Hali and I were born during the Civil Rights era of the sixties. The last year of the Baby Boomers. Fascinating how different our country was back then and yet still quite the same.
Having never laid foot in Alabama, we thought we’d stop for the night in Montgomery on our way back to Florida. Why not? We drive the entire length of the state anyway and Montgomery was the heartbeat of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement.
We stayed in a hotel just outside of the historic district of town. The hotel was your standard La Quinta: flat screened TV, dog friendly, waffles. BUT most of the guests were African-American non- tourists. I met a high school kid with a T-shirt that read Just Inked And Awesome. He had just signed a football scholarship with the 2016 National Champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide. He was from neighboring Mississippi.
There was a young family stopping for the night on their drive through the cotton fields to visit grandma in Mobile. The only white person I saw was the gal that checked us in. The one in charge. The manager.
Was I concerned that the van would be broken into? No, not more so than if I parked in front of my own home. Was I worried that I’d be stared at? No, not more so more than I am hopping out of the van with my hippie hair anywhere in America. Was I afraid I’d be mugged…or worse? No, not more so than I would in “White America”. Nope, no fear. I was a tourist, a bit of a history buff, a baby boomer, and I wanted to walk in the famous footsteps of the late great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Winner of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.
It was a wet Sunday so most of the tourist sites were closed except, of course, the church. I parked in the vacant Governor’s parking spot right outside the capital building. Perhaps the same parking spot the infamous George Wallace parked his limo. For you Gen Xers and Millennials, George Wallace was one of the most controversial politicians in U.S. history. He was elected governor of Alabama in 1962 under an ultra-segregationist platform. In his 1963 inaugural address, Wallace promised his white followers: “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!”
Infamous? Yes. Loser of four consecutive U.S. Presidential bids in 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976. This parking spot won’t be vacant long, it’s now reserved for the winner of the 2016 presidential election. Finally folks, after all these years, we now have our Populist President and newly elected Plutocratic President rolled into one.
From here we could walk the “peaceful protest path” to several of the historic buildings and sites around Montgomery. This is a memorial for more famous Alabamans including: Hank Aaron, Rosa Parks, Jesse Owens, Helen Keller, Nat “King” Cole, Willie Mays, Hank Williams.
Despite being a rainy Sunday morning, we did not see another tourist, however, we were invited to the worship service with the proper, well-dressed congregation at the Baptist church.
A far cry from the next day just 150 miles down the road in the resort town of Destin, Florida, on the Gulf Coast, where bars were packed with half-naked, white tourists downing oysters and chasing them with buckets of beer.
And that’s what I mean when I write, Fascinating how different our country was back then yet still quite the same. The cotton is picked by machines now, George Wallace is long dead, but social segregation, intolerance, and shameless hypocrisy are alive and well.
The sad reality is that any progress we’ve made over the last fifty years just took a giant historical footstep backwards.
Maybe it’s time we all take a mandated U.S. History class, put on our critical thinking caps, and READ together our 229-year-old Constitution beyond just the first three words AND all twenty-seven amendments. More importantly, we need to get a passing grade. And coming from a life-long student of history, something I believe we’ve failed in.
We The People. . .
. . .What a shame.
Credit Hali for the wonderful photos.