chapter  4
Virtual History
Pages 40

Martin Luther King’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church stands less than a block away from the State Capitol complex in Montgomery, Alabama ( Each structure in its own way represents important symbols of the civil rights movement-the Dexter Avenue church where Dr. King delivered many of his major sermons, the State Capitol the site of white power, of the segregationist Governor George Wallace, of state troopers. These two combatants in the civil rights movement were literally yards apart spatially; unlike fighters in a boxing match, who retreat to separate corners at the end of the round, these combatants had no separate corners to which to retreat. That absence of escape, that lack of reprieve, that constant reminder of white power symbolizes how King and other African-Americans had to live this conflict, reinforced by the physical proximity of this symbol of oppression. That proximity shaped the actions of civil rights activists; the church signboard that read “Jesus supported civil rights” was clearly intended for the white officials heading to the Capitol, a message aimed at those in power. “What did it mean to face your enemy at all times?” asks the historian of the civil rights movement Hasan Jeffries. “How does one negotiate this space when seeking to be an agent of change? How does one resist oppression given the proximity of white power, and how are one’s actions shaped by these spatial considerations?” he asks. Space, location, distance, and proximity were important, if underappreciated, features of the civil rights movement. We know that churches like the Dexter Avenue church were important sites in the civil rights movement, but Jeffries suggests that their location in space and other considerations of proximity are rarely mentioned in histories of the movement. How activists moved through and experienced that space impacted the decisions they made.1