On the Civil Rights Trail

In nearly two years of wandering the USA, I’ve managed to hit just about every stop on what’s now billed as the Civil Rights Trail.

I’ve visited Central High School in Little Rock and the new Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. I’ve walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and walked up Dexter Avenue in Montgomery – The start and finish of the epic 1965 march for voting rights. I’ve visited places where students sat in to integrate lunch counters and where Freedom Riders risked their lives to integrate buses.

I’ve toured Martin Luther King’s boyhood home and the house where he and his family lived when he organized the Montgomery bus boycott. I’ve toured the old Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where MLK, his father and grandfather all preached, and attended services at the new Ebenezer Baptist Church across the street. I’ve stood in the room next to his in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, looked into King’s room - preserved just as he left it – and out to the window across the street James Earl Ray fired from. I’ve visited King’s grave and his gleaming new memorial on the National Mall.

I’ve visited the even newer memorial to lynching victims in Montgomery, which I wrote about recently, and I’ve visited the land where Rosewood, Florida, sat before it was burned to the ground by a white mob, which I plan to write about soon. I come away ever more convinced that the struggle to overturn Jim Crow laws and to change the way America talks about race is the most important historical event of my lifetime.

These explorations have given me new lenses through which to view today’s issues and events. I’ve seen how police brutality has been central to racial oppression for hundreds of years, how access to education has been a priority for African-Americans since slavery, when it was often against the law to teach enslaved people to read, how for-profit prisons are similar to the convict labor system instituted as a post-war alternative to slavery, and what those Confederate statues really stand for.

If you haven’t toured the American South, I recommend it, for the Civil Rights Trail and much, much more. Here are links to a few of my columns on the topic of civil rights that came out of my journey:

Montgomery: The ghosts on the hill

 Selma: Same pew, different churches

 Washington: The power of America’s stories

 Little Rock: The heroes of Little Rock

Memphis: Black history is American history

New Orleans: Another defeat for Robert E. Lee