This past Monday, the life of yet another black man expired at the hands of a police officer…this time, in Minneapolis. What’s different about this particular incident was that it was captured on video. Immediately, the call for an end to police brutality in relation to Black American men was touched off…as was a renewed fervor in the hearts of people across the nation regarding unconditional equality for Black Americans, in general. The past couple of nights, I’ve seen news coverage of mostly peaceful protests across the country. I’ve paid special attention to the protests down in President’s Park, being that it’s a block or so away from the Main Interior Building. The tense standoffs between the protesters and the various law enforcement agencies remind me of archival footage I saw from the Birmingham campaign in 1963. I’m reminded of the place all of that action happened. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: Kelly Ingram Park.
How I first came across this moment? My introduction to Kelly Ingram Park started with Grandma Sallie. She used to meet up with one of her friends, who apparently stayed at the A.G. Gaston Motel. While they sat and talked on one of the park’s benches, I played around. Little did I know that I was enjoying moments of my youth on fertile land.
What it meant to me then? When I was a much, much younger version of myself, Kelly Ingram Park didn’t mean much to me. It was just another space where I could go and play whenever I was in Downtown Birmingham with my grandmother…or even my mother, on occasion. As I grew older, the significance of the park started to resonate with me. My first-ever trip to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was when I got my first true education of the park and the events of the 1960s. But it was during an August 2004 trip home to Birmingham that really stole it for me. I happened to be walking through the park and taking pictures of some of the statues and monuments when an elderly gentleman walked up and asked me if I knew the stories. I told him that I knew about the fire hoses, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and what Bull Connor did. He invited me to take a seat and we talked for about 1 ½ hours about the history of the park. He told me things I didn’t learn in history books…like the colorism of the 16th Street Baptist Church or how certain pockets of the city’s black population didn’t want to rattle the cages in the fight for civil rights. It was a very enlightening conversation. I remember writing as much in Triumphs & Tribulations III. From that moment, the park became something of hallowed ground to me.
What it means to me now? These days, I don’t really venture that far into the Civil Rights District. Getting some food at Green Acres is about as close to Kelly Ingram Park as I go these days. It’s nothing bad or anything like that…just coincidence. With everything that’s been happening all over the country and the likelihood of a new Civil Rights Movement on the horizon, I think it’s important to introduce my household to Kelly Ingram Park. I took Mercedes to the Civil Rights Institute back in November 2014 but I didn’t really explain the significance of the park to her. The next time I’m home, we’ll have a picnic in the park…all 3 of us. My tribe will know why Kelly Ingram Park is important to me and important to those who came before me.