Saturday, March 8, 2014

Alabama Bound

Dauphin Island Beach Bums

We reluctantly left the wonderful Gulf Coast NationalSeashore campground at Fort Pickens, Florida and headed into southern Alabama during the peak of the Mardi Gras celebrations. Being from the north we were quite amazed at the number of parades and other celebrations going on in every city and small town. Stores were decorated in a way that we Yankees only see at Christmas or Halloween. We joined up with Friday Harbor friends Teddy and Alice Deane near Mobile as they returned from a day of celebration laden with colorful strings of beads. 

Janna checks our Scout's perspective
Our next stop was Monroeville, the childhood home of two famous American authors: Truman Capote and Harper Lee. They were childhood friends and literary collaborators, and she, now in her 80’s, still lives in Monroeville. The historic courthouse operates as a museum to them both and as a playhouse for an annual dramatic production of To Kill a Mockingbird.  It is believed that the character Atticus Finch was a likeness of Harper Lee’s father who practiced law in this courtroom and it was exactly replicated in Hollywood for the set of the movie starring Gregory Peck. Being, again, the Yankees that we are, we admired the beautiful design of the building including the dual stair cases and balconies, and then quite suddenly realized it was built that way to accommodate the Southern culture of segregation and the Jim Crow laws that remained in effect until Federal civil rights legislation in the 1960’s.

Our next stop was the Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center in Camden. This cooperative gallery supports craftspeople from the nineteen counties that make up rural Alabama’s fertile Blackbelt farming region, including the quilt makers from Gee’s Bend. We had originally intended to visit these ladies, but unfortunately the weather was miserably wet and cold and the ferry schedule didn't work for us (sound familiar?). The Gee’s Bend quilters were made famous in the 1990’s by a cultural archivist interested in African American fabrics. Quilters will remember the Smithsonian articles that chronicled the story, and the subsequent attention to the area.

While in this area, we stayed at Isaac Creek, an excellent Army Corps of Engineers campground nearby. These federal campgrounds are all over the country, usually near the major dams and earthworks the Corps has engineered. This one had a museum containing artifacts recovered from the site.

Then it was on to Montgomery, capital of Alabama, and site of many civil rights and confederate historical events.  The historic trolley tour was a good overview to the city, and a bargain as well at only two bucks. We visited the Rosa Parks Museum which has added a multimedia wing since we were last there in 2003. This addition gives some historic perspective to her story, but we had loved the stark simplicity of the earlier museum and it fell from the top of our favorite museum list. But it’s still a museum definitely worth seeing. 

That top place on the list was quickly filled when we went to the Civil Rights Memorial operated by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This small facility adjacent to their offices features Maya Lin’s fabulous water sculpture honoring 40 martyrs of the modern civil rights movement. Their individual stories are told in video and interactive displays. At the end of the tour visitors are invited to commit to working for justice by signing their names
on the Wall of Tolerance. Although it takes less than an hour to tour this museum, we found the experience very rewarding and an excellent orientation to the ongoing work for social justice. If you don’t know about the Southern Poverty Law Center, take time to read about the work they do monitoring hate groups all over the country. Their work is teaching tolerance and the eradication of every kind of discrimination. If you are a person of color, if you are a person with a disability, if you are GLBT, if you are poor, they are out there making the world safer for you.

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