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Trip to Montgomery

Roy Christman is a retired political science professor and has a farm in Pennsylvania.

I won't be visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I know that people now tour Auschwitz, but I won't be one of them. I do not want to experience those horrors close up. It is too much, too wrenching, too sickening.

When our daughter planned a trip to Montgomery, Alabama to visit the memorials to iconic sites of the Civil Rights struggle, I had serious doubts. It would be painful and disturbing. She thought it would be a good learning experience for our grandson Gavin, who would accompany us on the trip. I was reluctant.

Why should I do this? I already knew about Rosa Parks and Ida B. Wells and Denmark Vesey from teaching American studies. I was in high school when Central High in Little Rock was integrated; I was in college when Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were murdered and the four little girls died in the Birmingham church bombing. I was in grad school when Martin Luther King was assassinated.

But I agreed. Rachael doesn't ask for much, I hadn't been to Alabama for a number of years, and most of all, we would get to see our grandson Gavin.

Guilt may also have played a role. I did not go on the marches. I did not walk on the Edmund Pettus Bridge or try to register voters in the Mississippi Delta. I did join the NAACP. As my sister would say, "Big Whoop."

The plan was that Rachael and Gavin would fly from Chico to New Orleans, check out the museums, then visit Vicksburg and Jackson, finally linking up with us in Montgomery. In Montgomery, we would visit the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. On Sunday, we would take a break and stop by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. I would also continue my quest to visit more restaurants on my list of "100 places to eat in Alabama before you die."

The Legacy Museum was depressing. Anyone who still thinks that slavery was a benign institution or that most slaves were treated well should be forced to walk through the exhibits. Anyone who thinks that we should only teach the "uplifting" parts of American history should take notes on the heroic people who struggled to put an end to slavery and the subsequent Jim Crow era.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice commemorates the 4,400 victims of racially-motivated lynching. The names are incised into rust-colored boxes by county. A few states recorded no racial lynching; I remember North Dakota and Utah were among those. For some counties in the South, the sculptor had to use a smaller font to fit all of the names on the boxes. In some cases, the names of the victims were unknown. At some lynchings, large crowds gathered to watch and celebrate. Photographs were taken; postcards were produced.

People were quiet as they walked through the Memorial. It reminded me of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., somber and solemn.

The Art Museum was an excellent museum with memorable arts, and it provided a break. On the visit, I also added three Alabama restaurants to my life list and saw a great documentary about the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

If I made a list of all the activities I undertook with great reluctance and later realized that I was grateful I had experienced them, it would be a very long list. I will now add the trip to Montgomery.

~ Roy Christman






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