Sunday, April 26, 2015

And so it begins

Please indulge me as I post (way too many) photos of our pilgrimage through the South. This week has left me with much to process, and as we finish up our time here tonight to head home tomorrow morning, I am thinking through the stories I've heard over and over this week.

It's funny how even though we saw repetition in many of the exhibits, placards and museums we visited, the stories are still not embedded in me. On one hand it is not my history, as I wasn't alive yet, and so it takes effort to remember the names and dates and happenings. On the other hand, it is my history; this history belongs to all of us as Americans- not just because it is the story of our nation, but because we inherit both the legacy of courage of those struggling for civil rights and the legacy of shame for the horrific ways our fellow Americans maybe even our ancestors terrorized our human beings, and for the ways racism still marks our nation's landscape. More than once this week I uttered Lord Have Mercy. Our capacity as humans to cause damage to others is incredible.

Day 2: Montgomery + Selma

On Tuesday, we went back to downtown Montgomery to explore in the daylight. We parked by this beautiful, historic home around the corner from the Southern Poverty Law Center. (I keep being astounded as an Oaklander how massive these Southern homes are)
(Loved this pretty fence and gate)
There is a monument outside of the Southern Poverty Law Center by Maya Lin, who made the Vietnam Memorial. Powerful to put our hands in the water. The monument bubbles up in the center, and it made me think of how many small but intentional actions bubbled up during the civil rights period, until it finally couldn't be ignored.
Inside the Southern Poverty Law center. Each portrait has a bio engraved into it, which was so moving. many of the ordinary people who gave their lives- intentionally or not- to the movement for equality.
At the end of the museum you can add your name to the Wall of Tolerance. I added my name (as did Matt), although I don't really like the word tolerance. (Can you find both of our names? Gold star if you can)
Any trip with my husband involves food, so, you know.....
We went to this famous Montgomery spot, Chris' Hot Dogs. You have to try a place when at 10 PM a city bus stops a block away and someone yells out of the front doors of the bus, "Is Chris' still open?" 
Holy goodness, and I don't even like hot dogs. Meanwhile, husband indulged his obsession with sweet tea.
After getting some food, we went to the Dexter Ave Baptist Church for a tour of the church where Dr. King was a pastor for 6 years. Hands down this was the best tour I've ever been on. The tour guide began our time by getting to know each one of us, and by leading us in a time of singing We Shall Overcome. A local kid was there, and didn't know it cost money, and multiple people volunteered to pay for his tour. maybe I cried multiple times on the tour (of course if you know me, this is not shocking.)

We began in Dr. King's study, which is original.
One of my cry spots is surprisingly in front of the wall of pastor portraits. The church has photos of all of the pastors since the 1800's, when the church was built during the Reconstruction. The pastor before King was Vernon Johns, a fiery pastor and civil rights leader who rubbed many of the middle and upper middle class blacks at Dexter Ave Baptist wrong. He would challenge them in ways they didn't want to be challenged, and intentionally did things to incite them to action. For instance? He sold his farm vegetables outside of the front of the church, challenging their elitist attitudes. Our tour guide talked about how Vernon Jones prepared those at the church for MLK. Vernon was more radical and less of a peacemaker. Then along came King, who challenged the church, but who never could have pushed as far as he could without Vernon preceding him. I often want Matt to be more like King (let's face it, he is more fiery than I am!) But as our tour guide reminded us? Each of us has a role. It seems funny as I write it, but tears streamed down my face, as I thought about how my husband is different than I am in how he approaches thing, but how both of us have a role in seeking justice and goodness.
The little Sunday School area, with the pulpit which King spoke from when he addressed the marchers from Selma to Montgomery.
The sanctuary of Dexter Ave. I love that they built this church during the Reconstruction, and that they used the discarded bricks from the city paving the main street to do it!

We raced over to King's parsonage, where he lived while pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist. I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside, but I did take pictures of the porch, which still bears the scars of the bomb that was set off at their home while Coretta was home with their ten month old baby. Powerful to see the diningroom table where countless meetings where held about the civil rights movement.

Down the street (which has changed a lot since Dexter Ave Baptist purchased the parsonage- back then it was an upper middle class black neighborhood) I loved this graffiti:

We then went to Montgomery's Greyhound Station, the site of a brutal attack on Freedom Riders. It is now a monument. You. Guys. Heartbreaking and inspiring.

We left Montgomery to drive to a couple of small monuments off the main highway to civil rights workers who were killed. John Daniels , a young seminarian, was killed in Hayneville, Alabama.

Viole Liuzzo , a white mother of five who had driven down from Michigan after reading news reports of how awful the struggle was becoming, was shot in her car while driving a black marcher home.
Her monument has been vandalized many times so it is surrounded by a fence.

We drove the route of the march from Selma to Montgomery, but in the opposite direction, ending up in Selma that evening. We stayed at the lovely St. James Hotel, with about 100 crazy high school students on a civil rights trip.
Selma is a weary town, with little enterprise to sustain it. Walking around it was pretty depressing, although I am so glad we went there.

As evening fell we walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which was the site for incredible violence. If you haven't seen the movie Selma, which details much of this part of the movement? I highly recommend it. Walking this bridge was powerful and poignant.
The second half of the bridge falls off sharply so it was easy to imagine the marchers suddenly surprised at the amount of state troopers the the base of the bridge. Of course they were prepared for violence, but walking it in the evening light it was hard to imagine how brutal that day was.
A monument to unknown martyrs at the base of the bridge:
The beauty of the evening as we crossed back over the bridge was in stark contrast to the history of Bloody Sunday.

After walking around the downtown, we finally stopped for dinner and drinks at the lone Mexican spot in town. Two things: One? All the other restaurants were closed. Two? For Selma Alabama it was pretty good, but I'll stick with taco trucks in Oakland for good Mexican...
A sobering day. So much to absorb. Lucky for us we ended up having a great conversation with a couple of locals who have lived in Selma their entire lives, and who have been actively involved in civil rights. And then as we headed to bed, the maintainace guy- African American, and probably in his 70's-walked over to us, introduced himself, and handed us two books about Rosa Parks and Bernard Lafayette (another Civil Rights activist) for us to borrow and read. It felt sacred, so I stayed up late reading one of the books, and thinking about how even in 2015 it was likely still an act of bravery for an elderly black man to approach and give a white couple some books.

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