Monday, November 14, 2022

CIVIL RIGHTS SITES AND SECRETS #2 (scroll down to read 1st one first)


This is the start of a series of blogs dealing with our country’s civil rights history. The blog will not only be full of the stories that made the history, but will be full of specific contact information for the museums, points of interest, etc.

Why should you read this blog instead of just a guidebook? For one thing, it will have the almost-unknown backstories. It will connect you with actual foot soldiers who lived the experience and share their unique knowledge. And, besides, it will be a fun and easy way to learn our history.

So, I look forward to our taking this journey together and I welcome your comments/questions. Please click “Follow” on the blog site so you won’t miss anything.

A lot of the following material has been gleaned from books, articles, and archival information as well as personal interviews. I will compile a bibliography at the end to credit where I gathered material from. Also, when I recommend a reference pertinent to a subject, I will highlight it in blue.

            As we go into the states that have important civil rights points of interest, I’ll give you a little specific background. At a museum or place to be noted, I’ll give you addresses and contact information and any hints that might make your journey easier or more interesting. I’ll be suggesting books which you might find helpful pertaining to that place. The part I’ll enjoy the most will be telling y’all those unknown backstories about the people who made the Movement happen. When I’m telling some little-known background, I’ll highlight it in green print.

As we start on our pilgrimage today, we’re headed to Alabama. ALABAMA. The very name stirs some to want to start singing Dixie, and for others to declare, “I’m never gonna set foot in that state!” We lived in Alabama for a number of years. I love Alabama and I despair over Alabama. It’s that kind of state.

            Let’s start by looking at Alabama’s story. Just as every person has a story (I hope you’re writing yours for future generations), every place has a story. The story is more than simply the history. You can get those facts from reading Wikipedia. This is Alabama’s story.

            First, there were a number of Native American tribes, followed by the Spanish, then the English. The earliest explorers in 1540 called the tribes the Alabamons or various spellings of that, and so they named the main river The Alabama River. Eventually, the state was named after the river. (A little piece of information that might show up in a Trivia game sometime.)

When one thinks of Alabama, one envisions a rural state and one especially thinks cotton. You know what that meant --enslaved people.We will be talking a lot about enslvement on this pilgrimage.

After South Carolina seceeded from the Union, Alabama was the third to follow suit.On February 4, 1861 all the delegates from those states that had seceeded met in Montgomery, Alabama and formed the Confederate States of America. Montgomery is an important stop on our pilgrimage. Squeezed between Georgia and Mississippi, Alabama, along with several others, is considered the Deep South. And it truly is.

Our image of Alabama in the antebellum stage is of large plantations, rich whites and at the other end of the spectrum poor Blacks and poor whites.However, in the late 1940s, a man named Frank Lawrence Owsley put forth a treatise called the Plain Folk of the Old South. It was considered a most important study of the time and was well documented. His conclusion was that “the majority of the antebellum southerners were middle class farmers who prospered and grew.” The southern white women in that class formed clubs for education and social reform. The clubs banded togerher to form the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. No Blacks were allowed. The women of color, instead, formed the Southern Association of Colored Women’s Clubs which was “especially concerned with issues of importance to poor women, working mothers and tenant wives.”

Alabama worked hard to establish the Jim Crow Laws, and they were embedded in the constitution and legislation of the state, the counties, and the cities. The state constitution of 1901 remains in force today with a few changes. While cotton is still important in Alabama, its main agricultural produce is poultry, with corn, hay, and soybeans joining in. Almost 1/3 of Alabama is still agricultural. However, there are many other influences from the cities. Huntsville brought in NASA and Birmingham has UAB, to mention two.

An important part of Alabama is – you guessed it – football. You may even be asked to declare, Auburn or University of Alabama? Besides being such a rivelry, those loyalties determrine a lot of what goes on in Alabama.

Alabama ranks 45th in one study and 47th in another for education, and about the same for its poverty level. Yes, it’s a poor state with all the problems that go with that. When we lived in Alabama, people would say, “Thank God for Mississippi, or we’d be 50th for everything!”

But Alabama had its “firsts.” In 1836, Alabama was the first state to make Christmas a legal holiday. Not only that, but it was the first state to have Mardi Gras. New Orleans gets attention for that now, but Mardi Gras was first celebrated in Mobile in 1703.It is celebrated there to this day.

We’ll get to the more personal stories as we stop at civil rights sites in the state. Those will all be in the following blogs. Hope you find them meaningful.

The period of time of what we call the Civil Rights Movement is basically during the decade of the 60s. It was a crazy time in our country. I used to think it was the worst time for our country because of all the issues of polarization. It was the cusp of the women’s lib movement, the disagreement about the Vietnam War, the black power movement, and on and on. (I say “I used to think…” because I think NOW is the worst time of our country!)

If you want to get in the mindset of the 60s, a wonderful book is A Hard Rain by Frye Gaillard published in 2018 by New South Books

Two other books I recommend for an overall view of the Civil Rights Trail are mentioned below. They give you a glance at places, but my blogs will give you the stories and what you really need to know about each place.

U.S. Civil Rights Trail by Deborah D. Douglas

Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail  by Frye Gaillard

I also recommend a publication from the Alabam Bureau of Tourism and Travel called “Alabama Black Belt Nature and Heritage Trail.

Here are some books that will be interesting for you if you want to read more about Alabama. These are mainly focusing on Birmingham, which was considered the most segregated city in the south in the 1960s.

