Monday, January 9, 2012

The Trees of 16th

Last week my family was in Birmingham visiting our friends at Lifeline and meeting new friends. It was a great week that included swimming for the kids and barbecue for me. As great as the week was, our very last day in Birmingham was the most memorable for me.

We went to visit 16th Street Baptist Church. In 1963 the church was bombed. The bomb was aimed for Dr. King, but four little girls lost their lives instead. Across the street from the church was a park that was owned by the klan. Our guide, a man named Charles, said that this is where Dr. King and so many others decided they were going to stand for God's justice.

In the park, fairly near the church, there is a large tree. On the far limb of that tree just one year before the bombing a man was hung because he was black. My boys couldn't believe it when they heard it. There was a vote in Birmingham about cutting down the tree to try and erase the horrible memory. For families like mine they decided to leave it there. It is a constant reminder of the horrors of hate, but that is not all. It is also a reminder that hate isn't the end of the story.

After we toured the park we went to the door where the bomb was placed. I think it was getting real to my crew at that point. Though the tour looked like it was done, there was one more place to visit. Charles brought us to a tree just past the church. He said we needed to know this story.

Charles told us he was a "country boy" who was born in 1960. He knew about trees. He also knew about hatred and racism. His grandfather was the one who carried the girls out on stretchers. At 14 Charles was chased by seven white men with unknown intentions. Last Friday there was still fear in his eyes as he spoke about this. The fear in his eyes is why the story of this last tree gives Charles hope.

There is a big pine tree behind the church. Charles said it was planted around the time that he was born. Unlike most pines, this pine has four main branches. One clearly goes up in each direction. Charles said many times that God is the only one who can do this. He has never seen another pine tree like it, and after all, he is a country boy. He saw this as God showing the world that He has the girls. They are safe now. No one can hurt them.

As Charles said these things there were tears in his eyes. Before we left we prayed with our new friend. I keep finding myself praying that he finds that same safety. He is a wise, yet scared man. I'm praying for peace in his life.

It's hard for me to imagine the horrors that were done in that park. The fire hoses and dogs. The beatings and even the pleading. Yet my family walked through it as one. In the back of the park there is a fountain that was at one time "for whites only." Each of my children drank from there. Hate never wins. God writes the story.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the story Matt - I grew up in Alabama and Mississippi and can totally appreciate your emotions and heartbreak for this gentleman... hopefully Charles can experience the true feeling of being "free at last!"