I was raised to treat all people with kindness. But strict laws and social codes kept the races apart, and the lie of “separate but equal” prevailed throughout the country. My family did not socialize with people of color, and my parents worried when my high school was forced to integrate in 1970.
Racism Is Woven Into Our Culture
It is in my nature to question and challenge the status quo, and I was fortunate to grow up in a time of tremendous social change that helped to shape my egalitarian views. But the hard truth is that no matter how aware we are, and how much work we have done to understand and overcome prejudice, we are all subject to racial bias. Racism is woven into the fabric of our society and our culture. And it is both overt and subtle.
There is no better place to reflect on the history of racism, and how it continues to affect us, than by visiting Montgomery, Alabama. From the birth of the Confederacy to the birth of the civil rights movement, Montgomery has played a central role in our nation’s painful struggle to accept that all people are created equal, and that all people, regardless of color, deserve to be treated equally. We spent three days in Montgomery, and I’m still absorbing and processing all that we experienced.
The Alabama State Capitol Building
The Alabama State Capitol sits high on a hill overlooking downtown Montgomery. On the capitol grounds is the most elaborate Confederate monument we’ve seen in our travels. In a time when Confederate monuments are being removed across the country, the Alabama legislature passed a bill in 2017 establishing stringent protections for their monuments. The governor’s official stance is that the state needs to preserve history, “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” so that the past can be understood and learned from.
It is a topic of contention in the state. As is Confederate Memorial Day, which Alabama celebrates as a state holiday in late April every year.
The capitol building has been meticulously restored. The senate chamber appears just as it did in 1861, when Southern delegates met here to organize the Confederate States of America.
At the entrance to the capitol stands a bronze statue of Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederate States of America. Here, beneath the portico, Davis was inaugurated, and when he died, he lay in state in the capitol. So did George Wallace, the infamous segregationist Governor of Alabama, who proclaimed in his inaugural speech in 1963: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”
In the midst of this extravaganza of memorials to the Confederacy, we were heartened to discover that the most recent dignitary to lie in state in the Alabama capitol was civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis. A native son of Alabama, Lewis dedicated his life to protecting human rights and was a courageous activist and freedom fighter for more than 60 years.
Despite being beaten and jailed numerous times for his civil rights activism, Lewis espoused love and non-violent protest. And he also advocated for speaking up, for righting wrongs, and for getting into “good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Many people believe that the Civil War was about the moral issue of slavery. Others adamantly maintain that it was primarily about state’s rights. But the clear losers in either interpretation were the Blacks, who were not recognized as equals in either the North or the South, either before or after the war.
Walking In The Footsteps Of Civil Rights Leaders
Montgomery was the volatile scene of two incidents that laid the foundation for the civil rights movement. First was the Montgomery Bus Boycott in December, 1955, when Rosa Parks (a seamstress and NAACP activist) was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to a white man.
Overnight, the Black community rallied under the leadership of a charismatic 26-year-old pastor named Martin Luther King, Jr. They initiated a boycott of Montgomery buses that lasted for 13 months, ending in a court decision that ruled in favor of the protestors. Not only was this event the earliest mass protest for civil rights in this country, but it shone the national spotlight on Rev. King. His commitment to nonviolent resistance was a defining philosophy of the civil rights movement through the 1960s.
The People’s Fight For Voting Rights Started Here
One hundred years after Black Americans were granted the right to vote, that right had been incrementally taken away through a variety of measures, including literacy tests with obscure policy questions that virtually no one could answer, and ridiculous tasks like guessing the number of seeds in a watermelon. Coupled with blatant intimidation, it was all but impossible for Black people to vote.
In March 1965, a series of marches from Selma to Montgomery took place in an effort to bring light to the struggle for voting rights. The first march ended at the Edmund-Pettus bridge, when Alabama state and local police viciously attacked the unarmed protestors. John Lewis, one of the leaders, was beaten so badly that he was hospitalized with a fractured skull.
A Hard-Won Battle, Simply To Peacefully March
The brutal scene was broadcast on television. Many Americans were outraged, and civil rights and religious leaders traveled to Selma to join the protest. On March 25, 1965, on their third attempt, the protestors successfully walked the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery. This time, they were protected by the federalized National Guard under the direct order of President Lyndon Johnson, who was angered by Gov. Wallace’s refusal to provide the marchers with safe passage.
