I’m glad I’m into endurance activities, although I’m sorely out of shape. I’m thinking physical – shortage of sleep; mental – hours of information to process; emotional – much of today’s offerings are disturbing; and social – no time alone to process or write.
Joe and I were in Montgomery in 2009. He stayed with our dog Zoë while I went into The Civil Rights Memorial. The memorial celebrates people who gave their lives for civil rights. I was awed in 2009 as I am today. But, before comments on the memorial, I must explain that security is high here. Our bags are scanned, we go through the sort of door frame scanner that is used at the airport, and then a wand is used to make sure we are safe. “The Southern Poverty Law Center began as a small civil rights law firm. Now it is internationally known for its tolerance education, its crushing legal victories against white supremacists groups, its tracking of hate groups and its relentless pursuit of justice for those who have no champion.” I have been a member since its inception. Hate groups would love to see SPLC disappear.
Once inside, there is a large chamber with pictures on the walls of people who have died with a brief explanation of how they died. Visiting here is touring a vertical cemetery. The next room is a small theater where we see a video on the cost of the Movement in human lives. My colleagues respond to the video the same way I did in 2009 – total silence which lasts until we are escorted to the next room. The focus of this room is a wall on which names appear – the names of people who commit to making a difference. My name is here from before, and the others in my group add theirs. In front of the memorial there is a statue designed by Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Memorial in DC.
Emily, Edward, Mary Ellen, Gloria Jean, Kelcey, Katrina
Dieonte, Leilani or Kaly, Katrina, Kelcey, Emily, Brittany
Dr. McCord, Guide from SPLC, Dr. Tolliver
This museum leaves us troubled and the Children’s Museum is the perfect follow-up. Our group steps into a time machine capsule and we are transported into the past where we learn about several important events, including Plessey v. Ferguson, which lead up to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white person. This exhibit is like Civil Rights Movement Disneyland. There are bright lights, pictures moving on the wall, strobes, flashes between darkness and light, and I don’t know what other delightful technologies to get kids – and adults — involved. Our young folks watch with delighted smiles on their faces and we all come out laughing.
Next door we enter the Rosa Parks Museum. The quality of the museums we are visiting is higher than any I remember before. The first time I saw such clever use of materials/media was the The Lowndes County Interpretive Center between Selma and Montgomery. (Perhaps I haven’t been to anything but civil rights museums in a long time.) A full – sized replica of the bus Rosa Parks rode is there with people on it including her. It looks like they are real as the bus seems to move down the street and people get off and on. The siren wails when the bus driver calls for backup since this woman refuses to get up off her seat to give it to a white person. Police car lights flash. We move along to each sophisticated exhibit, which seems alive because of technology and encompasses the Montgomery Bus Boycott. My response to the history depicted is the same as the others we have seen – how could this happen in my country?
Our guide is writing a book about other women who had been arrested for not giving up their seats in Montgomery. Her grandmother was one of those who had gone before. Rosa Parks, secretary of the NAACP, was hand-picked and trained for this arrest.
As I said before, the schedule says we should be in at 5:30 and we pull in at 9:00. About fifteen of us go to a Red Robin Restaurant. There are four vegetarians (including McCord and Tolliver) and their food offerings are limited. We’re quiet going in. We’ve seen days of violence against non-violent folk fighting for their freedom. It’s been a long day and we’re so tired. I feel daring. I order a martini. The waitress (a young gal) obviously doesn’t know what Tanqueray or vermouth is. I point out I want 2 olives and cold gin. Dinner is almost half over when it comes – a shot of warm Tanqueray in a case glass with two olives. This has happened to me before in the South. I’ll drink beer from now on.
And then we start to laugh. The other end of the table – a long table – starts to laugh first. Seems Jenafer has drawn the attention of one of the male waiters. Like waves the laughter ripples toward us and we all finally succumb. Almost in tears from the laughter we re-board the bus for the trip back to our rooms. We NEEDED that! When we got back all the kids and a few of the adults were batting a ball around in the swimming pool. We each found our own way to alleviate the tension of the day and to ready ourselves for what tomorrow brings.