– Hannah O’Koon
We started off our journey visiting the Leo Frank tree at the Pencil Factory, where we learned about the murder of a young girl and the involvement of African Americans and Jews. At the time of Mary Phagan’s murder, a black man was first accused and later Leo Frank was accused and found guilty by the white, Christian jury. Leo Frank was lynched, as the Ku Klux Klan reformed in Georgia. The lynching of Leo Frank caused many Jews to hesitate being involved in the rising movement of Civil Rights. Having never heard of Leo Frank and his impact on Southern Jews, we made the connection between the persecution of African Americans and Jews in the United States, specifically the South.
Next, we went to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and visited his birthplace, church and tomb. We learned about the idea of self reliance, which explains how many African Americans lived in their small, segregated communities.
We also visited the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr,, his father and grandfather had preached.
As a boy, Martin Luther King Jr. would walk down the street to his home, and he noticed the economic segregation in his neighborhood, beginning his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. was influenced by Gandhi, who was influence by Henry David Throeau. It was fascinating to learn where Dr. King drew his inspiration and messages from, and it connected him to past activists and role models.
After eating lunch at the Auburn St. Market, we visited the Names Project, which houses the AIDS Quilt and commemorates those who have died from HIV/AIDS. We spoke to Alan, a man living with AIDS since 1989. This was the most inspirational part of the day for me, listening to a man who had faced so many challenges in life but still managed to be upbeat and happy about his current life.
Allen explained to us the many health challenges he had faced, from Lymphoma cancer to severe bacterial infections, and with his doctor telling him he only had months to live. In a sense, Alan has outlived us all not only in age, but in facing obscure challenges and meeting hate from those who feared his disease. Alan believes that we all have a purpose in life, and that him contracting the disease helped him give back the community, volunteering his knowledge and experience. We also heard bout this history and politics of the AIDS Quilt from the Executive Director Julie Rhodes. We got to see and touch the quilt as well.
Similarly, we also met with Reverend Williams, a foot soldier activist in the Civil Rights Movement. As a ninety year old, he is still inspiring the next generation, conveying his passion and excitement for the Civil Rights Movement.
Reverend Williams worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. integrating races. Reverend Williams passionately said that Dr. King was committed and dedicated to integrating races. Again, we connected African Americans and Jews, discussing the hatred both have seen throughout history. The most amazing quality of Reverend Williams was his happiness, despite the bitterness and hatred he had suffered throughout his life.