The march ended at the steps of the capitol, where Gov. Wallace refused to accept their petition. Here, King made one of his greatest speeches to an estimated 25,000 people, encouraging them to not give up hope.
“I know some of you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long…because the arm of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
We walked the city block from Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church to the steps of the capitol, reflecting on the courage of Rev. King, John Lewis, and all of those who marched in support of voting rights. It is unthinkable that those hard-won rights are being threatened today.
The Alabama State Museum
Just across the street from the capitol is the Alabama Department of Archives and History, which contains the nicely crafted Museum of Alabama.
We were surprised to learn that at one time, Alabama was one of the wealthiest states in the Union, all because of cotton. Of course, this was made possible solely by the backbreaking labor of the enslaved people. By 1860, almost half of Alabama’s residents were African-American, and most were enslaved.
The Civil War was ruinous for Alabama. When the slaves were freed, the economy collapsed and lawlessness was rampant. One hundred-and-fifty years later, the state consistently ranks as one of the poorest in the nation.
The Legacy Museum
It is fitting that the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice were built in Montgomery. In this city, where dozens of monuments pay tribute to the Confederacy, the museum and the memorial offer a poignant and powerful truth-telling of some of the darkest aspects of our history.
There are no photos allowed in the museum, and I do not have the words to adequately describe the experience. This was the first time we’ve been in a crowd since the beginning of the pandemic, and we were grateful that masks were required. We slowly walked through the beautifully designed museum, carried along in a sea of others who were quietly immersed in the journey.
Through art, film, and interactive media, the story of Black people in America unfolds. Most of us know the framework of this story…the kidnapping of Black people from Africa. The era of slavery. The Civil War and the freeing of enslaved people. The decades of segregation. Civil rights marches and victories.
The Distorted Lens Of Cultural Bias
But the story, as most of us know it, has been told through the lens of our cultural bias. It is a narrative that tells us that, for the most part, plantation owners were kind to those they enslaved. It is a narrative that tells us that Black people now have equal rights and opportunities, and that if they are struggling, they just need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” It is a narrative that tells us that people of color are more violent. It is a narrative that nurtures fear and distrust.
Most of all, it is a narrative, rooted in the birth of our nation, that tells us that white people are more evolved, and that white people are superior to people of color. This narrative provided the justification for wresting land from indigenous peoples, for enslaving thousands of Black people and treating them like animals, for the creation of Jim Crow laws, for the violent practice of lynching, for the denial of voting rights, for the prohibition of interracial marriage, and now, for the enormous disparity in the way that people of color are treated in our criminal justice system.
Instead of simply presenting a timeline of historical facts and artifacts, visitors to the museum are inexorably drawn into reflecting on their personal beliefs and the way they view the world.
The Path To Reconciliation Is To Tell The Truth About The Past
The museum complex was created by attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, which is committed to challenging racial and economic injustice. Stevenson believes that we have all been wounded by our past, and that as a result, we are all suffering. And he believes that the path to reconciliation is by remembering the past, and telling the truth about it so that we can heal and move forward.
Stevenson says, “Slavery has never been fully eradicated in America, but has instead evolved over time, from Jim Crow laws that codified segregation, to the racial terrorism and violence of lynching that ensured the continuation of white supremacy. Today, mass incarceration and excessive punishment carry on the legacy of racism.”
It has been more than two weeks since we visited Montgomery, and I’ve spent part of every day since reading and reflecting on the ways in which racial bias has played a pivotal role in our history and in who we are today. I suspect that the majority of people who visit the Legacy Museum are those who are already interested in shining light into the dark corners of our history. But Stevenson, like MLK, seems to be taking the long view of the arc of moral justice, and holds hope that the “grandchildren of our grandchildren” will reach a place where we are all truly free of racial bias.
The National Memorial For Peace And Justice
One mile from the Legacy Museum is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, sometimes referred to as “The Lynching Memorial.” The memorial was created in remembrance of the more than 4,400 Black Americans who were victims of racially motivated torture and killings.
The horrific practice of lynching arose after the Civil War and continued unabated into the early 1950s. White mobs dragged Black victims from jail or from their homes, and hanged, burned, shot, and mutilated them. Sometimes these crimes of terror were committed in the dark of night, and sometimes, they were advertised and celebrated by entire communities. The murders were enacted with impunity, with local law enforcement turning a blind eye or participating in the brutality.
