Ever since we started planning our trip and talking about hitting all 50 states, some people were surprised by the fact that we wanted to spend time in some of the southern states rather than doing a quick one nighter to simply check them off our list. While it made some of our planning challenging, it was really important to us to spend time relearning some of the things we simply memorized for tests back in school. Growing up in Minnesota the inherent poverty and struggles of many living dollar to dollar were not as prevalent as they are here in the south. Yes, MN has poverty and yes, we recognize it and help as much as we can. Furthermore, we are very aware of how fortunate we are to have what we have and do what we are doing, which is why it is so important for us to take this trip not only as a break from the norm but to really learn and absorb from what may not be in front of us each day. This way, we can pass on what we have learned to future generations.
Over the last few weeks we have visited several Civil War and Civil Rights sites learning more about the struggles to defeat inequality. There are several museums dedicated to the men and women who gave their lives fighting for what should have been all along – the same freedoms and privileges as their neighbors. Starting with the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta along with visiting the National Parks MLK site, we were soaking in so many layers of information that was never fully covered in our formal education. We are thankful to have such institutions providing information and diverse perspectives so we can relearn with far more attention than we had as kids.
From there, we made our way to Alabama to continue learning. Our first stop was Tuskegee where we visited the Airmen National Site and fortunately for us, they were hosting a Fly-In so we were able to see even more cool planes along with those from the museum. For those unfamiliar with Tuskegee, watch the movie “Red Tails” for a quick and entertaining overview – so worth the watch. These men fought for equal rights in the military and were a catalyst for many of the events to come. We made our way to Montgomery to spend a few days at a great little park just south of the city.
Montgomery itself has been renovated significantly over the past several years and it certainly shows. Downtown Montgomery was immaculate and welcoming from end to end. While the city was pretty much empty on Sunday morning because everything is closed, we were met with music blasting from the church’s steps while strolling through the streets. Since everything was closed and we had the whole gorgeous day ahead of us, we decided to make the drive to Selma. Along the way, we learned about the camps set up along the way for the marchers as well as some more permanent campsites after families were wrongfully evicted from their farms for standing up for their rights. When everything opened up again on Monday we made our way back into the city to visit the Civil Rights Memorial Center and the Alabama Archives. The Memorial Center is beautifully done and is a great reminder of how far we have come and how far we still have to go.
When rolling into Birmingham, we were shocked at how gorgeous and hilly the area was and were pleasantly surprised by the city itself. Having the camper hooked up in a city does not always make getting around easy, but in the case of Birmingham we were able to get through and park without issue. Our first stop was at Kelly Ingram Park where statues and installations depicting the violence toward young activists are spread throughout the park. The park sits right across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church where four young girls lost their lives in a bombing done by the KKK. You can’t help but have a heavy heart walking in this two block area. While wandering the halls of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institution and listening to the stories told by residents who participated in peaceful protests and survived the violence, it is difficult to imagine living in that kind of fear every day.
I will never understand the hate and entitlement it takes to deprive other human beings of the same things we have the opportunity to experience and hopefully in our lifetime things will continue to improve.