Choose from four Pre-Conference Options
1. An Afternoon in Tuskegee
Friday, January 25th
Depart Renaissance Montgomery at 1pm & Return at 9pm
Begin our exploration of the area with an afternoon excursion to Tuskegee, an important center of learning located about forty minutes east of Montgomery. Our first stop will be at the Tuskegee History Center where we meet by two remarkable individuals – Civil Rights attorney, Fred Gray, and Civil Rights activist, Rev. Bernard LaFayette, Jr. Also joining us will be Deborah Gray, the museum’s extraordinary director.
When Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to surrender her bus seat to a white passenger, Gray became her attorney. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Gray also represented Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other participants of the year-long protests. In 1956, his role as an attorney in the boycott’s civil suit, Browder v. Gayle verdict integrated the buses in Montgomery. In 1972, Gray brought a class-action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of those involved in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a government sponsored program that left black men untreated for syphilis. In 1997, the government settled the lawsuit, but failed to admit any wrongdoing. In 2002, Gray became the first African-American president of the Alabama Bar Association. In 2006, the NAACP recognized Gray’s accomplishments with the William Robert Ming Advocacy Award, citing the spirit of financial and personal sacrifice displayed in his legal work.
We will also be joined by Bernard LaFayette, Jr. a Civil Rights Movement activist, minister, educator, lecturer, and an authority on the strategy of nonviolent social change. He co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. He was a leader of the Nashville Movement, 1960 and on the Freedom Rides, 1961 and the 1965 Selma Movement. He directed the Alabama Voter Registration Project in 1962, and he was appointed National Program Administrator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and National Coordinator of the 1968 Poor Peoples’ Campaign by Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a Senior Fellow at the University of Rhode Island where he helped to found the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies. In 2014, The University of Rhode Island honored LaFayette with an honorary doctorate in recognition of his lifetime nonviolence leadership for civil and human rights.
From here we will visit the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site which commemorates the contributions of African American airmen in World War II. Here we will be met and learn about the history of Moton Field, the site of primary flight training for the pioneering pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen.
Our next stop will be at Tuskegee University where we will be met by several historians and Tony Haygood, mayor of the City of Tuskegee. Strolling through the university campus, we will learn about the work of Booker T. Washington, an early advocate for the education of African Americans in the post-Reconstruction south. Born into slavery, he grew up to become a well-known African-American educator, author, orator, and presidential adviser. In 1881, he became the first president of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. Washington recruited the best and the brightest to come and teach here including George Washington Carver. Carver’s innovations in agriculture, especially with peanuts, were important in the South’s economic growth. Tuskegee later became known as the Tuskegee Institute and in 1985 became Tuskegee University.
After touring the campus join local residents for a community dinner in town.
Arrive back at Renaissance Montgomery at 9:00 PM.
2. Cultural Treasures: Lowndes Interpretive Center, Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective. Black Belt Treasures and Cultural Center, Gaines Ridge
Saturday, January 26th
Depart Renaissance Montgomery at 8am & Return at 9pm
Following the route of the of the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, but in reverse, we begin from Montgomery and head west passing the roadside marker indicating the spot where Viola Liuzzo, a white activist and mother of five from Detroit, was killed by armed Klansmen. Viola and Leroy Moton, a young volunteer with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, were moving supplies on March 25th, the last day of the march when they were stopped by the Klansmen. Nearby is the Lowndes Interpretive Center, located midway between Selma and Montgomery in White Hall. View the 25-minute film titled, “Never Lose Sight of Freedom,” hear voices of the March, and touch and feel interactive exhibits which are part of this center run by the National Park Service.
We continue driving about an hour and fifteen minutes to Gee’s Bend, a small and isolated rural black community surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River. The seven hundred or so inhabitants are mostly descendants of slaves, and for generations they worked the fields belonging to the local Pettway plantation. In 1998 art collector William Arnett, working on a history of African-American folk art came across a photograph of Gee’s Bend resident, Annie Mae Young, standing next to a quilt she had made. He was so impressed by its originality that he set out to find it. The women of Gee’s Bend were creating quilts, not as pieces of art, but out of necessity. When the nights became cold each winter, the women would scrounge what small scraps of fabric they could find and fashion a blanket to put on the beds of their children and themselves. The passion and creativity that had caught Arnett’s eye revealed an overt African influence. Unlike most quilts in the European-American tradition, which favored uniformity, harmony and precision, Gee’s Bend quilts include wild, improvisatory elements. The use of symbols, asymmetry, bright colors, and vertical piecing are techniques that date back to African textile creations of years ago. A critic from the New York Times called the quilts “some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced.” In 2002, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts held an exhibition of Gee’s Bend quilts and firmly put the women of this isolated peninsula carved out by the Alabama River on the world map. We will meet with quilters from the Gee’s Bend Quilter’s Collective and enjoy lunch with them and time to talk about their lives.
