A trip to Montgomery and Selma, Alabama, over Memorial Day weekend led Lisa Rawlings, EMBA 19, to redefine courage.
“Putting myself in my grandparents’ shoes, I realized that courage was not always resistance, but sometimes it was simply endurance, which often required unthinkable compromises to their dignity to save their lives and those of their loved ones,” said Rawlings, whose African American grandmother was born in Alabama and left for Memphis as a teenager.
Left to right: Claire Veuthey, EMBA 19; Travis Adkins; Lisa Rawlings, EMBA 19; John Gribowich EMBA 19; Alexei Greig, EMBA 19; Suprita Makh, EMBA 19; Vansh Makh (Suprita’s husband); and Adam Rosenzweig, EMBA 19, gather in front of the City of Saint Jude Parish in Montgomery, the final campground site for the people who marched from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights.
John Gribowich (who is also a Catholic priest) at the Brown Chapel AME Church, which was the staging area for the beginning of the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery.
The outside of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also called the lynching memorial. "Certain places come to encapsulate large, complex issues: the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Berlin Wall, Robben Island," said Adam Rosenzweig. "Without visiting the place, you can’t fully understand the issue. The National Memorial for Peace & Justice has become such a place for anyone seeking to better understand the legacy of racial terrorism in America."
More than 4,300 documented lynchings of African Americans took place between 1877 and 1950. "I was taken aback by the horror we are able to inflict on each other," said Suprita Makh. "I knew this on an intellectual level but it was something else to be confronted with in person, to put names and faces behind numbers."
Jars that contain samples of soil from confirmed lynching sites in Alabama. The victims' names are on the jars. "The sadness and pain I felt while reflecting on the sheer number of people tortured, humiliated and murdered during lynchings or protests... I will not become jaded to the utter terror black Americans experienced for centuries here and continue to experience today," said Alexei Greig.
"In my mind lynchings had been horrendous acts carried out by tens or a few hundred white men in response to perceived slights," said Alexei Greig. "Learning that they were a class of lynchings that were public events with crowds of thousands, with audiences of women and children who took joy in the spectacle was beyond sickening."
"I took this trip to honor the legacy and sacrifice of my grandparents...and all of those before them," Lisa Rawlings said. "I think especially of my grandmother who was born in Alabama and left for Memphis as a teenager. She never looked back and never spoke about her life in Alabama."
"I thought we would have to look harder for signs of “the old South," Adam Rosenzweig said. "I expected that time and modernity would have forced the most visible elements of slavery and racism underground or into sanitized museum exhibits. This was not the case."
The group walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which is named after a Grand Wizard of the KKK. "This shocked everyone in our group," said Adam Rosenzweig. "We all knew the name of the bridge, but we didn’t know who it was named for. It’s a powerful and not uncommon symbol of the centrality of white supremacy in Alabama."
"I’d like to think I would have been part of the freedom fighters, willing to risk my life for equal voting rights," said Claire Veuthey, (left). "But I’m not that brave. I’m pushing myself to consider: what’s the analogy today? What’s the injustice we’re too timid to call out, too frightened to push back against?"
"I still will never comprehend the full extent of the injustice and ongoing plight that exists for people of color," said John Gribowich, left. "I can only try my best each day to be a bit more empathetic and challenge how I am selflessly using my white privilege for the betterment of society."
Rawlings was among a group of six students in the MBA for Executives program who traveled to Alabama to connect the history of racial injustice in America to the present day. Rawlings was joined by Adam Rosenzweig, John Gribowich, a priest who made the same trip last year, Alexei Greig, Claire Veuthey, and Suprita Makh, all EMBA 19.
In Montgomery, the group visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also called the lynching memorial, which opened in 2018 and was built by the the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative. They toured the City of Saint Jude Parish and the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, the first church where Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor. After visiting the Lowndes Interpretive Center (in 1965, 80% of residents in Lowndes were African-American and not a single one was registered to vote), they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the scene of the stand-off between the marchers for voting rights and law enforcement on Bloody Sunday in 1965.
(All photos by John Gribowich and Adam Rosenzweig)