Terrorizing Black Communities To Maintain White Supremacy
Petty theft, looking at a white woman, or acting “uppity” are all reasons that Black people were lynched. Some crimes committed by Blacks were serious, including rape and murder. But the vast majority were minor crimes, or no crime at all. Black people were lynched for political activism, for operating a successful business, or in one instance, for scolding a white child for throwing rocks.
The common factor behind lynching was to terrorize Black communities, and to keep Black people subservient and fearful…all with the goal of maintaining white supremacy.
The memorial is set on a hill of velvety green grass. A walkway leads past a bronze sculpture of Black people chained together, entering into a life of bondage in America.
The path leads into a simple and artistically designed open canopy of weathered steel boxes suspended from the ceiling, clearly meant to evoke the image of the thousands of Black lynching victims that were strung from trees.
It is a beautiful and devastating memorial. Each steel box represents a county that experienced a lynching between 1877 and 1950. The names of the victims, and the dates they were murdered, are etched into the boxes. We walked slowly through the maze of memorials, silently reading the names of the victims, and mourning their senseless deaths.
Where We Stayed
For our visit to Montgomery, we stayed at the very nice Gunter Hill COE Campground. The sites are spacious, with water and electric hookups, and Verizon is good. Best of all, our friends Ken and Shannon were also staying at the campground, and we shared a very hot and humid Alabama cocktail hour at their site. Shannon wrote an excellent post about their visit to Montgomery on their blog Zamia Ventures. I highly recommend reading it for more insight into the museum, the memorial, and other civil rights sites in Montgomery and the surrounding area.
Laurel, My Dad was born in Wetumpka, Alabama, outside of Montgomery and the family later moved to another nearby town, Cold Springs. My own eyes saw some of that Jim Crow you describe on our holiday visits to my Holley grandparents. I could tell stories . . .
So, beyond the fact that you have written a stunningly poignant and challenging essay on racism, it touched me personally. I think, Laurel, your essay should be submitted to a national publication; it is timely, it is articulate, and its personal basis in your own life story makes it compelling. None of us wants to admit we might have racial bias built into us that we don’t even perceive because of the blindness of bias (this explains the fear underneath the immediate backlash to teaching CRT or 1619 in our schools). A wider audience needs to be inspired, as I am, by your wonderful writing on such a deep-seated, troublesome American issue.
Still reading after all these years, (still teaching ukulele, still gardening, still grateful),
Bryan, I’m grateful for your insightful comment. You nailed the problem—no matter how committed we are to being non-biased, we’re often blind to the ways in which we’re biased. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’re all biased, no matter how committed we are to equality. I think we just need to keep talking about the issues, and most of all, to listen to the people who have been oppressed.
I appreciate your encouragement in my telling of this experience and how it affected me personally. I hesitated, and thought, “No one is going to be interested in this!” and I deleted everything personal. Just before hitting “publish” I added it back in. So, thank you, my friend. I’m glad you’re still traveling along with us after all these years. And, I’d love to hear your stories about the South! I know that you are a very good storyteller. :-) Hugs to you and Nancy.
I wholeheartedly concur with Bryan Holley’s idea that you submit this to a national publication, for all the reasons he stated. We’ve visited Montgomery twice in our travels, and have always found it a moving experience. Check out our blog post from our first visit there in 2017: https://travelswithollie.com/2017/04/02/montgomery-al-a-spiritual-experience/
I also completely agree with Bryan Holley’s sentiment that your piece be published for many to read.
Your painting of words is beyond compare. It is heart-wrenching. It is eye-opening, even for those who think they have a really good understanding of our history, and where we still are today. Where we once thought we’d come so far, we now realize we have so very far still to go.
Thank you for sharing your experience.
Thank you for your kind comment, Karen. What you said is so true—although we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go. It’s good for us to acknowledge that we’ve made progress, but it’s very disturbing to think that we might be going backward. Shocking, really. I hope we’ll get to see you and Krash in September.
Janie, your post about visiting Montgomery is beautiful. We had hoped to do a tour of MLK’s church and parsonage, but both were closed because of Covid-19. What an incredibly inspiring experience you had! You make me want to return to Montgomery so that we can do the same.
