Friday, January 22, 2021

Montgomery Alabama: A Civil Rights Mecca

Union Train Station
Great American Volkssport Association (AVA) walk in Montgomery, Alabama.  We did the 8K route.   This being the capital of Alabama and ground zero for the fight for civil rights in the 1960s, to say there is a lot to digest here is an understatement.  My original reason for going here was to visit The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.  The museum was closed but we still got to see the memorial.  Which is a memorial for the lynching victims of the old Jim Crow south.  

Peace & Justice Memorial 
The memorial has 805 coffins suspended from the ceiling of the building.  They represent every county in America where a lynching by white supremacist mob violence occurred.  Over 4400 people were lynched in America from 1877 to 1950.  The names of those lynched from each county are engraved on each coffin.  It was a very moving experience that especially resonates in today's times.  How people can be motivated to do the most awful things through Mob violence. 

Rosa Parks
Although the memorial dominates my memory there is so much more here in Montgomery.  This is also home to the Rosa Parks bus boycott, MLKs church, the Poverty Law Center, union train station, old town Montgomery, and so much more.  By the time of the civil war, Montgomery had 4 slave markets.  

MLK Church

During the walk, we also saw the Hank Williams statue who grew up here.  I forgot to mention the murals, some great artwork on some of the city buildings.  Because of COVID, the streets were mostly empty, but you could see a transformation of the downtown of the city.  Dexter Avenue that leads to the capital has several buildings that are undergoing renovations. 

Alabama Capital
I love walks like this.  You learn so much, but more than that you get a feel for the city. The history of places like this makes up the collective history of America.  Because of the pandemic we took a pass on the museums which will require a return trip. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Monroeville Alabama: To Kill a Mocking Bird

I have always been enthralled by the enigma that is Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote.  Two writers from the same town that grew up next door to each other becoming life long friends.  Then followed a similar path becoming famous authors.  In the end, both becoming perplexed by their success.  One becoming a recluse and the other dying from substance abuse.  

I had hoped a trip to their hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, might shed some light on their shared dilemma.  So after a visit to our son's home in Charleston, SC, and then a stop in Montgomery to see the Civil Rights sites, we make the trek down to Monroeville. 

As we drive into town following some Alabama backroads.  Monroeville, on its surface, seems to be the quintessential southern small town.  The famous courthouse in the center of town with a small but thriving group of shops and well kept older homes off the courthouse square.  Almost every county seat in the south resembles this similar street layout.

We are here to do the American Volkssport Association walk around Monroeville.  The highlight of the walk was a tour of the courthouse and Harper Lee’s grave.  In town, she was known as Nelle.  Truman’s story is a little darker, basically abandoned by his mother and father.  He was raised by his aunt Ida.  Once entering the courthouse, the museum director gave us an invaluable synopsis of their lives in Monroeville and how Capote spent more than a few summers here. 

The old courthouse is a museum dedicated to Harper, Capote, and To Kill a Mocking Bird.  Lee was in the process of publishing To Kill and Mocking Bird when she helped Capote write In Cold Blood, which invented the writing style of true-life crime drama being written in a fictional novel format.  

Although they both would continue to write, it seemed that the In Cold Blood experience, especially the research done in Kansas, would have a profound, lasting impression on them.   Both never publishing another book after this.   Capote's grief that somehow he and In Cold Blood was responsible for the killers' death sentences destroyed him.  The book needed an ending and wasn't published until the sentences were carried out.  

Harper's reaction was much more subdued and hidden.  She and Capote grew apart in the following years.  She retreated to Monroeville, where she became a recluse.  A visit to Monroeville gives you a look inside this complexity.  A town really in the middle of nowhere, not really close to anything. In an interview, Harper said southern writers are forced into their imaginations by a lack of cultural activities in small southern towns.   "There are no broadway plays to attend." 

There probably is a lot of truth to this.  We are all influenced by our environment.  There is no escaping it.  We, to a large extent, are products of the microcosm of the world we live in.    Also, the things we do in our professional lives can have lasting effects on our psyche.  They seem to share this example profoundly.