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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where the skies are so blue

When my buddy Jack gets back off the road, he should start a blog. His daily posts are so good:

We left Atlanta around noon thoroughly impressed, intending to return for a longer visit some day. We then drove on down through Georgia-on-my-mind into sweet-home-Alabama, arriving in Montgomery an hour earlier than expected because of the time change. I can only anticipate so much. This is a remarkable place, the first capital of the Confederacy. Within walking distance are the very spot on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol -- top of Goat Hill -- where Jeff Davis took the CSA presidency oath of office in February 1861, and, in clear view from that spot, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where MLK Jr. kicked off the Birmingham bus boycott and, in effect, the civil rights movement, in 1956. Up one flight of stairs in the Capitol is the old Senate chamber, perfectly preserved, where 6 of the first 7 states to secede met and voted to form the Confederate States of America as a country separate from the USA. (See iPhone pic.) Around the corner is Jeff Davis's first presidential residence, and down the block from that is the Southern Poverty Law Center HQ and the new Civil Rights Law Center with a stunning Maya Lin sculpture out front, commemorating the 40 civil rights workers who died between Brown vs. Board (1954) and MLK Jr.'s Assassination (1968). Wow.

We had lunch down Goat Hill on Dexter Street at the oldest restaurant in Montgomery, a hole in the wall called Chris's Famous Hot Dogs, dating back to 1917. There's only so much one can do with a hot dog, but Chris's does it all, including liberally apply a secret chili sauce. I was enjoying it all afternoon.

I have the general impression that, among the southern states, Alabama and Georgia have made special, public efforts to deal with the dark past of segregation. We have been deeply moved in Atlanta GA, Birmingham AL, and now Montgomery AL by muscular, thrilling memorials to Dr. King and the civil rights movement. There are many streets named after MLK and even Rosa Parks. We go over to Selma AL tomorrow, and I expect to see more of this. It is exciting to see the high school groups and German tourists watching videos about Rosa Parks and Bull Connor and working their way through the exhibits at these rich memorial sites with intense, head-shaking interest. It ain't over -- there are still dozens of hate groups operating down here -- but perhaps because of enlightened political leadership, there seems to be a strategic attempt to acknowledge past wrongs and to move on. Reminds me of the impression I had during my few months in Germany 9 years ago, that the German people -- in contrast with the Japanese -- were openly dealing with their collective dark behavior during WWII in an attempt to put it behind them and a create a new future. I don't think it is an accident that Germany has done a lot better economically over the past decade than Japan, and, if I am right, I expect AL and GA to continue to outpace their neighboring states, except perhaps in pew manufacturing.

Startling Place Name: KIA Boulevard. And now, the rest of the story. As we were cruising toward the GA-AL border this morning, I saw we were coming to a town called West Point GA. Okay, interesting. Then I saw a sign for KIA Boulevard. Geez! That struck me as a pretty coarse way to commemorate our fallen heroes. Then I saw a massive automobile lot, one of the biggest aggregations of cars ever, down off the highway, next to a large KIA auto plant. So -- it wasn't about killed-in-action, it was about Korean cars. Many many Korean cars. And many jobs. This is just up the road from the AL BMW and Mercedes factories.

On to Vicksburg MS tomorrow, where we will spend two days picking around the battlefield park. One week left on the road. The Civil War siege of Vicksburg ended on July 4, 1863. The City of Vicksburg first celebrated the Fourth of July as an American holiday in 1948. Talk about NOT putting something behind you.

Comments (7)

To Friend Jack,
I may never get to those Southern states with such history, I found your writing about it interesting.

Did not know Maya Lin did this sculpture commemorating 40 civil rights workers who died. I will see if I can find a photo of it as you said it was stunning, perhaps you have a photo.

The emotions and feelings of being on the battlefields there may be overwhelming.

Wishing you a continued good trip.

My kind of travel, learning about real history and what's happening now with the local folk. Yes, start a blog.

The most ironic (read: "hypocritical") thing about the Southern Poverty Law Center is that NOT ONE of its top ten, highest paid executives is a minority.


In fact, according to the SPLC's hometown newspaper, the Montgomery Advertiser, despite being located LITERALLY in the back yard of Dr. Martin Luther King's home church, the SPLC has NEVER hired a person of color to a highly paid position of power.

I'm glad Jack liked Georgia and wants to go back. As a former Georgian, may I recommend three restaurant for his (or anyone else's) next visit to the state? Mary Mac's Tea Room in Atlanta, The Grit in Athens, and The Crab Shack on Tybee Island. They've all got great food and great atmosphere. Go Dawgs!

Some photos of Maya Lin's Montgomery sculpture and other notable sites mentioned (click on Read Entry for each image):

Sorry, wrong link earlier. Go here, clinamen, for the photos of Maya Lin's sculpture:

Gardiner Menefree,
Thank you.
It looks like a subtle type of water sculpture. . where one can still read the names.

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