Downtown Tuscaloosa is usually bustling with activity, and visitors may not realize the historic events that took place right where they now walk. On recent visits to downtown, some may notice markers on the sidewalk featuring a hand symbol. These markers, and the work of the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History & Reconciliation Foundation, bring history to life through a “civil rights trail” by highlighting key events that took place in Tuscaloosa in the fight for civil rights.
The Foundation aims to bring about positive change and reconciliation and to create “Civil Rights Tourism” in Tuscaloosa through the civil rights trail.
Dr. Meredith Bagley, associate professor in Communication Studies, was first made aware of the project in 2017 while she worked on the Autherine Lucy historical marker, which is now located on University Boulevard west of Colonial Drive.
Throughout the foundation’s progress, Dr. Bagley has connected her classes and students to the work by teaching special topics classes about public memory and campus landscapes that are featured sites on the civil rights trail.
During this monumental year with the rededication of a building on campus to honor Autherine Lucy, Bagley saw an opportunity to introduce C&IS faculty and staff to the trail. This semester, she led a tour through Downtown Tuscaloosa and provided faculty and staff with knowledge about the historic landmarks and events represented along the trail.
Dr. Bagley emphasizes how all people can connect to the history on the trail and highlights how the communication work involved in memory preservation and education can apply directly to the fields of study represented in our College. She also discusses how white faculty and staff can play a role in memory and advocacy, without placing the burden entirely on communities of color.
“It really just brings in all sorts of skills and ideas that we have expertise on here at the college: public relations, creative media, speech and rhetoric, intercultural relationships, leadership, we’re all over this topic or endeavor as a college,” Dr. Bagley said. “There are ways to accurately, respectfully tell the stories and learn the lessons that give us all a place in that story – a way to connect historically and contemporarily to issues of race, exclusion, community and progress.”
Dr. Suzanne Horsley, assistant dean of assessment, accreditation and diversity believes the tour is an opportunity to introduce the college community to this resource that is easily accessible for students, classes, and research.
“So many of our faculty and staff engage in social justice and diversity initiatives in their classes and programs, but I believe we often overlook what is right in our backyard,” Dr. Horsley said. “The Tuscaloosa Civil Rights Trail is a free resource that is an easy walk or drive from campus, but it is incredibly rich in telling the story about the work for civil rights in Alabama and beyond. All members of the UA community should know and understand this institution’s role in history and then apply what they learn to their studies, research or future endeavors.”
In addition to walking the trail, faculty who participate in the tour with Dr. Bagley this year are asked to develop teaching, research or programming ideas based on their experience, and share their ideas at future meetings.
Diversity, equity and inclusion continues to be an ongoing conversation and focus within C&IS, and more events and future teaching endeavors are planned for this year.
C&IS is committed to promoting an environment that fosters diversity and inclusion and is proud of the efforts of our students, faculty and staff. To learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion in C&IS, visit cis.ua.edu/diversity.