Unlike the beautiful, shining city of Montgomery, a veil of the past hangs over the streets of Selma. The National Historic Trail marks the 54-mile voting rights march between Selma and Montgomery, beginning at the Edmund Pettis Bridge. As we walked across the bridge, we could only imagine what it was like that ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1965 when peaceful marchers were attacked by law enforcement officers, and the subsequent marches that eventually led to the steps of the state capitol.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute tells the whole civil rights story – the bus boycott, the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the marches – all in factual, gruesome detail. It’s located across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church, where a Ku Klux Klan bomb killed four little girls one Sunday morning in 1963. Two of the three perpetrators were finally convicted on four counts of murder in 2001 and 2002. The third died in in 1994, and was never charged.
We had hoped to round out our civil rights tour with a visit to the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, but time ran out. We squeezed in a nice dinner with Russ’ cousin, Skip, and his husband, Rob, before setting our sights on home.
Known as the “Cradle of the Confederacy” and the “Birthplace of Civil Rights,” Montgomery holds its diverse history in tender hands. Without glossing over the tragedies that burned these eras into our country’s legacy, the stories are told with sensitivity and grace in every venue. Our first stop was Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where 24-year old Martin Luther King began his six-year ministry in 1954.
The year after Dr. King arrived in Montgomery, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her seat on a city bus. The next day, the meeting to launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott was held in the church basement. Dr. King, already known for his oratory skills, was chosen to lead the group that called themselves the Montgomery Improvement Association.
The Rosa Parks Museum has a wonderful multimedia presentation of the events surrounding this ordinary woman’s extraordinary courage. Her arrest on December 1, 1955 was the catalyst that led to the 382-day Montgomery Bus Boycott and the launch of the 20th century civil rights movement.
Photos weren’t allowed inside the museum, but we loved running into these “Soul Sistahs” from Mississippi.
We read about MLK’s epiphany in the Rosa Parks Museum, and wanted to see the room where it took place. I called the Dexter Parsonage Museum to see if we could catch the next tour, only to be told they were closing in 20 minutes.
“Let’s go anyway,” insisted Russ. “Maybe they’ll let us just look at the kitchen.” When we arrived, we immediately connected with Dr. Shirley Cherry, a life long educator with a passion for MLK. She agreed to give us a quick look at the parsonage where Dr. King lived from 1954 to 1959. That quick look extended into a two-hour private history lesson, not only about the house, but also of Dr. King’s philosophy of love and non-violence that changed the world.
THE EPIPHANY: Dr. and Mrs. King, who recently had become new parents, were receiving up to 40 threatening phone calls a day during the bus boycott. Late Friday night on January 27, 1956, Dr. King received a particularly menacing death threat while his family slept. Unnerved and unsure of himself, he went into the kitchen and fixed himself a pot of coffee.
“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.
The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”
At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Martin Luther, stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve is 900 acres of forest, creeks, and lakes, all cared for by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. They’re the only federally recognized Indian tribe in Alabama, operate as a sovereign nation with its own government, laws, and infrastructure, and are pulling in buckets of money with their gaming businesses.
We met the reserve’s general manager, Billy Smith, who served on the Tribal Council for 20 years, and also on the Gaming Board.
The reserve has been in the making since 2004, and new buildings such as this one use reclaimed wood whenever possible. Cypress, juniper, cedar, and long leaf pine downed by hurricanes Eric and Ivan are all part of this structure.
Gaming is their main source of income, and the money is pouring in, with three thriving casinos in Alabama, and three more in the works for Aruba. In 2012, the Poarch netted over $300 million for their tribe of 3000. They continue to buy back the land they were forced to give up in the 1830’s, and have established a museum and clinic on their reservation. Scholarships are available to any tribal member who wants to further their education. They also contribute to the greater community, such as the $14,000,000 Boys and Girls Club that’s in the works.
When I made Russ stop so I could take a photo Alabama’s red dirt roads, his comment was, “Janie, I don’t think people care as much about red roads as you do.”
We’re at Gunter Hill, a Corps of Engineers campground near Montgomery AL. As luck would have it, a dulcimer group has gathered here for the weekend, and last night we enjoyed the sweet tunes of old time music.
After our 4 1/2 hour delay with the diesel yesterday afternoon, and a just-in-time arrival before the campground gates were closed last night, this is what greeted us when we woke up this morning. We lingered here most of the morning before heading to Tallahassee for a Passport America rally. Tonight we wonder if we made the right choice in leaving this beautiful place.
We were happily on our way to an early arrival in Eufaula AL when we stopped for diesel in Union Springs. Unfortunately, within a mile of leaving the station, we knew we were in trouble. The next 4 1/2 hours were spent dealing with a tank full of mostly water. Our road side service could get us to a repair shop, but they couldn’t work on it until Monday, and we need to be in Tallahassee tomorrow.
Suddenly 4 men appeared, and started to help. We were hoping we could use the water separator under the hood to clear up the problem, but in the end we had to drain the whole tank. Our heroes of the day were Randolph (pictured R), Ronald, Ron Jr. and Henry. By 7:45pm we were on our way, thanks to these guys.
We were pretty whipped when we finally pulled into White Oak Campground, to what appears to be another beautiful Corps of Engineers park. Final kudos go to Big Red – a lesser truck would have buckled under the circumstances, but Big Red rose to the occasion and pulled through like a champ.
I’ve always loved sleeping in a tent, especially when it rains. Last night we discovered that rain sounds just as nice on the Ollie, and we enjoyed being warm and dry, with the outside temps hovering around 40 degrees. We managed to break camp on our own, and even got the truck hitched after several tries. (We’re assured that this will get easier, and we hope it’s sooner rather than later.)
The Natchez Traceis a National Park Parkway that we discovered coming back from our Great River Road trip last spring. Ollie’s home is just a few miles from the Trace, and we were able to spend 40 miles or so on this lovely byway as we made our way south to Tuscaloosa.
We gave Muscle Shoalsa nod as we drove through, but didn’t stop since we wanted to get to the campground before dark.
Deerlick Campground is run by the Corps of Engineers, and is it a beauty! Looking forward to spending some time here before we head out tomorrow. Tuscaloosa has been a lovely surprise with it waterways and rolling hills – a place neither one of us has ever been.