If you ever want to see a lot of Civil Rights landmarks, just go to Alabama. Not sure if they’re the worst at Civil Rights or if they’re just willing to own up to their failures, but they sure have lots of memorials, museums and other sites. Still, considering the support for Roy Moore, they haven’t learned their lesson.
So, it is fitting that my Civil Rights Road Trip should end in Birmingham where, back in 1963 carefully planned protests took place and the movement scored great victories. As I noted in my last post, these demonstrations were planned the previous year in Midway, GA at Dorchester Academy.
Fear and Loathing On the Road (Trip)
As you may have guessed, I lost steam on the Civil Rights track after South Carolina. Holiday and Government closures, along with endless rain and the difficulty of finding landmarks that have long been ignored left me feeling rather blasè about my main plan and I fell back on my plan to photograph Governor’s Mansions.
So, I pulled into Birmingham, pretty tired of being in the car, but the day was sunny, so I decided to go for a walk around downtown. What occurred was the high point of the entire trip and far better than I ever expected.
I hadn’t gone more than a block or so before I found markers placed in pairs and numbered to guide you around downtown and tell the story of the demonstrations
I resolved to return to Birmingham to follow this entire circuit and headed for the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. (Note: the monument is in Kelly Ingram Park. 1 block east of where Google maps shows it, or where it shows it as of today.)
Jumping ahead to the end of my walk (chronologically speaking), I found the hotel where Civil Rights leaders would stay and many marches began. It is part of the markers:
But back to my discovery and chance meeting of a Civil Rights icon…
The sun was setting and I came across Kelly Ingram Park on my way to the monument. On the corner was a statue of several people in robes kneeling. There was no signage to indicate the significance or to identify the people, but I definitely felt there was a beginning here. I walked on in…
I came to a circular path around the park – which is 1 city block in size. The path says, “Freedom Walk”. I could see statues and block shaped pieces, so the surreal feeling of finding something, but not knowing what it is grew.
Beside 2 large blocks on either side of the walk is a small sign indicating that this is Ground Zero for the Civil Rights demonstrations and between the blocks is a frightening image.
Bull Conner and the police help back for a long time, but eventually attacked the rioters with dogs, water cannons, and other riot gear. The demonstrators were peaceful and did nothing to provoke.
I truly got absorbed in the park, walking the circle and imagining the past. But then…
Meeting a Participant
I was winding things up in the park; the sun had gone below the buildings and was on the verge of setting, so my light was fading. I knew that I was just a block from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and I had seen a small group wandering, but didn’t think much about it.
So I saw a new looking big blue Historic Marker over by the street. It seemed out of place with everything else so I went to read it. It spoke of Bishop Calvin Wallace Woods, Sr and how he had met Dr. King & Ralph Abernathy & others & helped lead the demonstrations.
I was going around to the flip side when the group came over to the sign. A young guy who was leading the all white group said I could stay with them, but they were doing a tour led by the subject of the sign, Bishop Woods.
He is 85 now, but in very good shape. He is very sharp and aware of current conditions, but told us what it was like back then.
It was the perfect end to an imperfect trip. I wished I could have some time to talk to him one on one, but I knew that what he was saying was less important than being able to hear him speak. Freely.