Discovery in News archives leads to publication of unseen images of civil rights movement in Birmingham.
About the Project
These Birmingham News photographs of the civil rights movement have not been seen by the public. Until now. See more at al.com: Unseen. Unforgotten.
Years after "separate but equal" was struck down, laws in Alabama still kept blacks and whites apart.
1956-1961 - See the photos
Freedom Riders were met with violence as they challenged the customs of segregation in Alabama.1961 - See the photos
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. turned to civil disobedience when negotiation with business leaders foundered.1963 - See the photos
Black students' attempts to enroll at local universities were thwarted and sparked legal battles.1962-1963 - See the photos
Marchers walked for five days, 54 miles that led not only to Montgomery, but to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.1964-1965 - See the photos
Why this is relevant to my blog is because I was 11 yrs old when our military family returned stateside after 4 + yrs overseas. My father, AF, stationed at Keesler AFB, in Mississippi and our family left Okinawa/Japan to relocate to Biloxi, Mississippi in 1962. Television in Japan and Okinawa did not have coverage of the growing Civil Rights movement at that time so it was a most startling discovery for me, at 11 yrs of age, to come back to our home country USA and right into the middle of this historic time.
My perspectives were that of an 11 yr old caucasian child, who had learned to embrace cultural differences. Imagine the confusion to come back to homeland to see our own embroiled in hating our own. No need to say the imprint left on me has stayed with me throughout my lifetime. The imprint of what hate can do to people; the imprint of marginalizing a segment of our own people within our own country; the imprint of discrimination at it's worst; the imprint of racism and hate crimes before such words were well-defined.
At this time of my life, while stationed at yet another military base, I was still forming impressions of adults and the adult world. I came to learn the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his non-violent advocacy to change the dynamics of relationship white to black in the deep south. In my later adult years, I came to admire the enormity of the movement he was leading, and the enormity of change via non-violent confrontation.
Later as I was still a child, the assassinations would follow; President John F. Kennedy; Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr; Malcolm X; Robert Kennedy. Oh yes, indelible impressions left on me at a time of re-introduction to my homeland.
By the time I did reach late teens and early adulthood, Vietnam war was raging and defining our options as young people in high school planning for our futures. It was not uncommon and in fact a necessary part of our discussions to ask each other 'what are you going to do about Vietnam war? Wait to see if you are drafted, go to college and get a deferrment, enlist in Natl Guard or Reserves, leave the country?'
Another movement was in full throttle; protest movement against war in Vietnam. I married my high school sweetheart, who was drafted and sent to Vietnam. I made a choice to become pregnant with our first child - in case he did not return. Another forced choice as the options were governed by war-time. We were not ready at 19 yrs old to begin a family, and had not there been the uncertainty of death or maiming in war-time, I'm sure we would have waited several years before beginning our family. I was then a young military wife, keeping the military tradition and culture and not speaking out publicly on the policies, politics and Commander-in-Chief at that time. I did not know how to feel about the protest movement of those years, and even now, decades later, I'm still not sure how I feel about it, having lived a different aspect of it at the time. I'm very sure though, that I would not encourage the young military wives of today with loved ones deployed in Iraq/Afghanistan to hold to the military traditionals of what it means to be a proud, good military wife by keeping silent and enduring stoically.
I can't say concisely what impressions all these turbulence times left on my mind but I can say that now in 2006 and into another turbulent time of dissent with the Iraq war and politics dividing our country into opposing camps of thought/views, it's not a bad time to take a look at our history in past 4 decades. It's ironic that my return to homeland put me in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1962 and now in March 2006, Biloxi doesn't exist any more due to the catastophic damage of Hurricane Katrina. While I saw a southern white population engaged in hating their black neighbors in 1962 = extreme abuse, now I see a primarily white political body engaged in policies of neglect and apathy for their neighbors in Mississippi and Louisiana.
I never planned to become an activist; my life work and profession has been more of that of an advocate. Yet, a war initiated in Iraq by my homeland at a time when I am now among what could be considered the tribal elders, is a time when I must shift to the life of an activist. I cannot leave a legacy to my adult children and grandchildren that does not include the reality of our country's history as they will inherit this homeland as their own and will have need of historical perspective to make their own decisions about their own actions, now and in the years forthcoming.
Lietta Ruger, March 26, 2006