Ancient Native American Mound To Be Destroyed To Build Sam’s Club

It’s been a tough year for ancient monuments, what with subway workers in China accidentally demolishing 3000-year-old tombs, a limestone quarry destroying part of the Nazca Lines, and pyramids in Peru and Belize being bulldozed by “developers.”

Now Alabama is getting in on the game. The city of Oxford, Alabama, has approved the destruction of a mound of stones and the hill on which it stands in order to use the dirt as fill for a Sam’s Club site. City mayor Leon Smith says it’s a natural formation and was only used to send smoke signals, but the State Historical Commission disagrees and says it’s about 1,500 years old and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Artificial earthen and stone mounds were common features of prehistoric Native American civilizations and are found in many parts of North America. Some were used for burials while others appear to have been ritual sites. There have already been protests against the destruction.

For more on this issue, check out this article by The Institute for Southern Studies, which includes many links to local newspaper articles and official reports.

Martin Luther King Memorial Inscription To Be Modified

The Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C., was unveiled on August 28, 2011. It has since proved hugely popular, with an estimated 1.5 to 2 million visitors in its first year. It has also proved controversial.

As Art Daily reports, several public figures complained about an inscription on the memorial that reads, “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.” The inscription is not in quotes because it’s actually a paraphrase of what King said. His actual words were, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

Leading poet Maya Angelou told the Washington Post that the paraphrase makes King look like “an arrogant twit.” She went on to say that the civil rights leader was anything but arrogant and the paraphrase “minimizes the man.”

Now the full quote will be included. In September or October, after the summer tourist rush is over, two sculptors will change the quote.

The statue’s other inscription hasn’t caused any controversy. It reads, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

The Green Book: A Guidebook For The Age Of Segregation

It’s hard to imagine nowadays when the only limitations to travel are money, time and health, but for much of America’s history a large segment of the population had trouble traveling just because of the color of their skin.

During the days of segregation, most hotels were off-limits to African-Americans, as were other facilities like restaurants, movie theaters and campgrounds. Those that did allow blacks to enter had strict rules of segregation. Stopping at the wrong restaurant could lead a black family to being insulted or worse.

Yet a rising black middle class had just as much hunger for travel as anyone else. The problem was: how does one travel safely? One answer was “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a guidebook that listed hotels and restaurants open to black people. While it wasn’t the only such guidebook, it was one of the most popular and long lasting. It was started by Victor H. Green in 1936 as a guide just for New York City, but soon expanded to include the whole country and eventually Bermuda, Mexico and Canada.

I’d never heard of this book until I saw it mentioned on the excellent website I’m Black and I Travel. I downloaded a free PDF of the 1949 edition from the University of Michigan website and found it a fascinating read. The book introduces itself as a resource “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable.”

Then come the listings. I took special note of places I used to live. Tucson, Arizona, only had one listing for a restaurant and no lodging mentioned. Columbia, Missouri, had a hotel and a tourist home, which was a private home that rented out spare rooms to travelers. The hotel has since disappeared and the land on which it stood is now taken up by an adult store and theater. The guesthouse is now a private residence. New York City, of course, had plenty of listings. The Harlem Renaissance was in full swing and the Harlem listings are longer than the listings for many states.

%Gallery-153462%Another city that has a sizable listing is Tulsa, Oklahoma. Only 28 years before, the thriving black neighborhood of Greenwood had been burned to the ground and hundreds of black people killed by a white mob in the worst race riot in American history. By 1949, numerous black-owned businesses had literally sprung from the ashes and got into “The Green Book.”

The advertisements open up a different era too. How long has it been since hotels boasted they had hot water and radios in every room? Only two national companies advertised in this edition: Esso, which was a leader in selling franchises to African-Americans, and Ford Motor Company, which placed an ad for its very cool 1949 convertible. Green also advertised his own reservation bureau, noting that a shortage of beds for black travelers made it essential to plan ahead.

There are also a couple of articles, including one on what to see in Chicago, highlighting its large black neighborhood as well as more general interest sights. Another article talked about Robbins, Illinois, which was of interest to the black reader since it was a prosperous town owned almost entirely by black people. The guidebook notes that with “no prejudice and restrictions” the community was able to boom. The article finishes: “It is worth the trouble to go out and take a look at what an experiment of an exhibition of what Negroes working together can do. Indeed, it would not be a bad idea to pitch in and help.”

