Sunday, January 01, 2023

54 miles (from Selma to Montgomery)

We drove to Selma in the morning (December 28) and I have to say that Selma—bless its heart—was such an empty little town. And I say that as someone who was born in a town with a population that is now only approaching 4000 people (and who grew up in a town of (in 2000) less than 10,000 people). It made me quite sad to see how the city has been neglected. It felt almost like we were in a ghost town. 

But you don't have to take my word for it (because I'm not the only one who felt this way).

Selma has a population of 17,000, but how those 17,000 live there is beyond me. It seemed like every other building was empty (and half the empty buildings seemed to be falling apart). With so many businesses that had clearly been closed—for years—I couldn't figure out where people were working! The answer is, perhaps, that they're not, since Selma boasts the highest unemployment rate in the state of Alabama (though, honestly, 8% doesn't seem like that high to me...but I imagine those that are employed are technically underemployed).

To be fair, all we did was stop by the Selma Interpretive Center, walk the bridge, visit a park, and drive past Brown Chapel AME. But even that left me wondering people get food here?!

We saw an abandoned Piggly Wiggly outside of Selma that kind of confirmed my suspicion that the town is in a bit of a food desert. Here are some views of potential grocery stores (from Google Maps's Street View):

To be fair they also have Wal-Mart and...Dollar General...but really they don't have many places to find healthy food. The neglect of Selma seems almost purposeful, if not vengeful (similar to how the bridge remains named the after Edmund Pettus, a KKK leader). 

It feels to me like it's an extension of "Tent City": First, kick Black sharecroppers off their farms, leaving them jobless and homeless. Next, flee the city, leaving behind a ghost town, and taking all money-making opportunities with you. 

Currently, Selma is about 80% Black (in 1965, the city was only about 50% Black). 

This isn't to say that it's an unsolvable problem (and people are doing amazing things to try to better the city); it's just to say that it's a systemic problem that is purposefully being left to fester.

Take for example, this potentially (and surely once-) beautiful Civil Rights Memorial park:

The part with the monuments seems fairly well-groomed, but the rest of the park has fallen into disrepair. I think the park was established March 1, 2003, but it's since been somewhat neglected. Even the video below shows a much healthier park (and it was shot in 2020):

In their defense, boardwalks (and anything made of wood) is particularly difficult to keep in good repair in this climate. It requires constant maintenance. Most of the structures you see in the video (there are structures...with roofs?) are piles of rubble today. Here are Benjamin and Zoë leading the way through the trees:

Here's Benjamin pretending to have his foot fall through a board:

Here's Phoebe sitting in her throne stroller:

Andrew carried her up and down all the her stroller. He's a champ!

Walking across the bridge was a little bit scary (even without the threat of an angry mob attacking me). To get from the bridge to the park you have to walk on this strip of the shoulder of the road. And the speed limit isn't exactly slow on this road. It was a little unnerving, especially with the way little kids seem to dart off unpredictably. I'm sure when my kids read that the first thing they'll hear is me yelling, "BE PREDICTABLE!" or "WALK PREDICTABLY!" because I usually yell that every time we go on a family walk. What is it about the south and their lack of sidewalks? Oh, right. Racism

Anyway...we all made it safely to the bridge and then back across the bridge (thanks, in so small part, to having such a great big person-to-little person ratio).

Here are some pictures Rachel took on the way across the bridge.

The buildings right on the river were beautiful. I always think that. And it's really something I've only seen in Europe before. But I also can't help but think about how unwise that is because rivers are known for things like...flooding...and riverbanks are known for things like...crumbling. We could certainly see some evidence of crumbling going on and some of these buildings looked like they were just about ready to go for a swim.

Many of the interpretive centers we visited had whiteboards up questioning the name of the bridge (asking people whether they thought it should be changed and what they would name it if it was renamed). I imagine it will be renamed in the future, as there are many petitions to do so, including one to rename it after John Lewis. My question would be how a renaming might change the look of the bridge, since it's rather iconic with Pettus' name proudly splashed across the front tie—and it seems both fitting that Pettus' name be tied to Bloody Sunday and shameful that a Confederate general would be honoured in this way in the first place (Confederates were—and I say this as someone with multiple ancestors who served in the Confederate army—on the wrong side of history; did they want what they thought was best for themselves the country? Sure. But, like, that doesn't mean they deserve a participation trophy). John Lewis actually spoke out against renaming the bridge in his—or anyone else's—honour. 