Thank you Laurel for this informative and very touching post. As you know I also grew up in the south and also saw the effects of segregation and inequity without really knowing much about the history of enslavement and racism. I feel deep sadness on reading your post and thank you for the experience of the museum which is powerful even vicariously visited through you at a distance. I had to laugh about your “on to Huntsville” because once I was on a plane and the man seated next to me had the last name of Leo. I told him that my last name was Vergho (pronounced Virgo). It turned out that astrologically he was a Virgo and I am a Leo. So we definitely felt that the meeting was star crossed. However, I was reluctant to get off the plane and take up with Mr. Leo because he lived in Huntsville. So I’m anxious to get your take on that city.
Ann, it’s so interesting to think of the different paths we could have taken in life, isn’t it? I can tell you that Huntsville was hot as hell while we were there…but they do have a lovely botanical garden! (I think you made a better choice in moving to the west coast, LOL.)
I know that you and I share similar life views, even though we grew up in a time when segregation was the norm. How did we escape (or grow beyond) that limiting viewpoint? I honestly don’t know, but I’m grateful.
Thank you, Laurel, for your essay. My path has in many ways been like yours. We cannot heal from the violence and degradation of enslavement and Jim Crow until we accept that it happened and are mindful of how it still influences our 21st century society.
Amy, I completely agree with you. It was enlightening to visit the Legacy Museum and to understand the ways that racial bias continues to have such a powerful and yet almost unconscious influence in our society. We have a long way to go to heal, but telling the truth is a good place to start. I appreciate your comment.
What a beautiful and timely essay, Laurel.
Laurel, you were obviously inspired by your visit to Montgomery. I knew you were a good writer, but this is a remarkably well-written piece with an important message.
Suzanne, we were definitely inspired and challenged by our visit to Montgomery. I will be contemplating our experience for a long time to come. I appreciate your supportive comment.
I appreciate that you took the time to read and to comment, Chris. I think we all need to support and encourage each other to illuminate the darkness.
Your post is so poignant and beautifully written (and, I agree, should find a wider audience). It’s been a long time since I’ve visited one of the southern states (on purpose) so I don’t know if/when I’ll ever see this museum, but it sounds amazing. I doubt if I could get through it without breaking down. We have a long way to go as a nation to realize true equality. Btw, whenever I hear someone say that someone else should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” I am reminded that this phrase originated as a sarcastic statement, meaning to try to do something that is impossible. Seems appropriate.
Janis, in our visit to the Legacy Museum I was surprised and disturbed to discover how rampant racism was and continues to be not only in the South, but throughout the country. It is so ingrained in our culture and institutions that we don’t even know it’s there…we have a long way to go to truly reach a place of equality for all.
I didn’t know that the phrase exhorting someone to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” was sarcastic in origin! Thank you for enlightening me. Fascinating! And as you said, so appropriate.
Laurel, this is a very powerful post and a pitch-perfect response to the powerful experiences of Montgomery. The Legacy Museum does an incredible job of making the struggle of Black Americans real, putting visitors into the shoes of those who experienced the horrific middle passage, enslavement, etc. It’s a completely different kind of museum that imparts a completely different kind of knowledge. The fact that such a ground-breaking museum exists in Montgomery — and has been recognized as the best attraction in Alabama! — gives me hope that the neo-Confederates will eventually come around. As you say, it may take generations but the sooner we start the sooner we can achieve greater empathy and understanding for what our fellow Americans have experienced.
Shannon, I know that you and Ken were just as deeply affected as we were by our experience in Montgomery, and especially, by the Legacy Museum and memorial.
I didn’t know that the museum is rated as the best attraction in Alabama (!!) but it deserves that ranking. To have it located in Montgomery is both surprising and absolutely perfect.
One can only hope that the Neo-Confederates will have an awakening…I am holding to the hope that the arc of moral justice truly does bend toward what is good and right. Meanwhile, I embrace the philosophy of John Lewis, and I’m determined to “get into good trouble.”
Another vote for this beautiful and touching essay on racism in America, and in all of us in some form or another. Few writers offer this kind of thoughtful analysis of such a difficult subject. I treasured every word, read it over three times now and am still immersed in the depth of what you wrote. I am sad that we never managed to visit Montgomery when we traveled through Alabama. Now that I have read about your visit, I am grateful that you took the time and effort to write in such detail, filling in part that I might never see in this lifetime but that I need to know. Thank you, Laurel. Loved that you had good friends to share some time with as well.