One thing that struck me most about this book was the absolute lack of rancor. The problem of segregation is noted, and in a couple of places Green hopes for it to end one day, but there are no angry tirades against the injustice that black people were suffering. If I had been black in 1949, I doubt I would have been so charitable.

“The Green Book” is a sobering reminder of a sad time in U.S. history, and also a reminder that things occasionally get better – not 100% better, but time has seen a major improvement. Green stopped publication after 1964 after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It is now a rare item and it’s not even clear if a copy exists for every edition. If you think you or your grandparents may have a copy tucked away in the attic, go check. It should be preserved.

Do you have memories of travel in the age of segregation? Tell us about them in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy University of Michigan]

Exploring the Double-Edged History of Montgomery, Alabama

In Montgomery, during the Freedom Rides, I heard Martin Luther King say that while Brown v. Board of Education had been the legal turning point in the movement, the Montgomery bus boycott and the sit-ins were the psychological turning point.

So writes Calvin Trillin in a recent New Yorker, reflecting on the civil rights struggle in the deep south, which he covered for Time magazine “from the fall of 1960 to the fall of 1961.” He’s writing, then, on a sort of fiftieth anniversary for the movement, which of course spanned nearly two decades, making any hard and fast anniversary difficult to declare.

Another anniversary looms large in Montgomery this year, that of the outbreak of the Civil War, 150 years ago this past April. The stage was set for a Confederate victory at Fort Sumter, South Carolina when the Montgomery Convention met, in February, in what was the Alabama capitol building’s senate chamber, to organize the new secessionist government.

For both anniversaries, this summer was a fascinating time to drive through Montgomery.


As Trillin continued in his piece, describing an event commemorating the Freedom Rides held in Jackson, Mississippi this May:

One of [Governor Haley] Barbour’s speeches was at the unveiling of a plaque that marked the old Greyhound station (now restored as an architect’s office) as a stop on what the state is calling the Mississippi Freedom Trail. … Civil-rights-history buffs can soon be guided to, among thirty or so other places, the university where Clyde Kennard applied for admission in the fifties, only to be framed and thrown into jail. They can see where Medgar Evers was shot, in 1963, and where another N.A.A.C.P. leader, Vernon Dahmer, was killed in 1966, when the Klan firebombed his house.

The names Evers and Dahmer are engraved, as are many others, on the Civil Rights Memorial outside the Southern Poverty Law Center in downtown Montgomery. Designed by Maya Lin and inspired by King’s paraphrasing of a biblical passage–“Until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”–it’s a somber fountain in black granite, honoring those murdered in the years following Brown v. Board of Education. A group of school kids walked up at the same time as me, touching the names on the slab, remembering the dead. Inside the center, a melted clock hangs on the wall next to the security checkpoint, explaining the need for a magnetometer and X-ray machine: The clock was damaged in a fire sparked by Klansmen at the SPLC in 1983.

The center is on the same street as the First White House of the Confederacy, the modest but stately mansion of Jefferson Davis, the southern states’ first president. It now sits on Washington Avenue, across from the capitol building, though it was originally located at the intersection of today’s Bibb and Lee streets. Administered by a White House Association, it’s filled with some of the Davis family’s effects, period furniture and supremely knowledgable docents, selected by the Association to educate the public on the republican nature of the C.S.A. and its Civil War-era history.

Less than a mile away, the Rosa Parks Museum memorializes the life and momentous contribution of Montgomery’s most famous seamstress. Owned by Troy University, the building is on the historic site of the Empire Theatre, where Parks refused to give up her seat on December 1, 1955. (The bus on which she made her stand by refusing to stand is now in Dearborn, Michigan.) The Montgomery Bus Boycott began immediately after, with the support of King, who at the time was preaching at a church on Dexter Avenue. Visitors to Montgomery can tour the landmark, now embellished in name as the “King Memorial Baptist Church.” It’s where King, with the help of Parks and many others, planned the bus boycotts that helped secure desegregation of public transportation nationwide.

The city, as Mississippi has done with its Freedom Trail, embraces the Civil Rights struggle as a tourist draw, putting together an easy-to-follow itinerary and audio tour of its most notable historical sites. Montgomery also looks further into the past: Visitors can also follow a Confederate Trail itinerary, complete with a stop at the First White House. Following both routes gives visitors a fascinating double-edged look at the complicated history of Alabama.