Civil Rights Tour #1

If you’re short on time, here’s my texted version of the trip:

It was overwhelming. Sad. Hard to digest it all. DT and EL were easy travel companions. Most things in sync. Each museum built on the previous one, so it was good learning. I think the thing that will haunt me the longest is the murder of Emmett Till.

Birmingham / Montgomery / Selma / Jackson / Sumner / Memphis.

Day one: Birmingham.

Red Clay tour guide Mike Cornelius at Bethel AME

We spent three-plus hours with Red Clay Tours, part walking / part driving. It’s a father, son team. White. Initially, I felt disappointed that we wouldn’t have a Black guide but not only was Mike extremely knowledgeable, he often modeled language of acknowledgment and atonement, giving his white customers another level of learning.

Birmingham has a nickname: Bombingham. You probably know that it was the site of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four girls. A devastating act of terror.

But bombings were so frequent that one whole section of town is nicknamed Dynamite Hill. Birmingham is a mining town (or was), meaning that dynamite was readily available. (Also meaning that its decline resembles that of Rust Belt cities.) Bad actors often flung lit sticks out of cars while driving by.

Dynamite hit lower right part of house

On Dynamite Hill, we saw houses with blackened bricks. Others with five foot cement brick walls around them. We heard stories about cars blowing up. Stories about the valor of men protecting leaders by being the one to turn the key.

Photo from National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, see below for precise photo credit

We learned about how one of those leaders, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, pastor of the Bethel AME, emerged from the rubble of his bombed home, energized by his miraculous survival. He refused to rebuild the structure.

Photo from National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, see below for photo credit
Info board from the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis
Bethel AME

It’s quite astonishing that more people weren’t killed. It’d be tempting to sneer at the incompetence of white supremacists if it weren’t for the fact that even with minimal loss of life the bombings created pervasive and abject terror.

Display at Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson

That same morning we learned about the marches that led to Birmingham’s desegration in 1963, including The Children’s Crusade. Next post.

Photo at Selma Interpretative Center (one of them) of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth

Readers: if anything here is wrong or needs refined/updated, please let me know. There was A LOT of information in a week and I’m bound to get things wrong here and there. And PS first versions of this post erroneously included a photo of Dexter AME, not Bethel.

My travel companions, DT and EL
Childhood home of Angela Davis

PPS I took that video above in our hotel, Hampton Inn/The Tutwiler. It took a lot of tries because often someone was waiting for the elevator (imagine their surprise) when the doors opened and I had to start over. It was worth it to me to look weird and possibly even suspicious to highlight the very cool black and white photos. They graced every landing and the inside of the elevator doors.

16 thoughts on “Civil Rights Tour #1

  1. Marti

    I think of your comment about being disappointed in having a white tour guide but how he was able to articulate and present the reality in such an encompassing way…and I hold to the idea that I wrote about some months ago in thinking about your novel:

    How you do not need to have an identical experiences to be able to feel for those who have been victimized. How you CAN put yourself forth by whatever means you chose to do so with a degree of authenticity. Dr King spoke of not judging an individual by the color of their skin but by the content of their character: All people, who embrace their humanity, have, in wanting to know history, a willingness to not only acknowledge but to accept wholeheartedly, the simple fact that. hatred has no place in living a life of meaning. To be able to stand and face the wrong doings of the past in the hopes of not birthing them in the future, is to extend the hand of connection and equality..

    1. deemallon Post author

      This is all so beautifully put Tina, but I especially love the last line: “To be able to stand and face the wrong doings of the past in the hopes of not birthing them in the future, is to extend the hand of connection and equality…”

      1. Marti

        The quote that you were moved by is something that I have held within me ever since Dr. King and the march on WA. I commented on this here before but this came about from my family, immigrants who came here from Spain, watching the TV coverage, seeing the thousands gathered in unity and my dear Dad turning to me with tears in his eyes and saying, “This is America.”

        Also, when we were in New Orleans, many years ago, we traveled around and visited a plantation that had slave cabins. Try as I might I cannot find my photos or notes on this but I remember thinking how thin the walls of the cabins were and how cold it must have gotten at times…

        1. deemallon Post author

          Oh I love that story. Not sure “this is America” at this very juncture but something to aspire to, for sure.

          The slave cabins would have been very crowded as well as unfit for protection from the weather.

  2. Tina

    Going through the South visiting many of the museums that bring many horrific sights and sounds to life is indeed overwhelming. Memories of that trip opened me up to wanting to learn more .. it started me on a path to reading many books that I’m not sure I otherwise would have. Dee I know you’ve wanted this trip for some time … really happy that you. It’s not exactly what one could call a fun trip but one absolutely worth the time and money.

    1. deemallon Post author

      It is a trip that brings alive not just the horrors done by white people but the remarkable resilience and capacity for joy of Black people. I have wanted to visit these places for a long time. You’re right about that. I remember when you went, all those years ago.

      1. Tina

        Watching ShrinKing on Apple TV .. really good for a few laughs. Might be just the thing to balance out your last week.

  3. RainSluice

    If only everyone would take the tour your did and respond as everyone here has responded. Your responses to theirs as well. I want to stop there on my next trip south, hopefully this coming year.

    1. deemallon Post author

      The absolute highlight was the Legacy Museum in Montgomery and the adjacent Lynching Memorial. But when the time comes , let me know. Both of my fellow travelers were great planners. DT had advance tickets for us every step of the way

  4. Liz A

    this is the history that the far right would have us erase … no wonder, as today’s young people would surely be appalled if they knew of the actions taken by their grandparents’ and great grandparents’ generations

    and I confess to being far too ignorant of the full scope of the actions (and inactions) of those in the south, living as I did in the self-satisfied northeast, where the depredations were more nuanced, but no less hateful

    thank you for opening my eyes, quite literally … I am very much looking forward to more of your posts

    P.S. On a lighter note, I had to laugh when I saw the replay of your elevator video … when I first saw it on Instagram I thought you had discovered an amazing new app that enabled video collage of old and new images … it’s really a wonderful clip and well-worth the multiple takes needed to make it


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