With my girls both in elementary school now and Matthew soon to follow, I love to see what they are learning and how they are learning it. They learn facts, ideas, and concepts, but I wonder, at what point does it come alive for them. What I was studying to be a history teacher, my greatest struggle was with how to deepen the understanding for a child who knows that they just need to correct answer for a multiple-choice question. This can be even more concerning when you talk about black history, a subject that focuses on a very limited number of individuals and events.
On my recent trip to Birmingham, AL, those sorts of question came flooding back. I’ave read about the kinds of jobs that only negroes were “suited for”, but I have never walked under the immense boilers like those at Sloss Furnaces. I’ve never imagined the sand where the heat of molten iron cooling must have been just sweltering.
I’d heard about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and I knew something of the impact that this event made in passing civil rights legislation, but standing at the corner made it so much more real. I knew that four little girls had died that day, but walking through the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and seeing their shoes, toys, etc. that had been donated by the families just showed me how little I had really known. Touring the building immerses you in the story of that fight, taking you from Birmingham’s founding, through the civil rights movement, to present-day issues, featuring both accomplishments and setbacks along the way.
Birmingham is a great city that has seen more than it’s share of struggle over its 143 years. The people, though, are resilient and their collective stories are remarkable. I’m can’t wait to go back for more.
How will you bring history to life for your family during the month of February? Tell us your story with us and let’s share ideas.