Retracing the March in Selma

Selma is essential for any civil rights crawl.

Everything in Alabama is close-by. This is the beauty of planning a civil rights crawl. You can cram your day chock full of learning and eating with barely any time wasted in the car. It also means that you may try to do too much in one day. We found ourselves in this predicament as we drove from Montgomery to Tuskegee then back towards Selma then on to Marion with stops along the way. We did not have time to carefully follow the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historical Trail. We also arrived in Selma after the National Voting Rights Museum closed.

IMG_5505We were able to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and imagine what it must have been like to reach the peak of the bridge, high above the Alabama River, and face a sea of mounted police and police cars with blue lights flashing. I was energized by a group of high school students who started their walk with us but quickly outstripped us. We’d see them again at Brown Chapel. We also spoke with some fellow travelers—a group of friends from Texas and New York–who met up in Alabama. They recommended we also see the Old Live Oak Cemetery.

We took their advice and drove to the cemetery. It is spooky with ancient Live Oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. We all thought of Savannah, Georgia and the cemetery in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil movie. The Selma cemetery is well cared for and interesting. Thanks to our friends we knew to walk deeper through the plots to an area dedicated to the remembering the Confederacy. There were confederate flags on many of the graves, memorials to Jefferson Davis and General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The area is maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Selma Chapter 53. It is also unsettling and helped us understand why Selma as a city has not been able to move on since the 1960s. It looks like it has been in a long state of decay since the Selma-to-Montgomery March. This is a community that has not made peace with its past.

IMG_5518The contrast of the large lawns and stately homes near the cemetery with the George Washington Carver apartment complex across the Brown Chapel AME Church is stark. We pulled up to the church as the high school students were leaving and Chantay spotted the church pastor. She spoke to him and enjoyed a tour of the sanctuary while Phyllis and I admired the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument. The pastor was very generous with his time and gave Chantay commemorative key chains to share with us.

We drove about 40 minutes through beautiful countryside to Marion, Alabama. The March really starts here. Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by a state trooper during a peaceful protest for voter rights on February 18, 1965. This prompted a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. Reverend Hosea Williams and John Lewis stepped from the pulpit of Brown Chapel Church and led 600 marchers six blocks to the Edmund Pettus Bridge where the Sheriff and mounted deputies met them with nightsticks and tear gas. Known as “Bloody Sunday” it sparked the expanded civil rights movement in Alabama. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came from Atlanta and helped to plan the Minister’s March and then the Selma-to-Montgomery March.

Insight into a Young Dr. King

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We rushed to arrive at the Dexter Parsonage Museum where Dr. Martin and Coretta Scott King lived while he served as pastor of the church. This is where he was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association that organized the boycott and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The tours start on the hour and we knew the last tour would be at 3:00 p.m.

I was not sure what to expect when we entered the first house and into the gift shop where tickets are sold. Our lovely elderly tour guide, Mrs. Margeurite Foley, escorted us out to the front sidewalk and began sharing with us what it was like to live in the neighborhood in the 1950s. We saw where a bomb tore a hole in the porch (and fortunately no one was injured). Then we entered the living room and could easily imagine the family life and entertaining they might have done from their home. Some of the furniture is the same as Dr. King and his young family used.

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We realized when we got to the dining room that Mrs. Foley was a contemporary of the King family and knew him as her pastor. The quality of our questions and discussion changed and it was thrilling. I’ve visited famous people’s homes before—Frank Lloyd Wright for example—and none has moved me in the way this glimpse into the personal life of Martin Luther King Jr. did. Chantay was especially touched to see the photo of Ghandi on his desk in his study.

We drove around the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church on our way to the Parsonage. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his career as a minister and an activist at this church. The meeting to launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott was held in the basement of the church on December 2, 1955.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church  454 Dexter Avenue (a block west of the State Capitol), Montgomery, AL 36104  www.dexterkingmemorial.org

Dexter Parsonage Museum  303 S. Jackson Street (south of Monroe Street), Montgomery, AL 36104

Tour schedule: On the top of the hour Tuesday through Friday: 10:00a.m., 11:00a.m., 1p.m., 2p.m., 3p.m. and Saturday 10a.m., 11a.m., 12p.m., 1p.m.

The website recommends you contact them and make a reservation for your tour and this made sense once we arrived and realized the tours are powered by volunteers.

Moved Deeply at Civil Rights Memorial

The memorial designed by Maya Lin was closed for refurbishing when we visited in October, 2018. Even without this part of the experience, our visit to the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s Civil Rights Memorial was deeply moving. As you move through the first part you are invited to learn about 40 people who gave their lives for civil rights. Their stories were deeply moving.

