By Charles Goldberg
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — History came alive for Raashed Kennion on Sunday when the Auburn football player who grew up learning about the civil rights movement from his grandparents came face to face with it on 16th Street North, across the way from where four young girls were killed in a church bombing in 1963.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute provided Kennion and his Auburn teammates a history lesson and more as they toured the facility as part of the activities leading up to Wednesday's Birmingham Bowl.
The photos, the statues, the words, the separate water fountains for whites and blacks, the scratchy films of days gone by reminded all of the past of a troubled Birmingham, of a troubled South, during the time of segregation. It also offered hope.
"We just have to focus on the future and what we can do," Kennion said.
Kennion had studied for this day, not the night before, or on the bus trip over from the practice field. He had studied all his life.
"My grandparents have a little bit of a library at their house, and when I was younger, they had me read a whole bunch of civil rights books and give oral book reports on it, sometimes written. I love this. It's amazing to see it in person," Kennion said.
"There is a lot of history around here. To have an opportunity to actually come see this is very, very humbling."
The institute tells of Birmingham and of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair. It tells of the Selma to Montgomery Freedom March. It tells of the Montgomery bus boycott.
Dr. Martin Luther King's voice still carries the message of equality in this building. Kennion said King's speeches "speak volumes to my soul every time I hear his voice. He was such an influential person in the civil rights field. I hope one day I can become a part of that."
The defensive lineman comes from an athletic family. His mother, father, grandparents, aunts and uncles were all college athletes. There was more.
Linebacker Kris Frost said the visit was an educational experience for all.
"It was a great opportunity to learn a lot. A lot of guys felt that way," Frost said. "It was really important for us to sit down and pay attention, and take heed to what was going on around us. It was amazing seeing all this historic stuff.
"I was gazing at everything, every picture, every piece of art they have. It's all pretty breathtaking."
Frost said he became more aware of the civil rights movement after moving to the South.
"It's something I'm learning more and more about. It makes me hungrier for knowledge, not just African-American history, but just history of this nation."
Kennion said it was worth the trip.
"It's very important, especially for shaping the culture of the future, not only African-American, but every American, period. We all need to know our roots. It's very important to learn about all of our history."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine
Jonathan Wallace takes in an exhibit at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute