Monday, April 20, 2015

Natchez Trace Parkway (Tennessee)

The Natchez Trace Parkway, a federal park maintained by the National Park Service, has long been on our list of places to visit. Carving out the time to explore this National Scenic Byway worked into our plans to be in Alabama and Mississippi for our last two Capitol visits. Also known as the "Old Natchez Trace", or simply, the Trace, this historical path extends roughly 440 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. It was created and used for centuries by Native Americans (including the Natchez Indians) and later by European and American explorers, traders, and emigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The developed Parkway follows the approximate path of the Old Trace, and parts of the original trail are still accessible to park visitors.

We started the first leg of our journey near the northern terminus of the trail, in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Our RV Park, Falls Hollow, provided easy access to the Parkway, located just across the road from one of the many entrances. The first day out we drove 40 miles north towards Nashville stopping at the many points of interest along the way. We hiked to beautiful waterfalls, sometimes through fields of colorful wildflowers. We were treated to stunning views of hills and valleys (known as hollows, and pronounced "hollers", in Tennessee). We hiked through dense forests along creeks and over bridges. We heard beautiful songbirds, the chirping of the frogs and were sometimes sharing our space with the resident insect life. We also picked up some history lessons along the way. If this is just the first 40 miles, we'll need more than a couple of weeks to take it all in!

Here are some pictures from our first journey on the Trace.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Selma, Alabama: The March to Montgomery

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude". These are the words of the 15th amendment, ratified on February 3, 1870. Why, then, in 1965 did we have people in power who were allowed to blatantly and violently deny American citizens this right, something that should have been guaranteed by law?

2015 marks the 50-year anniversary of the pivotal 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voter's Rights March, an event that culminated the journey of 100 years by African Americans to gain one of the most fundamental of American freedoms, the right to vote. The walk was led by Martin Luther King, Jr., and started out with 4000 marchers on March 21st. By March 25th when the walk ended at the Capitol steps in Montgomery, the numbers had swelled to 25,000. Having just seen the movie Selma, and being in Montgomery for our capitol tour, we set aside a day to make the drive between the two cities along the actual route the marchers took.

The 50-mile drive was broken up with milestones from the march including the four campsites the marchers stayed along the way and the Lowndes County interpretive center which depicted the events leading up the march, the march itself, and the aftermath. It was difficult walking through this museum, reading about the violence and oppression, seeing images from Bloody Sunday, and hearing the voices of the brave citizens who put their lives on the line to fight for what should have already been rightfully theirs. There were far too many victims of unprovoked violence, far too many innocent lives lost.

In Selma, a small town of just 20,000, we found remnants of the just concluded 50-year Jubilee celebrating these historic events. We parked the truck and took a walking tour of the town, following the path that traced the series of events leading up to the march. We walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, trying to imagine what it would have been like to be part of the original group taking those first steps forward.

I was only 9-years old when all this was happening. My understanding of this era is seen through an abstracted rear view mirror, my lessons coming from books, school, and even movies and television. Now, finally having a chance to get a more hands on discovery through actual visitations to Selma and Montgomery, my awareness of the turbulent and dangerous events of the Civil Rights Movement has deepened. Although most of us take our voting rights for granted, not so long ago people were prepared to die to ensure this civil liberty.  I want to believe we've come a long way in 50 years, and in many ways we have. I like to think the quote "Rosa sat so Martin could walk, Martin walked so Obama could run, Obama ran so our children could fly" represents a continuum of progress we still need to see continue in today's world.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Montgomery, Alabama

As winter wrapped up for yet another season, so did this year's travel hiatus. After staying in one place for four months, moving back into travel mode can take some getting used to. With each week that goes by, you get a little more spread out, and a little more stationary. But soon enough we shifted gears, and since the grass was literally growing under our feet (or in this case, under the tires of our 5th wheel), it was more than time to move on. April found us back on the road and headed towards Montgomery, Alabama, one of the last two state capitols on our list.

Having just seen the movie Selma, our visit to this particular State Capitol was especially timely and significant. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 54-mile Selma to Montgomery March for Voter's Rights, which terminated on the Capitol steps March 25, 1965. The Alabama Civil Rights Trail weaves throughout the Capitol neighborhood and encompasses the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and the Civil Rights Memorial, which we explored before our docent led tour of the Capitol itself.

And while we usually prefer to tour state capitols without a guide, this time we didn't mind. We were lucky enough to have Aroine Irby for our docent, who was just 19-years old when he participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery. In 1965, Aroine was not permitted through the capitol doors because of the color of his skin. Retired from the Air Force, today he leads tours of the State Capitol, is a state historian, and a voting member for the Bureau of Tourism and Travel. So much has changed in 50 years! Aroine's entertaining way of imparting his knowledge of the Capitol artifacts, history of Alabama, and the Civil Right's movement in particular, made for a very lively and moving tour.