Posted by: athike2011 | August 3, 2011

Day 22, Montgomery–Atlanta

Today was going to start off with a self guided civil rights history tour through Montgomery. The town is generally fairly well accepted as the birth place of the civil rights movement. Between Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. being the pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus, sparking what would be a year long boycott, nearly driving the bus system into bankruptcy, one can understand why it would be given such a title.

Before starting my tour I had one other stop I was curious about making. Yesterday I noticed a sign for the “First Confederate White House”, which I didn’t realized was also located in Montgomery, and though it seemed like a strange thing to support, history is history, and I wanted to check it out. The building is modest by current standards, but most old mansions would be considered middle class homes these days.

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Not pictured off to the left are the slave quarters. They leave that part out of the tour and information packet. Despite the five fireplaces within the home, the slave quarters are about the size of a standard families dining room, if that, and had no fire place of any sort. When I walked in I was greeted by a very southern woman who welcomed me to the “first white house”, very intentionally omitting the confederate part, seemingly not to separate herself from that aspect, but to reaffirm the fact that prior to the existence of the confederacy, the south was a nation under no leadership. Is it possible I read too much into this short interaction? Possibly, but it takes a special person, even as a historian, to want to spend your day showing off Jefferson Davis’ home.

I signed the guest book and walked around for a while, all the rooms were set  up as they had been at the time of Davis’s death. I took a few pictures, but it was dark, and not so approved of, and only one really turned out. This is a picture of Davis’ bedroom.

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I headed from there to the Montgomery visitor center at the old Union Station, which is where my civil rights tour started. I downloaded a small map and set of audio files from the Visit Montgomery website, which I loaded on to my iPhone for convenient listening and navigating. I decided not to make every stop, or go in order. I played the audio tracks while I walked around, not necessarily looking at what I was listening about.

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I started with the Rosa Parks Museum, which is part of local Troy University. The $6 entrance fee, $5 with a AAA card, was a little steep for what the museum was, but as long as the money goes to a good cause, I wasn’t too worried. The museum was really only a few rooms, most of which showing video and re-telling Rosa’s story and the events following her getting arrested which led to the boycott. There was only one other couple at the museum when I was, and they just so happened to be from Everett, WA. There were a few old police reports and newspaper articles which were cool to see. In the news papers, as I know the story of Rosa Parks fairly well, it was almost more interesting just to see what other articles ran that day, along with the way news was reported at that time, it is really nothing like the modern day newspaper, which I fear will soon go the way of the Dodo anyways.

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From here we walked to the civil rights memorial, which is located outside the Southern Poverty Law Center. The memorial was designed by Maya Lin, the same woman who designed the Vietnam memorial in D.C. Originally they had a different designer, who created something like a big tombstone to put on the corner with the names of everyone who gave their life. Luckily someone had the sense to put an end to that quickly.

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There is also a museum here, which I was interested in going, sadly, Sierra had already had to sit outside the last museum, and this one did not have any real shade around it, so I chose to skip it for her sake, and continue our walking tour. We walked past the state capitol building on our way to what is now King Memorial Baptist Church. This is the first church in which Dr.King was a pastor. It is still in it’s original condition, and is now a national historic Landmark.

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With the heat index towering around 110-115, a walk back to the car was in order at this point. We walked through most of downtown Montgomery, which despite being in very nice condition, you could tell a lot of work had been put in to keeping it that way, was still mostly empty storefronts and closed businesses. I have noticed in all these towns, as well as most places in America, that people aren’t out and about like they used to be. Not even that they have been as much in my lifetime either, but you see pictures of towns prior to 1970-1980, and the streets are full of people walking around, playing sports in the parks, hanging out, being social, etc. You literally never see this anymore, short of college campuses/college towns, or maybe San Francisco and New York. I  can only assume that the availability of cars and the overwhelming, mind numbing sensation that is the internet, has all but killed America’s desire or need to interact in any manner outside of their own home or local coffee shop.

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Back in the car we headed out towards Seale, AL. My mom found an article in the New York Times about a guy there who was doing some strange, very interesting artwork, so we decided to check it out. We didn’t get far before driving up on another fire. This time it was an old abandoned apartment complex. By the time I got to where I could really see what was going on, the fire fighters had all but given up on putting out the fire and were more focused on saving the building around it, and keeping the surrounding area thoroughly saturated while the fire burned itself out.

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As I said earlier, it was already scorching hot outside, so being a firefighter in this heat is no easy task, and this was no small fire. These firefighters, clearly suffering from heat exhaustion were being helped by a colleague.

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A few neighbors sat but 300 feet from the flames in their plastic lawn chairs watching the firefighters sitting halfway to the burning buildings, also watching them burn to the ground.

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Located right across the street from the fire was another abandoned apartment complex, it seems like with the heat, events like this are not all the uncommon among abandoned buildings, which are often inhabited by squatters.

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When we arrived in Seale, it turns out that the place isn’t so much open to the public, it is more of a by event or invite only type place. Oh well, didn’t put us far out of our way. I decided we should just head to Atlanta for the evening. Sierra and I had a place to stay there with a friend Loni, who I met the first time I was in Atlanta. A fellow hockey fanatic, we met at a bar before I set out on the Appalachian Trail while I was watching a Sharks game. We kept in touch, and she said I was more than welcome to come use her couch, shower, and A/C.

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I think we will take two nights in Atlanta, letting me catch up on a few things and go on a bike ride or two for some much needed exercise, before heading up north to the Smoky Mountains.

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Responses

  1. I’m so glad you’re getting to see the South up close and personal, though it’s a pity it has to be right now in this ungodly heat/humidity hitting the middle of the country. I have a friend from graduate school who wrote an expose on the plantation-heritage-tourism industry of the southern US. It’s amazing how even abhorrent history has become commodified! Thanks for sharing your photos and stories. Stay coooooooooooool, you and Sierra.

    xo


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