The Watsons Go To Birmingham – Christopher Paul Curtis

Bombingham – by Anthony Grooms

We’ve Got A Job by Cynthia Levinson

The Gentle Giant of Dynamite Hill – by Helen Shores Lee & Barbara S. Shores

The Road South -by Shelley Stewart

From Selma To Sorrow; The Life & Death of Viola Liuzzo -byMary Stanton

But For Birmingham -by Glen T. Eskew

Carry Me Home- by Dianae McWhorter (Pulitzer Prize winner)

March with Me, by Rosalie T. Turner – yes, me. It’s set during the Children’s March

            So, start reading up and check my next blog for specific civil rights points of interest starting with Birmingham.

 

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY SITES AND SECRETS

   



Welcome to my blog about Civil Rights history!

The figure above is at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. At the end of touring the Institute, the visitors come to these life-size figures of a diverse group marching forward for the Movement for racial justice. Each visitor is invited to join them going forward together.

These next blogs about the sites and secrets of the Civil Rights Movement will help you do that. Come and join me on this journey. 

Welcome! This is the first of my new series of blogs which, I hope, will be interesting, informative, and inspiring for y’all.  I am writing out of my passion for sharing our universal American history of racial issues and working toward racial justice and reconciliation.

If you have a love of history, this is the place for you. If you have any interest in learning about the civil rights landmarks, museums, etc. around the south, this is the place for you. If you like to learn the behind-the-scenes facts and stories about the civil rights movement events that almost no-one has ever heard of, this is the place for you. If you’ve considered planning a trip to the important locations involving our civil rights history, this blog will help you. If you want to talk with some of the actual foot soldiers of the Movement, I can direct you to them.

My goal is to take you on a pilgrimage to places like Selma, Montgomery, Marion, Jackson and more, and it will all be for free!

So, why should you come on this pilgrimage with me? In other words, what are my credentials? To let you know my qualifications, I need to tell you my story. (Don’t worry, I won’t tell EVERYTHING.)

I grew up in a small village in New York in a home with a father who was racist and a mother who had compassion and acceptance for all people. Fortunately, I have taken after my mother. I have always had a special heart for stories of the south, acknowledging its eccentricities and its cruelties, and I’ve had the desire to make a difference concerning those cruelties in whatever way I could.

On a family trip to the Memphis area when I was about eleven, my sister and I boldly drank from the “colored” water fountain rather than the “white” one as a statement of our protest. At first, I thought it was pretty daring and I expected that such an audacious act would mean something. However, as time passed and I learned more and matured, I came to the conviction that I could never make that difference I had hoped to make.

Life went on. I got my degree in social work from Mary Washington College – at that time it was the women’s college of the University of Virginia. I worked as a counselor at a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Alexandria, VA, and married my soul mate, Frank Kile Turner, a USMC Lt. He whisked me away to Camp Pendleton, CA, the first of our 18 moves.

Around the early 1980s, I accidently fell into having my books and articles published in the Christian market. That story is for another blog.

(Don’t worry. I’m almost to the point of all this – how I got into the work of racial justice and reconciliation.) When we moved to Jacksonville, FL, I learned about Anna Kingsley. She had survived the Middle Passage from Senegal as an enslaved person at age twelve and ended up running Kingsley Plantation near Jacksonville, which is now a National Park. I was intrigued by her life, although there was only one small book about her in the gift shop. I decided to write her story. Freedom Bound was the result, and it won the Florida First Coast Writers’ Award.

Writing that book was the beginning of turning my life in a different direction. I was hooked on doing historical research, especially regarding matters of race. I wrote two other books before my next book involving race, March With Me. We were living in Birmingham, Alabama at that time and I became fascinated by the 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham. No one seemed to know or remember about it.

As a result, I wrote March With Me , which told the story of the Children’s March and of the racial situation in Birmingham at that time. March With Me was an IndieFab Book of the Year Award winner and also a finalist for Best Book Awards with AmericanBookFest.com.

My next book, Layers of Truth, is historical fiction set during Freedom Summer in 1964 in Mississippi. It will be out in early 2023.

Because of all the research I had done (I’m fanatic about accurate historical research!) I began speaking in schools about the Children’s March and the Civil Rights Movement. When I spoke to a class at my husband’s alma mater, Texas A & M U -Commerce, the professor and students seemed interested in learning more. We suggested that the professor, Dr. Lavelle Hendricks, bring a couple of students and come visit us some weekend in Alabama. We could show them some of the iconic Civil Rights places.

A few weeks later we were pleased when Dr. Hendricks called to accept our invitation. Then he said, “I’m bringing 25 students. Can you put together a week-long tour for us?”

How could we say no?

That was the first of what has become an annual tour for the 3-credit-hour course Dr. Hendricks leads. A few years ago, he asked us to develop a tour for Mississippi’s Civil Rights history since we also have lived in Mississippi.

We have additionally been doing pilgrimage tours for church-based groups from North Carolina, where we now live. We have been doing all these tours for just over ten years. My husband and I do this together, the researching, the arranging, and the speaking to groups and in lecture series. We do not do this in any commercial way. This is our passion, and we are happy to organize these tours and tell about the history. We believe we all need to learn the true history, to see how systemic racism was built into our country, and to hear about the thousands of courageous people whose names you will never see in the history books.

So, I invite you on this pilgrimage as, blog by blog, I will share our tours and the history. You can use the information to put together your own tours. You can use any part of it in any way you choose. Or you can just read and be amazed by some of the things that have happened in our past and be dismayed at how the stories relate to today’s world.

The next blog next week will start us on our way to Alabama. See you there!

I welcome your questions and comments.