Our next stop is Camden which we reach by a ferry service that was only recently restored after being stopped by local officials in the 1960’s who wanted to discourage Civil Rights activities (ferry service subject to operation. If ferry does not operate, we will drive.) In Camden we will meet with the director and some artists at Black Belt Treasures and Cultural Center. This is a non-profit organization that serves as a center for over 400 local artists, sculptors, basket weavers, wood workers and quilters who have banded together to showcase their work. The non-profit gallery showcases and sells art and high quality crafts in behalf of these local artists.
Dinner tonight is just outside of Camden at Gaines Ridge, an Antebellum home built in 1837. This landmark mansion’s style predates the Greek revival form that was popular during the 1840s and 1850s. Meet with owner Betty Gaines Kennedy whose great grandfather bought the modified I-frame house in 1898 from a Methodist preacher, Ebenezer Hearn, who had served in the War of 1812 and is buried in Camden.
Enjoy a delicious meal before a driving back to Montgomery.
Arrive back at Renaissance Montgomery at 9:00 PM.
Sunday, January 27th
Depart Renaissance Montgomery at 8am & Return at 5pm
Depart the hotel and drive about an hour and a half to Birmingham. Walk by the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where, on September 15, 1963, a bomb killed four young girls as they prepared to sing in their choir. More than 8,000 mourners, including 800 clergymen of both races, attended the funeral. No city officials attended. Across the street at the Birmingham Foot Soldiers office meet with the Reverend Carolyn McKinstry, who was a young girl also at the church when the bomb went off. She was among thousands of students hosed by firemen during the 1963 marches and survived a second bomb explosion that destroyed a large portion of her home in 1964. After time with Carolyn hearing her story, she will accompany us on a tour of the historic Kelly Ingram Park, site of civil rights rallies, demonstrations and confrontations in the 1960s. Historic footage of police-attack dogs and high-powered fire hoses remain indelibly imprinted on the memories of those who saw the images on televisions and in newspapers around the world in the 1960s. Sculptures throughout the park are vivid depictions of police dog and fire hose assaults on demonstrators, many of them children.
After lunch visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a cultural and educational research center that promotes a comprehensive understanding for the significance of civil rights developments in Birmingham. Visitors can experience a rendition of a segregated city in the 1950s, as well as examine a replica of a Freedom Riders bus and even the actual jail cell door from behind which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” The institute is also home to an expansive archive of documents from the Civil Rights Movement and nearly 500 recorded oral histories relevant to the period.
Heading back towards Montgomery, we stop at Selma driving by Sturvidant Hall. This mansion is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival neo-classic architecture in the Southeast. Built in 1852-1856 as a townhouse for Col. Edward Watts, artisans from Italy were brought in to do the plaster and marble work in this 10-room, 6,000-square-foot mansion. Its existence today contrasts the lives of the wealthy land owners with those of their slaves, who later became their servants after Emancipation. Interestingly, next door and on the same grounds is a beautiful cottage that was the home of Mary Todd Lincoln’s half- sister.
Drive across town to Brown Chapel AME Church, the starting point of the Selma to Montgomery March. At the Selma Interpretive Center meet with foot soldier Annie Pearl who will take about the events of March 7, 1965 when the first attempt was made to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. During “Bloody Sunday,” 600 marchers were violently turned back by State Troopers and were brutally beaten all the way back to Brown Chapel. Two days later, 2,000 marchers approached the state troopers blocking the bridge but turned back. Two weeks later, under federal protection, 4,000 marchers crossed the bridge and by the time they reached the state capitol five days later their numbers had grown to 25,000. With Civil rights “foot soldiers” who were on the march to direct us, we walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge ourselves.
Return to Montgomery driving the 54 miles along the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail which commemorates the events, people, and route of the 1965 Voting Rights March.
On arrival back in Montgomery we have something really special planned. Our coach will stop at the fountain and everyone will get off and be joined by additional marchers and a police escort to reenact the final stages of the Selma to Montgomery March. Everyone walks together, singing arm in arm, to the steps of the capitol building where a gospel choir is waiting along with other officials. Everyone will receive an “On Sacred Grounds” certificate to end the day in preparation for a new day tomorrow.
Special note: All Conference attendees interested in joining this March meet at the fountain two blocks from the Renaissance Montgomery at 6pm.
4. Art, Architecture & Worship: A time capsule of Montgomery’s historical architecture
Monday, January 28th
Depart Renaissance Montgomery at 8am & Return at 12:45pm
Commence with a tour of the Alabama Governor’s Mansion focusing on architecture, interior design, and decorative arts within the 1907 Colonial Revival style house’s five public rooms. A walking (or bus dependent on weather) tour of Old Alabama Town, a collection of some 50 19th century residences and places of work, introduces local vernacular architecture (log cabin, dog-trot, camelback, I-house, and shotgun), as well as Greek Revival and Italianate houses including a visit to the interior of fully-furnished Italianate townhouse with its slave quarters. By bus tour the Garden District with its early 20th century suburb with bungalows and four-square homes, but primarily fine Colonial Revival, Georgian Revival, Tutor Revival, and Spanish Colonial/Mediterranean homes and a look at the interior of nationally-famous Ralph Adam Cram’s Early Gothic style Episcopal Church of the Ascension.