Hank – Mike joined us as we hit some museums today. First up was the Rosa Parks Museum. There are three parts to it. In the first there’s a presentation that explains the conditions African-Americans we’re dealing with regarding segregation laws and policies on the busses. It does a great job of providing the context necessary to understand the times. Next was a video reenactment of Mrs Parks refusing to give up her seat and being arrested. The third part covered the bus boycott and its aftermath. (The boycott ended three days after I was born.) It was all done very well.
We then went to the Freedom Rides Museum in what’s left of the old Greyhound bus station. I rode a Greyhound bus to the station twice. Once in 1988 when I came to Gunter for a short time before going back to programmer school in Biloxi, MS. And once in 1993 when I drove our van to New Orleans to be shipped to Guam and took the bus back.
The station and surrounding area had been purchased by the federal government so the nearby US District Court could expand. Fortunately, people stepped in to save a bit of history. The Freedom Riders came to Montgomery where they were attacked and beaten even though the local and state authorities assured Attorney General Robert Kennedy the riders would be protected.
The front of the building became the museum. Now uncovered, but still bricked in, is the colored entrance to the place. The colored entrance led to the bus parking area. You had to continue walking though the busses to get to the colored waiting area.
The bus companies did not like having separate areas and facilities because it cost more. It cost more to build and more to maintain. But they couldn’t complain about it because they were told to follow the segregation laws by authorities in the South. So they often cut corners to save money at the expense of non-whites by just not opening or cleaning areas designated as colored. I’m glad this piece if history was saved here.
We stopped by the Hank Williams museum but didn’t go in. But I did pick up a songbook at the gift shop.
Next we got a tour of the Montgomery Biscuits baseball stadium. Mike works there during the season keeping track of their stats. (Mike is an avid fan of the game and especially so for his Atlanta Braves.) We met Ashley at the gift shop and she was excited to hear about Kathy and me riding around the country. Hey, Ashley! Kathy bought a Biscuits shirt for herself.
Next we went to the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. Coincidentally, today would have been Martin Luther King’s 90th birthday. Wanda, our tour guide, is one of the most energetic guides I’ve ever seen. And she knew her history, too. She shared a lot of information with us and took us up to the chapel. She even got us singing We Shall Overcome in the chapel. It was a fun visit.
Next, we walked over the the First White House of the Confederacy located south of the capitol building. I never understood the veneration of Jefferson Davis, General Lee, et al, because they fought against their own country. It’s necessary to keep the history, but the interpretation of it sure differs among people.
Last of all we took a walk through the Alabama State Capitol Building. Strangely enough, one statue in front is of James Marion Sims, with a plaque stating he is the father of modern gynecology. It turns out he has an interesting history of perfecting his techniques on slaves without anesthesia.
Kathy – Today we visited many museums and learned a lot about the the injustices and basic civil rights that were denied to American citizens just because of the color of their skin. It truly is an awful part of our history. Montgomery, Alabama was unfortunately one of the southern cities that contributed to the harassment, beatings, and killings of many. The stories are hard to read about and the photos are difficult to see, but these stories need to be told to prevent future injustices to others. We are all the same in the inside, so why can’t we treat everyone the same regardless of how we differ on the outside?
Let’s move to something lighter for a minute. The Montgomery Biscuits Baseball Team is pretty unique. How many teams have a biscuit for their mascot? There is no way I could leave without a t-shirt. I’m sending a package home tomorrow to lighten my load, but this t-shirt was a must! Pretty cool place to see, thankful for Mike (since he works for them) to get us the VIP treatment there.
Wanda, our tour guide at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church was a hoot. She was one of the most inspiring people I have met in a long time. The long deep hugs upon everyone’s arrival to the church were so welcoming. These continue as you leave too. She has a way about her. She learns every persons name, where they are from and finds some sort of connection with every person who walks through those doors. She makes every person feel so welcome as she moves about the church telling its history. Her gratefulness for each person coming to the church, her smile and positive comments to everyone are radiant as she discusses some really sad times in our history. She talks about Martian Luther King Jr. with ease and a sense of positivity during discussions about the many injustices the he endured before ultimately being murdered for standing up for what he believed in. Wanda is a saint herself and if you ever are in Montgomery please go she her and learn about this church and the many people that stood up for their basic American rights. The church stands out right next to the Alabama State Capital Building and all the other white stone federal and state buildings that surround it.
The Alabama State Capital Building is a beautiful sight. Unfortunately, there are many historical events that took place on these grounds that do not reflect well in the history of our nation. An example is a bronze statute directly out front of the capital steps of Dr. James Sims. Dr. Sims was a surgeon specializing in gynecology that practiced testing different medical theories on African-American females – without anesthetic because he believed that people of color could feel no pain. He then took the advancements in medicine that he learned from his experiments and helped caucasian women. He showed no mercy for anyone other than caucasians. I don’t know what he did justifies a bronze statue at the Alabama State Capital Building (that is still standing today) but somehow this is OK down here. Those in the medical field dedicate their lives to helping people, not harming them. I will never understand why this man is considered a hero with his statute at the State Capital building. Just so you know there was another statue of Dr. Sims that was in New York, but hey have since removed it.
Lighter topic again…Now on to the best part of my day, having dinner and seeing a few of my old co-workers. It was an absolute joy to talk nonstop with Sue and Sharron! We worked in the Emergency Department at Baptist Hospital (now Baptist South as they open another hospital since then called Baptist East). We worked together for six years and have not seen each other in 25 years. It was so great to catch up with these two fabulous people and nurses. We were hoping for a bigger turn out but it was s last minute get-together and many couldn’t make it. I was happy to see two of my absolutely favorite nurses. We had so many fun times in that crazy busy ED so many years ago. I am so thankful that Sue (and Charles) and Sharron (and Dalton) took time out for us tonight. I love these ladies and we promised not to wait another 25 years before meeting up again. It was a fabulous ending to our day.
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About the author hankgreer
John And Susan’s House
On To State #49
I have a segregation related memory from my childhood to share… my mother, brother and I took a train trip from Pascagoula, MS to Mobile, AL somewhere around 1965 (I was about 10). The trip was just for the experience and fun of riding on a train. It was about 30 miles each way. At the Mobile train station we went to the restrooms. The stalls had locks and you needed to insert a coin to unlock. My mother had never heard of such a thing. She asked someone who worked there about the pay toilets, and was told we had gone into the wrong restrooms. Only the black restrooms had pay toilets! Even as a child that didn’t seem fair. Now, as an adult, it’s outrageous to think about requiring only blacks (who are also the poorest) to pay.