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There is a small theater where a film about the civil rights movement plays at regular intervals. Then you move through a hallway with a timeline that records more recent hate crimes and people who have given their lives for our freedom.

Another area features quotes from leaders that prompt contemplation and reflection. This would naturally lead to the memorial itself. I look forward to visiting at a time in the future when this water feature is restored.

Just a short walk away is the Freedom Riders Museum. It is one of the places we did not have time to visit. We regretted this when we were in Birmingham and learned more about the brave Freedom Riders riding Greyhound buses to desegregate bus service in the South.

Rosa Parks Still Inspires

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Phyllis and me at the site where Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus. It is adjacent to Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum.

The historical marker on the spot where police boarded the city bus to arrest Rosa Parks for not giving up her seat for white passengers is also the site of the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University. We bought our tickets and strolled the hallways looking at the Gees Bend quilts and other art until the tour started.

IMG_5410Our group was ushered in to the first room where we watched a video giving us more information about Rosa Parks. Many know her story in the most simplistic terms: woman is tired of the segregated city bus policies and one day refuses to give up her seat. The reaction from her community sparks the civil rights movement. This is true is in its essentials and glosses over a lot of important details. The video begins to redress the gaps. Our esteem of this diminutive hero increased.

The second room has an actual old city bus and a nifty multi-media reenactment. It is clever in relating the atmosphere and the details of the event. The doors then open to further exhibits that give more context of Rosa Parks’ brave action. It also tells the story of the year-long bus boycott and other details of Rosa’s life.

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While we were there, the museum curators were organizing a new exhibit that included artwork inspired by Parks and artifacts from her arrest. We would have lingered longer except we wanted to visit the Dexter Street Church Parsonage before it closed.

Rosa Parks Museum

252 Montgomery Street, Montgomery, AL 36104 (334) 241-8615

https://www.troy.edu/rosaparks/

Hours: Monday-Friday 9a.m.-5p.m.; Saturday 9a.m.-3p.m.; Closed Sundays and holidays

Ticket prices: 12 and under $5.50 per person; Over 12 $7.50 per person; various discounts available.

Lynching Memorial Focus of Civil Rights Crawl

This was the main purpose for our trip to Alabama.

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Slavery sculpture by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo 

History, despite its

wrenching pain, cannot

be unlived, but if faced

with courage, need not

be lived again.

–Maya Angelou

The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.

–Ida B. Wells

Thousands of African Americans are unknown victims of racial terror lynchings whose deaths cannot be documents, many whose names will never be known.

They are all honored here.

IMG_5383The only way to end the legacy of domestic terrorism is to remember, confront our part, and learn. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice remembers the 4,000 documented lynchings in the United States from the end of Reconstruction to the 1950s. Also called the Lynching Memorial, it is a sacred space with sculptures and a courtyard that evoke emotions of sadness, anger and thirst for justice.

Every county with one or more lynchings has a permanent memorial placed in by state  and county in alphabetical order. There are docents who can help you find a particular county, or in our case, to research if there was a lynching in California. There was one county for California represented: Kern County (Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley).

Hundreds of black men, women, and children were lynched in the Elaine Massacre in Phillips County, Arkansas, in 1919.

Bird Cooper was lynched in Claiborne Parish, Louisiana, in 1908 after he was acquitted for murder.

Dozens of men, women, and children were lynched in a massacre in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917.

IMG_5375The Legacy Museum gives more detail and a timeline of the lynchings. Through a multi-media presentation of historical accounts of lynchings, the Legacy Museum carries the story through to the new method of terror, mass incarceration.

The tickets to the Memorial are $5 per all persons (children under 6 free); $8 for EJI’s Legacy Museum and a combined ticket of $10 per person. There is plenty of parking near the Memorial and a shuttle between the Legacy Museum and the lynching memorial. We thought there might be crowds on the Thursday in October and bought our tickets in advance. This probably is no longer necessary as it has been open for over 6 months. There is a security check at both locations. EJI hosts a gift shop next door to the Legacy Museum.

 

 

 

 

Eating Southern in Alabama

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Chantay in front of the menu at our favorite MGM breakfast place.

We were excited to learn all we could about civil rights history and our ongoing struggle for justice. At the same time we were looking forward to eating some good southern food. When I stepped off the plane in Birmingham I’d been traveling all day on Southwest Airlines. I didn’t say yes to all the high carb, high salt snacks they offer so I was hungry. It was already 8 p.m. when I left the Payless Rental Car counter. And the first car reeked of cigarette smoke and I had to ask for a different vehicle. This took some time. Now I was almost past hungry, so I reminded myself that in California it was only 6:30 p.m. and I headed for the only place I could find near the airport–Hardee’s. Not exactly hitting the southern spot yet a good charbroiled burger. Interesting to note a different fast food chain. (Or is it? It looks remarkably similar to Carl’s Jr.)

