed on through generations of African Americans for hundreds of years. Hearing those same songs sung so passionately moved me in the way that I was brought into the experiences—I felt the faith and the hardships and the triumphs. It was fun but also enlightening. Just being at the church brought together all the elements of the trip. I am so glad we had the opportunity to visit the 16th Street Baptist Church and it is an experience I will always remember.
Elana Waldstein OU ’13, Abington Senior High School ‘14