Sue, it was wonderful that we had good friends to visit with who were staying at the same campground in Montgomery. I hope everyone reads Shannon’s blog…she is extremely articulate, and they visited some additional sites in Montgomery that we didn’t get to.
I appreciate so much your thoughtful comment. I truly didn’t know if anyone would be interested in reading such a long post, but I needed to write it for my own process of reflection. Racism is a difficult topic, and a sensitive one, but I believe we all need to be speaking up in these troubled times—essentially, to be holding the light for one another.
Thank you for your heartfelt post.
The book, The Color of Law needs to be required reading in every junior high school.
This is a very powerful and so beautifully written post Laurel. I was surprised actually to see that the Alabama museum acknowledged the klu klux klan (sorry, no capital letters) and colored entrances. In 2013 we visited the National Park Services visitor Center for the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama. It too was a very moving experience and there we learned of the plans for the Legacy Museum and “the lynching memorial”. I wish we had been able to see them together as you two did. I agree with all that this piece deserves a wider audience. I know how hard you worked and struggled to express the truth you were experiencing and feeling. I am so despondent over my feelings that we are now marching backwards in terms of civil rights, voting rights and throwing off the heavy mantle of racism. How did John Lewis, Rev King and so many others maintain hope. I’m finding it very hard.
Sherry, I’ve found myself wondering the same thing…how did MLK and John Lewis and all of the others who worked for civil rights in such turbulent, dangerous times maintain their hope in the face of such brutality? And how did they maintain their commitment to non-violent protest?
If you return to Montgomery, I know you will find the Legacy Museum and memorial enlightening, and you will be inspired by the work that Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative are doing. We have to keep our hope for justice and equality alive.
Thank you, Kathryn, for your kindness. And thank you for suggesting The Color of Law. I did not know about this book, but I ordered it based on your recommendation. I found myself wishing that everyone could visit the Legacy Museum for the same reason you’re suggesting this book, including junior high school and high school kids.
What a thoughtful and excellent piece of writing, Laurel. I think Bryan Stevenson is a hero who belongs right up there with MLK, John Lewis and Nelson Mandela. What an amazing and honorable man. I’m sure you’ve read his book Just Mercy and seen the documentary “13th” which is incredibly powerful, but if you haven’t you really should. I can’t imagine what it feels like to experience the Legacy Museum. I’ve read about it, but your description sure adds a personal touch. I’ve wondered what it feels like to stand before those jars of soil, or to see the National Memorial for Peace and Justice with all those names of folks who were murdered, and yet knowing that these only represent the ones we know about. Whew. I certainly understand why it would take a few weeks to process all of that.
Thank you, Janet. I feel like you really understand the depth of what it took for me to process our time in Montgomery, and especially, our visit to the Legacy Museum and the Memorial for Peace and Justice. I completely agree with you that Bryan Stevenson is in the league of other selfless, inspirational heroes like MLK, John Lewis, and Nelson Mandela. I have not seen the documentary “13th,” but I will do so as soon as we’re in a place where I can get access to it.
I wish you could visit the museum and the memorial. It was so difficult to put the experience into words—I hope I did it justice.
Laurel, your gentle style of writing lends incredible power to this post which is filled with both heartbreak and hope. You’ve done an exceptional job of pouring painful and turbulent facts and feelings onto the written page. The result is a poignant, compelling and moving essay. Beautifully and superbly done, my friend.
Thank you for your kind words, Mary. Honestly, I found it very challenging to capture the depth of our experience in Montgomery. Walking in the footsteps of MLK and the thousands of other courageous people who marched for basic civil rights was deeply inspiring. And the Legacy Museum and the memorial are really impossible to capture in words. As you noted, it is heartbreaking, but the hope is that in telling the truth about our painful past, we can heal and move forward.
Laurel, I’ve always said your writing amazed me–this post went beyond amazement. What a powerful message. Those jars, the boxes. I agree with those who say our history shouldn’t be erased but the wrong we have done to the African American race goes on and on. Your writing brings those wrongs to us at a time when so much is still not right in our country. I simply cannot say I “enjoyed” your post but found your writing mesmerizing and the tour of those museums heartbreaking.
I grew up in the south, graduating from high school in 1973. I grew up in Arkansas, a state where Governor Orval Faubus ordered the National Guard to stop black students from entering Central High School. My high school in a small town south of Little Rock was not integrated when I graduated and an African American did not attend that school until my niece graduated many years later. I grew up in a church that has documents detailing how Blacks would be dealt with if they entered our church and there are references to the Ku Klux Klan in those same documents. I had a far distant relative who owned a slave. I grew up in the south and sadly much has not changed in that south and the rest of this country.
