I’ve been a tourist this week, but in a quiet way. Making my way across Georgia, I lucked into a waterfront site with a view out the back window that was beautiful. The top photo (aka the cover photo) is that view, Lake Blackshear in the morning as the fog burned off and the sun rose.
Some of the touristing was catching the weird stuff, like the Ray Charles monument in Albany, Georgia. It plays his hits, no kidding.
When I showed up at the campsite near Montgomery, Alabama, I passed the entrance to Montgomery Motor Speedway. No events scheduled while I was here, but more than once, I’ve heard the growl of big engines and then the downshift as they hit the turns and it made me smile every time.
In between those two cultural landmarks, I hit up the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, in Plains, Georgia, where I got to view his Nobel Peace Prize. That was pretty cool.
The more serious part of the week was visiting several sites key to the Civil Rights Movement.
In Albany, Georgia, at the Civil Rights Institute, a woman born the same year as my mother told me about growing up with White and Colored signs in the county. She pointed out one that had hung in the courthouse when she was a child, designating the Colored water fountain.
The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site was one for my Dad, who thought the world of these pilots. As I toured the two hangers full of exhibits, I was impressed with how well the NPS covered the racism and segregation the Airmen experienced during WWII, not shying away from the ugliness of these behaviors. Watching the Tuskegee pilots as old men, recalling their missions and remembering the hurts, was very moving.
The Selma Interpretive Center, next to the infamous Pettus Bridge, was another small but thorough look at the struggle for civil rights, focusing on the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1964. A woman who was 11 years old that year talked about the events in Selma, including being beaten on that bridge on that Bloody Sunday and her memories of Dr. King. She is 65 now, just 3 years older than me. At 11, I was riding my bike around the neighborhood and playing with dolls; she was fighting for the right of her parents to vote. An amazing woman, and I stayed after to shake her hand.
Montgomery has many sites and I visited most of them this week. The Legacy Museum, small and crowded, covered the slavery through mass incarceration, and I knew most of the cold, hard facts as a result of my reading this past several months. The Rosa Parks museum was well designed and put you into that moment when a small black seamstress decided she would not stand so a white person could sit. The Civil Rights Monument, in front of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is a Maya Lin design, the flat disc in front engraved with key milestones in the struggle.
What I didn’t expect was how overcome I would be walking through the National Monument for Peace and Justice. To walk around, then slightly under, then surrounded by hundreds of casket-sized steel markers, one for each county in the US where at least one lynching took place, was overwhelming.
I went back today and there was a group from Howard University (a historically black university) touring the grounds. I felt all kinds of emotions watching them go through the markers. At one point, a black employee walked them through a whole section, answering questions as they went. Afterwards, as he walked by me, he asked if I had any questions. I couldn’t speak for a moment, shook my head as the tears welled up, and finally said, I have no words for this.” He nodded and said softly, “I know. I know.”
I saw the students again as I left, posing for a group photo across the street at the Peace and Justice Memorial Center. That’s our future right there, I thought, people who can see this and remember it as they grow out into the world. Maybe these next generations will do better than mine has. I hope so.
True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it’s the presence of justice.
Martin Luther King, Jr.