Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Birmingham, AL

AUGUST 3 2005
Oak Mountain State Park

Dear Alabama,
Your interstates suck.
No love,

Dear National Parks,
You need to re-evaluate your sign situation. Your current signs suck.
No love,

Today we went to Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Monument, but only got to see 2 of 4 sites on the self-guided tour. Why? Because the park is spread out amongst a city, and the correct streets and turns are VERY poorly marked. I mean ‘oh-look-the-sign-oh-shit-that-was-the-turn!’ poor. We turned around 2 times to see the Kolb farm, only to discover that there is no parking area that is accessible. With traffic as busy as it was, we couldn’t cross over to the turn needed for Cheatham Hill. But, we did get to see Pigeon Hill and check out the view from Kennesaw Mountain.

You could clearly see downtown Atlanta, though there was a haze so I don’t know how my pictures came out.From there, it was on to Alabama. Alabama, your visitor center gets much love. True southern hospitality. The gentleman there was so kind, he even hand wrote us shorter directions to our campsite and made sure we walked away with a huge stack of brochures.

We drove into Birmingham with one goal; to see Kelly Ingram park. It’s this amazing park where they have all sorts of statues and monuments dedicated to the heroes and events of the civil rights movement.We didn’t realize that it was dead center in the city. Ah, nothing like driving through a major city you’ve never been in before. But we found the park with hardly any difficulty and paid .50 for two hours of parking. Can’t beat that.

I wish I could describe the park. I’m going to let the pictures do it fore me. There’s a statue of police attack dogs coming towards you that feels so real, your heart beats a little fast. The children’s statue (Children’s March) really got to me. There are two children standing on the steps of a jail, and engraved beneath them are the words “we aren’t afraid of your jail.” They’re looking at a jail cell turned upside down, with the engraving “segregation is a sin.”

Across the street is the 16th Street Baptist Church where MLK Jr. spoke and 4 young girls were killed in a terrible bombing. (Rent Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls, damn powerful take on the events). We didn’t get to tour the church because it cost money and we were pressed for time, so instead we went to the Alabama Civil Rights Institute.

If you are ever in Alabama, this is the one thing you must go see. It is the most heart-wrenching and inspirational institution I have ever toured. The museum is an inter active walking timeline with plenty of vintage memorabilia (don’t touch!) accented by real footage of key civil rights events. You can tour houses and a church to see what segregation looked like, hear the music of the day, see vintage racist propaganda and see footage of MLK Jr. speaking.

My favorite part was the Freedom Rider Room where they had the Freedom Bus all beaten to hell, and pictures explaining what the Freedom Rides were. Most interesting was seeing the actual press coverage of the interviews with Freedom Riders (post-beating from a hospital bed) as well as the Governor’s support of support of the beating, and the Government’s response.The most touching part was the room dedicated to the bombings at the Baptist church.

It overlooks the actual church and around the windows are photos of the rioters, mourners, army guards with guns, protestors being arrested…. It was weird to look down at the church and think “there, in that spot off the steps, stood a guardsman with a gun, because of a protest.” The exhibit was unbelievable, I have to say it was sort of weird to be the two white girls touring, though we started the tour with an African American family, and the mother kept encouraging the little girl to read and learn about her history.

I kept trying to imagine how I would feel if the colors were reversed.It’s strange to look back and see the battles we were fighting not so long ago. (Battles we’re still fighting today!) 40 years ago Birmingham was segregated and in turmoil. That’s not far off at all. My parents were my age then. Wow.


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