All the violence against African Americans through all these years is heartbreaking and I don’t know the answer. Thank you again Laurel for this eye opening essay.
Janna, thank you for sharing your vivid memories of growing up in the South. It struck me that you said, “not much has changed in that south and in the rest of this country.” That is tragic, and so true.
Honestly, I’ve always felt uncomfortable with my Southern heritage in terms of the racism that I grew up with. Even though it wasn’t always overt, racist thinking was accepted as the status quo. But the Legacy Museum reveals just how prevalent racism has always been throughout our country, and not just in the South—and that was enlightening. Racism is insidious, and we have a long road ahead to achieve true equality. I believe that sharing our experiences is part of the healing process.
I appreciate your thoughtful comment.
Wow, your heart in every word, so powerful. I cannot help but feel we have gone backwards in the last six years even though the painful history is finally being told in its entirety. It is the legacy of hope and tenacity that keeps me from despair so thank you for this poignant essay. The photos are powerful as well, especially the woman in the chair reading the words on the wall. Hugs my friend.
Jodee, I hope that you and Bill will have the opportunity to visit the Legacy Museum and memorial. Sadly, I agree with you that we have gone backwards in the last few years. I suppose, in a sense, we are being provided with a reality check for how deeply the idea of white supremacy is rooted in our culture and society. We can only hope that the arc of moral justice truly will free us of racial bias. Like you, I find inspiration in all of those who have kept hope alive, even in the face of such relentless opposition.
I don’t know what else I can say that hasn’t already been mentioned in these comments. Good work, Laurel. This is a very powerful piece. Thank you.
Thank you, Susie. The museum and the memorial are powerfully affecting—I hope that you two will be able to visit Montgomery.
Learning from the past is so important. We visited many of the same historic sites that you and Eric and have come away wondering why our nation is still oppressing so many of our citizens. (BTW – we stayed at the same COE park while visiting Montgomery, Selma, Tuskegee)
We have been doing genealogical research and I (R) have learned about my ancestors terrible participation in the ownership of other human beings. Through DNA I have also learned that I have nearly 400 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins that have over 1% sub Saharan African genes, 69 of which have over 50%. Based on my knowledge of my family’s history, there is only one reason for this to be the case. As slave owners or overseers they raped the female slaves.
All of this needs to be out in the open where we can acknowledge our awful history and begin overcoming todays oppression, not just of people of color but of all people, men and women.
Lastly, while I am ashamed of my ancestors behavior I also honor the fact that I have such a diverse set of relatives.
Riley, it’s fascinating that you’ve done such extensive genealogical research and that you’ve discovered so much about your family history. I think there are probably many people who would be surprised to discover the many different branches of their family trees and the variations those branches take.
I agree with you that learning from the past is important. If only we would pay attention and not repeat the same mistakes! And I also agree with you that we need to tell the truth about our history so that we can move beyond oppression to create a truly equal and just society.
P.S. I’m wondering if you’ll get to meet any of your 400 cousins?
Fabulous piece of writing and, as a southerner, very thought-provoking. I remember all too well the separate water fountains, “the back of the bus” and (embarrassingly) the words of some members of my own family. I am heartened by the fact that my grandchildren don’t seem to see skin color and, if they do, it matters not.
My high school was integrated during my Sophomore year and four lovely ladies joined my class. I can’t imagine the courage it took to walk through the door. Thankfully, we welcomed them graciously. It was a proud moment for me and my classmates and we still talk about it. I just wish I had gotten to know the ladies better.
Have a safe trip. Joe
Joe, I’m in good company with fellow Southerners here who are committed to shining light on the past and healing the pain caused by our ancestors.
As you know, the truth is that all of us who were born white have been treated better and have had more advantages simply because of the color of our skin. I’m sure because of who you are and how you live your life, you’ve been a good influence on your granddaughters in helping them to value people for who they are, whatever the color of their skin or any other physical attribute. I appreciate your comment and that you shared your experience of growing up in the South. We have a lot to talk about next time we see you two!
Laurel….I have no words for how this post saddened and touched me.
Sue, I felt the same in our experience of Montgomery. Thank you for reading.
