Bloomberg ran an interesting article, The Best Anti-Racist Monuments to Visit in America, on August 5. I saw it while watching a rerun of “To Wong Foo, With Love, Julie Newmar” and was reminded of the importance of the road trip to the romantic American psyche. Even now, in the middle of a pandemic, Americans are taking to the roads in RVs, campers and everyday cars to experience adventure, a change of scenery and a break from sheltering at home.
I have some suggestions from my own travels to add to Bloomberg’s Anti-Racist Monuments road trip must-sees. Bonus points if you find pictures of people making history at these monuments and do your own recreations of the pictures. Extra bonus points if you go in a multicultural group and don’t make the fairer skinned person be the oppressor in all the pictures. Please tag #jambobooks when you post so that we don’t miss a thing.
In Alabama, you’ve got to hit three cities that are all within a few hours drive of each other. Go to Birmingham and visit the Civil Rights Museum there. The museum sits on Kelly Ingram Park where many of the protests that made Birmingham infamous took place. It was in Kelly Ingram Park where the children gathered to protest and were beaten back by dogs and water hoses. The park now has statues of Martin Luther King flanked by other preachers kneeling to pray and interactive installations of kids behind bars and kids being leapt upon by dogs. If you’re lucky you may run into Juan Perkins sitting on a bench in the park. Perkins was a child in Birmingham during the Movement. He is usually happy to share his stories with tourists. On the border of the park sits Sixteenth St Baptist Church, site of the Birmingham Church bombing where four little girls were killed. The basement is open for visitors to learn more.
The state capital, Montgomery, is another must-visit. Montgomery packs a lot of important places within just a few steps. You will visit Dexter Ave Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr’s first parish, and the place from which he helped to lead the Montgomery bus boycott in 1954. Along the same street, you will find the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Monument,created by Maya Lin, the same architect who designed the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. Continuing up the same street is a marker for where the old slave market stood. I read that the marker has been decorated by Black Lives Matter advocates in the last few months.
Leaving downtown Montgomery, you can visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice which is also known as the lynching memorial.
Just down the road from Montgomery is Selma, AL. Obviously, you have to go to Selma. Experience the chill bumps as you start to see the roadside signs pointing out where marchers camped on their third and final march from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights. I never really thought about them having to camp out in the open, but it’s a 50 mile walk, so it’s not really an afternoon stroll. You will also see signs for Lowndes County, an early incubator for the locally-led movement for civil rights and the birthplace of the late Rep. John R. Lewis. Entering Selma from Montgomery, you will cross the famed Edmund Pettus Bridge and pass a monument to Congressman Lewis. While in Selma, make sure you visit Brown Chapel AME, the place where the marchers departed from and ran back to after they were attacked by Alabama State Troopers during the first attempted Selma to Montgomery march (aka “Bloody Sunday”).
If you have time, you should absolutely visit Tuskegee University in the town of Tuskeegee. Besides being the home of the Flying Airmen of Tuskegee, Tuskegee University was the brain child of Booker T. Washington, a formerly enslaved man who forcefully advocated for Black Americans to learn and excel in trades. The University was planned and constructed by former slaves. Washington’s former on-campus residence, The Oaks, is an awe-inspiring ode to what the formerly enslaved people could achieve. Although we really shouldn’t be surprised, since enslaved people built most of the other long-lasting architectural achievements of the south like Monticello, the University of Virginia and the White House.
The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa is another site of huge upheavals during the Civil Rights Movement. It was here that Governor George Wallace stood blocking the doors of the University declaring that the University of Alabama would never be desegregated. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach confronted the Governor on those steps to enforce the law.
Do not miss Central High School in Little Rock. Central is the home of the Little Rock Nine. There is a museum dedicated to the school’s integration in a converted gas station across the street from the school.
When you’re at Central High School, you’re within sight of Daisy Lee Gaston Bates’ home. Daisy was the adult who took charge of the Little Rock Nine as they gathered to go to school and she hosted the students at her home after school. Her home was also a planning place for civil rights activists in Little Rock. The black men of the neighborhood, including her husband, used to patrol her house with shotguns to ward off white supremacist violence.
Atlanta is home to a plethora of anti-racist monuments — Martin Luther King’s birth home, his childhood church, Ebenezer Baptist, and King memorials are all located there. Several other churches that were pivotal in the Movement are also in Atlanta: Big Bethel and Wheat St Baptist are within walking distance of the birth home. Restaurants that provided a meeting place for the planners of the Movement: The Beautiful, Busy Bee, and Paschals are still welcoming diners craving soul-satisfying southern food and a taste of the cuisine that sustained the Movement.
William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans was the first school in Louisiana to be desegregated. Images of Ruby Bridges, a six year old girl, heading to school escorted by federal troopers was the inspiration for the iconic Norman Rockwell painting.
Put flowers on James Chaney’s grave in Meridian, MS. Chaney is buried in his family church’s graveyard without a huge monument or fanfare. It’s probably best that way so that his grave is not further defiled by white supremacists.
In Jackson, MS you can visit Medgar Evers’ home and lay a rose where he was gunned down in his driveway.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded at Shaw College in Raleigh, NC. Go to the Woolworth counter in Greensboro, NC where four black students started sit-ins in 1960 that inspired similar sit-ins all over the Jim Crow South.
Pay homage to a pioneer of community organizing at Septima Clark Park in Charleston, SC. Driving around the outskirts of Charleston you can imagine Clark’s Citizenship Schools in session, teaching formally illiterate farmers and laborers to read, write and even memorize portions of the Constitution so they could pass the poll tests to register to vote.
In Farmville, visit the Moton Museum which honors the students of Moton High School who, led by student Barbara Johns, walked out of school in 1951 to protest the separate and unequal conditions of their overcrowded and underfunded school. Their protest led directly to the series of cases that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education.
This list is not exhaustive; there are many locations around the country where people have organized, fought and won greater rights and pushed our nation closer to its ideals. Please feel free to share more locations in the comments or add pictures to social media and tag #jambobooks so we don’t miss a thing!