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Called to heal

It's a question that kept ringing through my mind as we toured the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and saw the news reports and testimony from people who were in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma and so many other places in the Deep South in the 1950s and 60s.

The museum is located next door to the 16th Street Baptist Church, where on Sept. 15, 1963, a bomb planted by members of the Ku Klux Klan exploded, killing four girls and injuring 22 churchgoers. The bombing is largely considered a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and was featured in the opening moments of the movie 'Selma.'

Inside the museum, I was transported to a place about which I'd only read.

There's something both sad and infuriating about seeing what "separate but equal" really meant. Seeing the disparity in something so simple as a water fountain was so foreign. A number of us remakes that it seemed like that happened so many generations ago, yet Deacon Walt was a reminder to us, that so many of the faces we've seen and lives we've encountered these past few days lived through that, some as children and many as adults.

African Americans had to fight for everything: their right to vote without ridiculous requirements, the right to ride public transportation. Hell, they had to fight to use a water fountain and buy their lunches. It's unimaginable.

As I was looking through the exhibits, I couldn't help but notice all the news clippings and two words on so many stories: "Staff Report." A former news reporter, I couldn't help but wonder why bylines weren't on those monumental stories. I mean, I'd use "Staff Report" for small stuff, stories where a half dozen of us contributed elements, or stories on which I didn't really have to do a ton of actual reporting. I wonder if those reporters were afraid to attach their names to stories out of fear of what might happen to their families. It's a horror I'll never know.

That seems to be a recurring mantra on this immersion experience: "It's a pain I'll never know." I think that's true for so many of us. It's a pain we'll never know, yet it's a pain we've all called to heal.

Let us march on 'till victory is won. Amen.

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