 

The food at Central was delicious and service was solid.

Chantay, Phyllis and I were all together by the next morning and ready to leave early for Montgomery. The plan was to stop along the way but Chantay doesn’t like fast food, so all of the wayside places were nixed and she got busy looking up options in Montgomery on Yelp. She found Cahawba House and directed us there. It is in the heart of downtown and just up the street from the Central Square Fountain. Within minutes we were enjoying good coffee and just what we wanted to eat. Chantay got her grits with cheese. Phyllis got some pimento concoction. (They do love pimento in ‘bama.) I got an amazing biscuit with bacon.

The rest of our trip was not food-obsessed, but we ate very well. For the best experience, wave off your diet till you get home.

Pie Lab in Greensboro, Alabama

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Hands off Lemon dessert

In Montgomery we split a giant plate of barbeque at Dreamland BBQ with four meat and 3 sides. Our waiter was terrific but the food was just okay. Central, a restaurant on same side of block as the Legacy Museum was wonderful. I had a pork chop with sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts that was yummy. Chantay had some lemon pie that she only reluctantly offered to share a bite. We returned to Cahawba House for more of those biscuits. When we searched for a restaurant in Tuskegee, both Yelp and Trip Advisor ranked Subway number 1, so we decided to drive back to Montgomery and eat at Sweet Creek Country Store. The smoked chicken was wonderful. The peach cobbler was also delicious but I would have enjoyed it more without the soft serve ice cream on top. Phyllis was yet to be really impressed by the food. She found Chantay and my fascination with searching for places to eat and enthusiasm to try different dishes amusing.

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Coffee at the Stable can be enjoyed in the outdoor courtyard or the comfy indoor spaces.

My friend John’s adopted home of Greensboro had a number of delicious places. We enjoyed breakfast at The Stable coffeehouse and lunch and pie at the Pie Lab. Both of these establishments are relatively new and we hope they will prosper.

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Chicken and Waffles at Roots and Revelry

Birmingham is a foodie’s delight. There are so many places to try that it was daunting to decide where to eat. We started with a recommendation for brunch after worship at 16th Street Baptist Church. We walked about 5 blocks to the site of Mrs. B’s only to read it is closed. The sign on their door redirected us to Mr. Z’s. We trooped off to eat there and then saw the sign for Roots and Revelry. I couldn’t get enough fried chicken. Chantay couldn’t get enough of po’boys–either oyster or shrimp. And everywhere we wanted to try the pie.

IMG_5718P.S. I also was looking for a bookstore and a coffee shop. I found the perfect blend in Church Street Coffee and Books. I browsed the carefully curated books on sale and noticed I have read about half, which means I’ll love the other half! I bought a few… Coffee is good too.

 

 

 

 

Visiting Alabama for the First Time

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Birmingham Airport: First time seeing an Ebony magazine newsstand–I’ve seen CNN, NBC and Hudson News, among others. 

Alabama looked different than I expected. I’ve been to all of the other Southern states save Kentucky, and I thought Alabama would be flatter and dominated by farm crops. Blame digital map apps. If you are looking up where you are going on a paper map you can’t help but see that the Talladega National Forest is like a green smoothie spilled across the state. With Google Maps I zoom in on where I am going and if I don’t take the time to zoom out or use the other features, I make a mental map that is mostly flat.

I also expected more water. A small part of Alabama touches the gulf shore at Mobile, but for the most part Alabama receives its water from the sky. Far from the Mississippi River, the state and its largest communities are not dominated by rivers in the way so many other places are in the US.

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Alabama woods from Vulcan Park in Birmingham: The Appalachian Trail southern terminus is in Georgia, and the Talladega National Forest is the southern end of the Appalachians extending into Alabama.

There are more hills than I expected and the forests are the same mix of pine and hardwood that cover the Appalachians. We came for the civil rights history but these woods made me wonder about the indigenous people who were here even earlier. The Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, and Chickasaws, as well as the Alabama-Coushattas and the Yuchis hunted, danced and walked in these woods.

Our adventure is a civil rights crawl. Our plan is to drive our rental car to Montgomery-Tuskegee-Selma-Marion-Greensboro and Birmingham. Phyllis, Chantay and I have done internet research and we are also using the “Alabama Civil Rights Museum Trail” as a guide. We also look forward to eating good food and meeting friendly folks from ‘Bama all along the way.