Tuesday we took a day trip to Montgomery (about 1.5 hours southeast of Birmingham). As we drove, we could tell it was getting more southern, and we were enjoying the scenery, and feeling super-lucky that we hit Alabama in early August at dry, cooler than usual temperatures!
Our plan was in flux (when isn’t it!?) and so we did the Rosa Parks Museum first. It was fascinating! Harlan had a hard time with the video at the beginning, so I took him out. Then I went back in when the group had moved on, and I got to read the stuff in that room. A few things I learned: the bus boycott was sort of a test case for non-violent activism and pressure, Black travelers had a green book that would tell them where they’d be allowed to buy gas, and get a bite to eat (I was horrified thinking of traveling with a family and not knowing if you’d be able to buy gas), and white insurance companies retaliated against the bus boycotters by changing insurance policies on cars to prevent carpooling and church shuttle wagons. The museum sits on the place where Rosa Parks was arrested.
We spent an hour at the museum and it went by really quickly. Then, we tried to visit the Dexter Ave Parsonage Museum where Martin Luther King, Jr. lived while the Montgomery bus boycott was happening. One thing we discovered in Montgomery is that most places are actual tours to lead you through a place. I like that and I think that we learn more with a guide, but Harlan is so difficult to manage in enclosed spaces that it sometimes isn’t feasible for us. Instead of doing the tour, we visited the meditation garden and had a snack. Then we were kind of at loose ends, as the other places we’d thought to go weren’t open yet.
Patrick said, “Well, what about the Capitol building.” That seemed like a good idea, and it was close by. We went there and discovered the Dexter Ave King Memorial Church. That was our first amazing find of the day. We walked in, and there was already a tour going, so we couldn’t join in, but a wonderful woman took us all over the downstairs of the church, and invited the boys to sit at Dr. King’s desk, look at his phone and typewriter, and then she took us up to the sanctuary where he gave sermons from 1954-1960. She said the organist at the church today is the same organist from the 1950s! We enjoyed this experience so much, and this is what a personable tour guide can do. She also felt mission to spread the message and love, I believe.
After saving our trip to Montgomery, we walked up to the Capitol. It was interesting, but mostly because the statue in front of the building is a statue of Jefferson Davis. Yet, this is also where MLK gave his “How Long, Not Long” speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery. We talked a little with the kids about why people think these statues should be removed. They agreed and thought a statue to MLK out to replace Davis. We wandered all around the grounds, enjoying finding state flags, looking at a lollypine tree grown from seeds taken to the moon, and viewed from afar the first White House of the Confederacy. Not all the statues are confederates! A pioneer in Gynecology was honored too, and the boys got a big kick out of that.
On this trip, I’ve been to the capital of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. Before we’re done, we’ll also be in the capital of North Carolina and Virginia!
One thing that I think the older boys are starting to understand that racism may not look the same today, but it still exists and we are responsible for helping to make sure that people aren’t treated unfairly because of who they are. We’ve tried to create teachable moments on this trip, but man, they often pop up out of the kids mouths! I think it’s been confusing for Seamus when he should use different words, especially since the museums use different words to denote different time periods (colored for Jim Crow era segregation, Negro baseball leagues, Black or African American for current day, etc).
After touring downtown, we headed out of town for our picnic at Fort Tolouse-Jackson State Historic Park.
The fort was a fascinating palimpsest of cultures. In a not very long walk, you could see the ancient Mississippian mound (which impressed Patrick and me far more than it did the boys), a reconstructed French Fort Tolouse used to fend off British and Spanish armies in the mid-1700s, the ruins of the American Fort Jackson built for the War of 1812 and to defend against the French and Creek Indians until 1836.
Seamus studied American Indian dwellings this year in school, so I asked him if these were similar to those he’d studied. He said no, and I asked him why he thought they weren’t. He did a decent job thinking about how the landscape and customs of different tribes affected how they lived. Gilbert then asked if Creeks still lived in these houses? I asked him, “Do you still live in a fort?” And he got it! Yay!
It was an incredibly busy and fun day. We drove back to Birmingham via the scenic route, passing through the Talladega national forest. Beautiful!
For a treat we stopped at Steel City Pops for a popsicle. I read about the store in 3 days with kids in Birmingham post, and it was definitely special enough to make it an event in itself. Seamus got lavender lemonade and has been talking about it ever since. He is the most adventurous in an ice cream store.
We came back for a swim and dinner, then bed. They hit the sack with few complaints, thank goodness.