Most recently (in April 2022), a bill put forth to amend the name of the bridge to be the Edmund Pettus-Foot Soldiers Bridge passed the senate but ultimately failed in the house. I actually like that idea quite a bit—to keep the name Edmund Pettus for historical reasons, but to amend (and honour) the bridge with the history of Civil Rights Foot Soldiers. Too bad it didn't pass! Still, as I said earlier, I think that the name will eventually change for the better. 

Anyway, here we are making our way across the bridge:


Our next stop was the Lowndes Interpretive Center, which was very well done. Even the people working at the Selma Interpretive Center urged us to go to the Lowndes center because "it's so much better than this museum." They weren't lying! It was pretty great!

Phoebe missed most of the museum:

Here she is saying, "Who was napping? Not me!!"

Benjamin and Alexander had a good time filling out their junior ranger books. Zoë didn't want to do her junior ranger booklet. She just wanted to go home...until it came time to do the junior ranger pledge and get a badge and then she wished she had been filling things out. Fortunately, it took the rangers a little bit of time to find their supplies, so Zoë chose 7 quick activities to do and raced to get them done in time to take her pledge (in which she promised to vote when she turned 18).

Here's Alexander exploring Tent City, where several families lived (for multiple years!) after being kicked out of their tenements following the Freedom March:

Here's Zoë and Grandpa joining in with the marchers:

And here's a shot of Alexander sitting down at a table to fill out one of the pages in his booklet:

I'm including it because I think this stage of literacy development is so interesting. He wrote bison, lake, mountain, and arrow from left to right. But he wrote tree from right to left. Both ways make perfect sense to him right now. 

Rachel asked him why he wrote tree backwards and he denied having done so. 

"T-R-E-E. Tree," he said, pointing to each of the letters sequentially...backwards.

Just that word, though. The rest he wrote left to right.

And it's weird because it's not even like that is the word he wrote first. No. He did wrote things in the order they're listed in the information above the emblem: lake, bison, mountain, tree, arrowhead. So he wrote it second to last!

Here's Benjamin taking his oath:

He was having a real clueless moment and his swearing in ceremony went a little like this:

"Repeat after me: I, [state your name]..."

"I, state your name..."

"No. Where I say [state your name], you say your name, okay?"


"Let's try this again. Repeat after me: I, [state your name]..."

"I, state your name..."

"No. Remember, you're going to say your name there. You're going to just say I and then say your name. Ready? Repeat after me: I, [state your name]..."

"I, state your name..."

"Benjamin," I intervened. "When he says, 'I, [state your name],' you're going to say, "I, Benjamin,' because that's your name. Got it? I, Benjamin..."

"Okay. Here we go. Repeat after me: I, [state your name]..."


Benjamin looked over at me. I mouthed, "BENJAMIN."


Two thumbs way, way up from Mom! He did it!

Here he is showing off everything he got:

These rangers were so excited to have kids finish the program, they lavished the children with gifts. They got badges from all three interpretive centers (there's one in Selma, one in Lowndes, and one in Montgomery), they got these frisbee ring things, they got paper hats, they got colouring books, they got pencils, they got rulers...did I miss anything? Probably. They had that entire goodie bag stuffed with good stuff.

They even brought out a hat to put on Phoebe and gave her a frisbee ring, too!

Here's Zoë taking her oath. Having watched Benjamin butcher his oath, she managed to execute things quite smoothly.

"I, Zoë..." she said on the very first try.

Here's Alexander, who was very timid about taking his oath. We could hardly hear his little whispers!

But he sure was excited to become a three-star general, as he told me in the car.

We picnicked at Lowndes before heading back to Montgomery. Andrew thought we should eat lunch in the car (as we'd done when we were driving from Atlanta to Montgomery on Tuesday, but I'd packed sandwiches for lunch on Tuesday (knowing we'd be in the car) and muffins for lunch on Wednesday (not knowing where we'd be eating lunch) and the amount of messiness created by sandwich consumption vs. muffins consumption is vast (at least when my kids do it), so I was like, "Uh-uh. We can't eat in the car for this meal. We've got to use the picnic area." 

