Alabama played a pivotal role in the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. Through a 4 day seminar in Huntsville, Alabama hosted by the International Services Council of Alabama, scholars learned about this history as well as current efforts to empower marginalized groups and create change in a democratic society.
The seminar began at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which houses artifacts from the U.S. Space Program. Representatives from the Fulbright Visiting Scholar program warmly welcomed Scholars. They then enjoyed a tour of the space center, followed by a reception, dinner, and address from journalist, David Person, entitled, “Why Come to Alabama to Study Democracy and Human Rights.”
The evening ended with swing dance lessons from the group I Charleston Huntsville, a group that developed out of a global challenge for communities to make videos of themselves dancing the Charleston in front of famous places.
The next day, scholars traveled to Birmingham, the city that was at the heart of the Civil Rights movement to learn about its history and importance today. At Samford University, Dr. Brannon Denning, Dean at the School of Law, spoke about the relationship between human rights and civil rights. A panel of historians, attorneys and judges gave scholars a background on the Civil Rights Movement.
In the afternoon speakers addressed issues of civil rights today. Scholars then toured the Lakeshore Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to improve the fitness of people with disabilities. Scholars learned about the organization’s work providing athletic opportunities in rugby, basketball and swimming to individuals with disabilities, as well as its role as a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site. In the last part of the trip, scholars visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where they learned about the events, struggles and voices of the Civil Rights Movement through a tour and exhibits.
The next day, Alabama Senator Arthur Orr, addressed scholars on “Transparency in a Democratic Government.” Following this scholars had the chance to attend several breakout sessions on topics including immigration, youth leadership, economic empowerment and minority participation in governments.
The seminar ended with a discussion on what scholars learned. Scholars appreciated the opportunity to hear from a diverse group of passionate speakers and gain a more in-depth understanding of human rights and democracy in American society.