(This is the second in a series of #bloganuary posts, part of a WordPress blogging challenge for the month of January. Never mind that January is two-thirds gone–I’m going to try to get caught up.)
I’ve been fortunate enough to have taken some epic road trips in the past, but I’ve been feeling it’s long past time to do another one. And my wife and I and some friends have been considering one or more of the Civil Rights Trail road trip itineraries described here: https://civilrightstrail.com/
There are fourteen itineraries to choose from, and clicking on any of them takes you to a PDF file that details the route you can travel through the chosen state, along with the major stops you’ll want to take along the way. Each itinerary file contains suggestions for how to organize your trip, day by day, and information about what sites you can visit. There are several itineraries that are particularly appealing to us–the one in Kansas (https://civilrightstrail.com/app/themes/uscrt/assets/pdf/Kansas_itinerary.pdf) is all within a few hours of where we live, as is the trip through Missouri (https://civilrightstrail.com/app/themes/uscrt/assets/pdf/Missouri_itinerary.pdf). But the one that I think I’m most interested in is the itinerary in Alabama (https://civilrightstrail.com/app/themes/uscrt/assets/pdf/Alabama_itinerary.pdf), which includes Aniston, where I was born, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, and Tuskegee–all are cities that were very important sites in the struggle for civil rights (a struggle which continues today).
I was born in Aniston in 1954–there was an Army base in the area, and my father was stationed there–but I did not grow up in Alabama. Within a few months of my birth, he was discharged from the Army and we began a series of career-related moves that would eventually bring our family to northeast Kansas, where we still live today. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I was a fully-grown adult before I ever thought much about what things might have been like in the place of my birth at the time I was born, particular for African-Americans. Since then I have wondered what sort of person I might be today, had I grown up there in the 1950s and 60s.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, located in Montgomery, is a place that I am particularly interested in visiting. In my city, which figured prominently in the fight against slavery, and which was burned in 1863 by a murderous gang of pro-slavery raiders, three black men were lynched in 1882, and last fall, work was underway to locate their unmarked graves in a local cemetery. In a partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, a local coalition is organizing to have a historical marker placed on the grounds of our city hall, which is situated within sight of the location of the bridge where the three men were hanged. Kansas was known back then as a “free state,” and that phrase appears in the names of numerous businesses and one of our high schools, but the truth is that more than twenty people were killed in acts of racial violence in Kansas between 1865 and 1950, and a lot of people here in our town don’t know that.
I believe these road trips can help Americans come to a better understanding of a part of our national history that has too often been overlooked, if not intentionally ignored. While I always love a good road trip, I know that these trips will most likely be sobering, and perhaps difficult at times. But I’m encouraged by the fact that people are doing them, and that I and my wife and friends will, too. Owning the troublesome parts of our national past is a necessary step toward becoming a better nation.