So that's what we did. 

And the kids (at least Zoë and Alex) made ginormous messes with their muffins. 

Leaving that mess behind us (we did clean it up, but it was much easier to do outside than it would have been in the van; I really hope the ants appreciate our muffin crumbs), we drove back to Montgomery to visit the Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Museum and Monument.

You can see Zoë already has her mask on! Masks are required inside (and with good reason) which I appreciated because the museum is intended to be visited in a number of hours rather than a number of minutes, and which nobody else seemed to mind.

It was phenomenal. Incredible. Spectacular. 


Not exactly funcrediblorious, since it wasn't fun, per se. But it was definitely phenocredacular.

It was just so well done. 

Our "meh" about the Rosa Parks museum (how did we spend so much money for so little experience??), was countered by The Legacy Museum (how did we get so much experience for so little money??). 

It opens with an ocean voyage (recalling to my mind 1619 (I haven't finished reading the book for adults, but can tell you confidently that the book for kids is beautiful)), which both Alexander and Phoebe were captivated by. Perhaps more of the children were as well, but at this point I had Phoebe and Alex with me. 

Later you walk through a sculpture garden, still under the sea (from my interpretation) of the heads/torsos of overboard slaves (often women and children) jutting up from the sand at the bottom of the sea. Very moving. 

You walk past stalls where the ghosts of enslaved people cry out to you, telling you their story, asking you to find their children, and so forth. You can try to register to vote (if you can tell the registrar how many bubbles are in a bar of soap, how many seeds are in a watermelon, or how many jellybeans are in this jar...and other ridiculous questions like that). You can "visit" incarcerated people and listen to how the Equal Justice Initiative worked to free them (so many wrongfully imprisoned cases!). 

There was also an exhibit on racial terror lynchings, which didn't hold a flame to the lynching exhibit at Greensboro's International Civil Rights Center & Museum (in the old Woolworth's building). That exhibit was jaw-dropping. Not that the exhibit by the EJI wasn't good, I just think it was tamer than the one at the Woolworth's, and perhaps with good intention. The EJI Legacy Museum was accessible to everyone. I will admit that Phoebe, in particular, had a difficult time, but everyone else was able to walk through the museum and appreciate what it had to offer. So, while the exhibit was powerful, it wasn't overwhelming, like the exhibit at the Woolworth's (that exhibit was designed to be...heavy...and they had a "viewer discretion is advised" warning up). 

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (which is associated with the Legacy Museum; you get a ticket for the memorial with purchase of a museum ticket), was incredibly moving. Each county that has had a lynching in the United States has its own steel panel, listing the names of the victims.

We spent quite a lot of time searching for our own county.

The monuments start on the ground, at eye level...

...and then the ground starts dropping and the monuments start rising...

...until they are dangling above you.

Our county is in this picture

It was very sobering.

Once you leave that section, the same steel boxes are laid out on the grounds, this time seeming to be lines of coffins. Here's Utah's:

Here's Gwinnett's:

And here's one dedicated to undocumented tragedies:

They also have a collection of soil from various places where lynchings are known to have occurred (inside the museum they have an entire wall of jar filled with dirt that were collected to honour victims of racial terror lynchings, and that was rather powerful, too (but I didn't take a picture because pictures aren't allowed in the museum)):

You can spot (one side of) the wall of jars in this beautiful video of the museum (it's the thumbnail picture and then shows up again around the one-minute mark):

It was a phenocredacular and sobering experience and I'm sure we'll be talking about it a lot in the days ahead (one of Andrew's friends on Twitter said their family visited the museum a year or two ago and still talk about it today). It was...a lot. I'm so glad we went!

Phoebe, on the other hand, was so glad to be outside in the fresh air. She was cute and silly and so tired of museums already. Here she is sucking on Rachel's hoodie tie (much to Rachel's consternation):

Here she is hanging out with Daddy:

And here she is begging Mommy to take her:

And with that, we drove past some abandoned apartment buildings and off into the sunset and back home to Atlanta...

...stopping only at Wendy's for a dinner break (complete with peppermint Frosties for everyone). 

1 comment:

  1. I, Benjamin gave me a good laugh in an otherwise sobering post!