As so many others have already said, this is a powerful post that should reach as many eyes as possible. I know how hard you worked to capture the experience and what an emotional struggle it’s been to put it all into words. All I can say is, you did a remarkable job weaving your personal experience into a thoughtful, educational, immersive experience for your readers.
As you know, even though we passed through Montgomery several times, we never stayed more than a night or two, so we missed all of these powerful museums and monuments. I am so appreciative you and Shannon captured them so well. I felt like I was with you the whole way.
Thank you, Laura. You know that it was a challenge for me to try to capture the experience we had in Montgomery. I had no idea that our visit there would affect me so deeply and make it so hard for me to write a blog post. As you know, being in a place where monumental historical events took place brings them to life. And visiting the Legacy Museum and memorial is an emotional experience that is intellectually and morally enlightening and challenging. I wish you had been there with us!
Our time in Montgomery was certainly inspiring, and makes me want to look for ways that I can “get into good trouble,” as John Lewis encouraged us to do.
I know you’ll understand when I say that I scrolled through this post and mostly looked at the moving photos. I have no doubt your text is well worth the read, which I promise to do in the future, when I lift my self-imposed moratorium on weighty issues. Love you, Sister Wife.
Joodie, these are most certainly weighty, challenging, and painful issues. We seem to be facing so many in our world right now. I understand the need to stay balanced and to know when we have the emotional reserves to explore painful issues.
But it’s interesting…I didn’t feel devastated or hopeless after visiting the Legacy Museum and memorial. It deepened my understanding of how insidious racial bias is, and I felt inspired by the courage of those who have been steadfast in their goal of working for equality. Hugs to you, my friend.
WOW, what an incredible and beautiful piece of writing – astonishing!!!! I know you
are great writer, but this takes your talent to a whole new level. Thank you so much.
I agree with all your friends who have posted their thoughts. I have read what you wrote
as least 5 times, I am so moved. I learned about Bryan Stevenson years ago when he
wrote “Just Mercy” it should be required reading in our schools. He is one of my heroes. I
was particularly moved by what you wrote in your description of the Legacy Museum. My
heart is heavy right now. Of course we all have personal experiences. Growing up in a
Southern California mostly “white” town, my only experiences with Blacks were at our
local country club. I never felt comfortable in the role of being privileged and waited on
by the Black staff. I rebelled and became a volunteer at the pool side cafe. I was so naive
to the plight of the black and impoverished individuals in our country and all over the
world who seek justice and may never get it. Your words are inspiring Laurel! Again thank you.
Peggy, it’s so interesting to hear of your experience growing up in Southern California. I think many people believe that prejudice is mostly confined to the South, which is not true. Visiting the Legacy Museum really helped me understand the depth and the breadth of racism in our country, and how the idea of white supremacy was created.
Like you, I’m inspired by the work of Bryan Stevenson. He makes the point that Holocaust memorials have helped people to heal from the tragic events of WWII. For the same reason, we need memorials and truth telling about our legacy of racism. And I agree with you that “Just Mercy” should be required reading in schools. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.
Thanks so much for the awesome tour of Montgomery. I so enjoyed reading all the history. Great job sharing all the background with us. This definitely takes a lot of time. The museums you visited would have been very difficult for me. I can’t imagine how many tissue boxes I would have needed. I had a tough time just making it through your blog.
Pam, as you can tell, I was deeply inspired by our visit to Montgomery. It’s a fascinating place, as both the birthplace of the Confederacy and the birthplace of the civil rights movement. Writing this post took me a ridiculous amount of time, but I felt like it helped me understand and absorb our experience there. Thank you for reading and commenting. I know you and John would appreciate visiting the Legacy Museum.
We have not made it to Montgomery since these exhibits were built, so I really appreciate the description and photos. Beautifully, powerfully done. Thank you.
Thank you, Gretchen. If you make it back to Montgomery, I highly recommend the museum and memorial.
Wow, Laurel – beautiful writing and I concur with many of those posting here that you should certainly submit it for publication and the photos as well. I have only been to Montgomery once in my life and it was for military training. We were not given much time to explore. This piece and the beautiful photos have me placing it on a top place to visit and learn from. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thank you, Viv, for your kind comment. Our visit to Montgomery was both challenging and inspiring. I think you would appreciate visiting there. I hope you’re doing well and enjoying your new life in California!