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.