In The Roots of Revolution: Samford University
When we pulled into Birmingham, Alabama we all felt it. Maybe it was just goose bumps… but I’d like to believe that when I stood still and yet felt myself moving, it was more than just a breeze.
Samford University was the second school on our route, which was welcoming our presence. Upon arrival, we all commented on the beautiful landscape of the campus, the aesthetic charm that emanated from landscape designs and water fountains. A few of us arrived early to speak to a sociology class about our experiences and to answer any questions that might arise. I could hear my own heartbeat echoing through my body when we pulled up to campus as I scribbled on a notepad the things I felt were necessary to say.
In class, one by one the four of us (Angel, Casey, Josh, and myself) shared our stories and answered questions from the class. They watched us with wide eyes and while there were fewer than twenty in the class, I felt as though I was speaking to a generation of young adults, much like myself, often discontent with current conditions but too often left confused.
With that in mind, we proceeded to attend a forum in which four Equality Riders were the panelists. They spoke to an audience for which there were not enough seats. To our surprise, the students had just as many questions for their administration as they did for us. In some way, issues were danced around in regards to the execution of Samford policies because the faculty seemed somewhat hesitant to address our questions in reference to policies that fine individuals for committing “homosexual acts.” As the session grew to a close, one of the administrators at Samford had made it clear that the school merely prohibited any sexual activity outside the confines of marriage. One of our riders stood and introduced two other riders who were legally married in California. He continued by asking, “Would they, being a married couple, a marriage that was blessed by their congregation, be able to openly attend this university?” The administrator said that he could not speak for the entire school and declined to answer the question. However, throughout the day many students were discussing their ideas of what that answer would have been.
I was fortunate enough to have been part of the human rights presentation that was given at the law school. My group and I tried to utilize the innumerable movements through human, and specifically, American history that were generated because of a need for basic equality. We tried in many ways to provide information that would be useful to students who were pursing a career in law, highlighting the lack of housing, employment and protection that is provided for members of the LGBT community. We talked about Jesus, whom we believe to have been the first and greatest example of a human rights activist, a radical, a revolutionary.
While the visit was productive, with many opportunities for us to serve as a voice for a continually silenced community, it felt unfinished. I think about the physicality of the campus, complete with water fountains and well-nurtured trees. It is beautiful. It was very much like the community at Samford, beautiful, charming on a somewhat surface level. It felt too nice, too beautiful, like the fountains and green were merely providing an illusion to cover a more darker reality. Through many conversations on campus I heard repeated times that “Samford is very liberal and this doesn’t seem like much of a problem here” while I looked into the faces of closeted students on campus whose body language told me otherwise.
We were welcomed and engaged in dialogue but I felt as though I left a community that in some ways refused to see beyond the fountains, dig beneath the hills of green. I felt myself continually wanting to ask questions that created that necessary tension that would elicit growth beyond these seemingly beautiful gardens. I thought perhaps that I was being unfair and too quickly making assumptions. Then again, I was looking around at a campus of an overwhelming white majority in a city that is home to a more diverse demographic.
To complete our stay, we visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute this morning. I walked around in silence, listening to the recordings of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Shuttlesworth. I gazed at pictures of young black school children entering buildings with bystanders screaming at them. Standing there staring at a piece of one of the original buses from the Freedom Rides, I began feeling that same sensation that was felt when we pulled into, what my fellow rider would call, “the human rights holy land.” Those goose bumps started once again to rise, while we stood at the corner of the 16th Street Baptist Church. I could, again, simply say that it was just the breeze but that wouldn’t explain the whispers I felt at my ears, moving my heart, and leading me on. And with a shudder I boarded the bus, leaving behind an unfinished but bellowing Birmingham.