Alabama is definitely the hottest place I’ve ever experienced. Arriving early, at about 9AM, the temperature was already topping 30 degrees, rising to a minimum of 40 as the day went on! This would be a bit of a trend over the next two days as I would sweat out litres as I tramped around the streets of Montgomery and Selma. By the end I was going into museums (and bars) just to get out of the sun!
Montgomery was a very interesting place, since many of the outskirts seemed very run-down, whilst the government buildings in the centre were pristine white, almost gleaming in their majesty. This difference was also observed in Selma, but in contrast, the residential districts of Selma were maintained beautifully, just as they would have been after the town was rebuilt after the civil war. In Montgomery there was a block called ‘Old Alabama Town’ where the houses would be reconstructed, leaving the rest of the city to suffer.
Aside from the civil rights history, Montgomery is famous as the home of country music legend Hank Williams, who died in his Cadillac back in 1953. After visiting his grave in Oakland Cemetery, I visited his museum in town, which was very interesting, shedding light on an obviously tortured man who drank to cope with the fame and struggles that come with it.
As part of the sightseeing in Montgomery my first stop was at the civil war monument, just next to the Capitol building. Here I stopped to talk to a guy parading the confederate flag around the memorial, who talked about the governor removing the flags from around the monument without so much as a vote to determine their fate. Since they were taken down about 30 days ago there has always been someone at the memorial to carry the flag for the confederate dead. Hearing him talk about the history of the civil war, it was clear that the south still pays a fair allegiance to the confederacy, which is seen just in the way they tend to talk about the civil war, and rub the Union’s noses in a confederate being the engineer of the pillar of the statue of liberty, or the founder of the first four year medical school in New York. He was making a distinction between the confederate flag as a commemoration of the glorious dead on the southern side and the ‘rebel flag’ which has the racist connotations. I can’t say I could make that distinction, and talking to an African-American Alabamian he spoke about how ridiculous it was for the south to cling on the fairytale of the confederacy, comparing it to a football team losing the superbowl and still celebrating.
This same gentleman also spoke about the upcoming presidential election, saying that the same people who hate Obama are likely to hate Hillary Clinton for being a woman. Upon elaboration, he got quite passionate about the state of progressive attitudes in Alabama, mentioning the lack of eduction of black culture, and the policy of brushing these things under the carpet.
I certainly found the history to be very close to the surface upon visiting Dexter Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King served as pastor during the Montgomery bus boycott, and particularly in Selma, where walking over the Edmund Pettus bridge was a particularly powerful experience, as was seeing the graffiti commemorating Obama’s inauguration and celebrating the voting rights act of 1965. I could feel things bubbling over as I explored all of these key historic sites.
My Alabama adventure will end in Birmingham, which I will have to remember to pronounce Birming-ham, and which promises more civil rights memorials. I am skeptical about whether they will live up to the power of Selma, but certainly some important and shocking events occurred in Birmingham, so there are sure to be some ghosts around there.