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Equality: Free At Last!

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"The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human, and, therefore, brothers." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached this to his congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church. I found this to be true on a trip I took to the Deep South with a group I am in called Operation Understanding Hampton Roads. OUHR promotes the interaction between Jewish and African American students in order to learn about each others cultures. In the Deep South, my OUHR group visited several cities which were significant to the civil rights movement, such as Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Atlanta. Since I have grown up in a racially tolerant house, I felt I had nothing to gain from the trip besides an enjoyably week with my new OUHR friends. Much to my surprise, it was in these cities where I learned the true meaning of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words. It is important to be a participant in life rather than a bystander held fast by prejudice and convention.

The city that changed my perspective the most was Birmingham, Alabama. Our tour guide showed me the light. We arrived in Birmingham in the pouring rain and stopped in front of an old church on 16th street. Suddenly, a very warm and hearty woman's voice rang over the speaker in the bus; "Aight boo's, er'rybody best get off this bus befo' I start crackin' em!" This was my first glimpse of Joanne Bland. She lined my group up on the stairs to what we soon learned was the 16th street Baptist Church; the site of a bombing which killed African American four girls. Following the tragic event, white strangers, even some with Confederate license plates, visited the grieving families to express their sorrow. At the funeral for three of the girls, Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke about life being "as hard as crucible steel." More than 8,000 mourners, including 800 clergymen of both races, attended the service. Joanne explained that this event was historic because people of both races gathered together to mourn. This was one of the first times that people went against the conventional thinking of the time. Race did not matter; it was the fact that four innocent children, who were killed in an act of violence, needed to be memorialized. This was a crucial step to attaining civil rights for everyone, and towards my better understanding of why this was important.

From there, Joanne took us to the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, where I learned the importance of involvment. The National Voting Rights Museum and Institute was founded in Selma, Alabama by survivors of America's "Bloody Sunday" massacre to honor the courage of civil rights supporters who endured hatred and violence and died to gain the right to vote for Black Americans. Joanne told us about an 11 year old girl who stood

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