I have spent a lifetime in & out of the tourist destinations around here, it is unavoidable. Tourists are easy to spot they are always dressed as if it were California summer. Coming from a tourist area therefore it was intriguing to me what Alabama, the Alabama of today - not of my dreams, would be like. I was on a path that I have since discovered is quite popular. Folks are returning to the south as Civil Rights Tourists. I had come to Alabama to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the march across Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge known as bloody Sunday. This march in 1965 and two subsequent marches that year, ushered in the Voting Rights Act. By protecting the right of African Americans to vote, the Voting Rights Act finlaly eroded the last vestiges of legal segration and slowly has brought to the South a glimspe of proportional representation.
I also have family history in the Alabama and therefore joined the counter migration of blacks that because of the violent legacy of the heart of the 20th Century had not visited their ancestral home. I had come to put a place to the names that echoed out of my childhood. I came to find wisps of my great uncle Shields King and his wife who raised my father from four months old to 17. Who schooled him in the ways of the world and taught him to stand up as a man. My great grandmother Suzie Rutledge said to be part Choctaw and Cree who smoke a clay pipe and could out work many men. It is said that she waited one long night on her front porch with a shotgun across her lap to protect my father from an angry mob. I came to walk the same land as my father, who had been born somewhere outside of Marion on a tenant farm in 1898 40 miles outside of Selma. I wanted to finally walk in Marion a town where the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge began following the brutal murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson.
Mainly tough I wanted to see the places that only existed as vague black & white memories.
I left Oakland on March 3rd headed toward Montgomery Alabama at 6:30 am, after many hours in the air, touching down in San Diego, and Nashville I arrived in Birmingham at 3:00 pm. The arrangements for this trip were difficult at best and at the last minute I was faced with a ticket that had doubled in price or a creative plan. I decided in the end not to fly directly to Montgomery but rather to take a bus from Birmingham down to Montgomery to save nearly $200.00. I didn't arrive in Montgomery until 11:30 that night.
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.
- Nelson Mandela