Celebrating Voices of Alabama
Last night, hundreds of friends and supporters gathered in New York City at TheTimesCenter to celebrate the launch of Voices of Alabama, an oral history project that is illuminating a group of 20 Civil Rights sites through storytelling.
Guests were treated to a dynamic discussion on preserving the country’s Civil Rights heritage, featuring panelists Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell from Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, Priscilla Hancock Cooper from the Alabama African-American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium, Joyce O’Neal from Selma’s Brown Chapel AME Church, and award-winning journalist Carol Jenkins, who moderated the conversation.
To kick off the discussion, Jenkins introduced Joyce O’Neal’s oral history video, which includes painful memories of Bloody Sunday, when marchers departing from her church were brutally beaten by police while attempting to cross the nearby Edmund Pettus Bridge.
“I keep a vivid memory of Bloody Sunday when I saw the horses ride up the steps of the church,” said Joyce O’Neal to the audience. “It’s a place where my mother took us to be nourished spiritually, and to see someone riding a horse and be so disrespectful to an African-American institution was very painful to watch.”
Congresswoman Sewell was also raised in Selma’s Brown Chapel, but years after Bloody Sunday and the Civil Rights Movement.
“You grow up in Selma understanding the importance of its history, but you only really get to understand it not because of the history books but because of the people,” she said.
The Congresswoman also reflected on devastating events at another Consortium site, Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, and the impact they had on her life.
“It’s never lost on me that I get to walk the halls of Congress because four little black girls were killed in that church, and they don’t get to live out their dreams and aspirations,” said Congresswoman Sewell. “It’s never lost on me that I get to be that person not because I was somehow special, but because of circumstance and the strength and the power and the bravery of the people that grew up in my district.”
Priscilla Hancock Cooper spoke of the urgency of the project, sharing that Theresa Burroughs of Safe House Black History Museum in Greensboro passed away just months after filming her oral history interview.
“She understood the importance of that place, the importance of preserving it for that community, making it available to tell young people the story,” said Cooper. “We think this is the last interview that she did,” said Cooper.
Voices of Alabama is an interactive, digital platform showcasing powerful stories from veterans of the Civil Rights era who lived, worked, worshipped, and gathered in a group of sites across Alabama. In 2017, those sites organized as the Alabama African-American Civil Rights Heritage Sites Consortium in partnership with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to grow their preservation capacities. Shortly thereafter, the Consortium was included on the 2018 Watch, giving birth to Voices of Alabama. The new platform allows users to explore each site primarily through moving videos but also through maps, a timeline, and historic imagery.
To experience the powerful stories of each site, visit VoicesofAlabama.org.