Concepts change on the way; surprises appear along the roads and in the end the traveler understands why she did this amazing journey
The United States was built by immigrants and this diversity has shaped its cultural grandiosity. This is a fact. It is also true that not all people who stepped on American territory had the privilege, the opportunity and the right to live the American Dream.
Before the Mayflower arrived in Massachusetts, a first ship bringing humans from Africa had already docked in Jamestown (VA). At the same time that the first pilgrims dreamed of a new life, in a new continent governed by fair and egalitarian laws, entire families were taken by force from their homes in Africa, and began a life radically opposed to the dream of the Mayflower families. Humanity and dignity were taken from these African families. This is the ground zero of the Civil Rights Trail.
The Power of The Civil Rights Trail
More than a thematic road trip, the Civil Rights Trail has the power to transform the lives of those who go through it. Exciting and rich in history and culture, it is the portrait, sometimes in black and white, sometimes in full color + Dolby stereo sound, of a bitter moment in American history. Today, more than ever, this story reverberates on a world scale.
How to experiment the Civil Rights Trail
It’s up to you to choose how deep you want to go in the history inside the itinerary. You need to be aware that time is a determining factor. Also, it’s up to you to keep your eyes, ears, and heart wide open to dive into this path that cuts across at least 5 US states = Louisiana + Mississippi + Tennessee + Georgia + Alabama. At the end of the journey you will have discovered cultural aspects, listening to the best music, appreciated the most authentic gastronomy, relaxed the body and decanted ideas in historic and exclusive hotels.
By the last day of travel, you will have learned a lot, laughed a lot, felt strong emotions, and left tears on the way. You will have enjoyed every inch of the thousands of miles and will return home understanding that love is a process in eternal construction, which includes respect, empathy, humility and the understanding that we are all human beings trying to build together a better world on a planet called Earth.
Each stop brings a new emotion
The Civil Rights Trail’s content is amazing and its form surprises. At every stop along the way the story is being uncovered and it awakens our emotions. In deciding what to see, you stop being a mere observer to interact with the story. You will weave your own stitches in the great mesh of the course. Just as in a tapestry, images will begin to emerge showing the lighter, denser stretches of the trail. The trip is gaining content and form and It all depends on what you want to see. The result will be a personal one, your panoramic view of the Civil Rights Movement history.
My trip started in Lake Charles
My Trail started in Lake Charles. Walking through the Historic Center, it was easy to feel the warm embrace of Louisiana culture. People are kind and like to talk. They look at you and smile. They speak an English with a musical accent and answer you by saying: Yes, ma’m. No ma’m It’s delicious.
Restaurant in Lake Charles
Seafood Palace serves the authentic Louisiana food
And headed to Baton Rouge
24 hours later, in Baton Rouge, I felt that I had set foot on the Civil Rights Trail when I entered the Capitol Park Museum. There, I discovered that the city hosted the country’s first successful bus boycott. Boycotting public transportation was a way to protest against racial segregation. African-Americans were forced to sit in the backseat of the buses or travel on foot, even if the front seats, reserved for white people were available. This boycott inspired many other cities, including the Montgomery bus boycott, in Alabama, one of the symbols of the Movement.
So, I dived into the remarkable museums
One of the highlights of the route are the museums of Jackson (MS), Memphis and Nashville (TN), Atlanta (GA), and Montgomery (AL). Exploring each of them will be essential for you to know the history of the Civil Rights Movement, from its origin to the present times. Each one has its own theme, their individualities acting as complements to one another. Put together, their voices sing a melody of pain and triumph, despair and courage, a battle cry that resonates through the decades to keep strong the commitment to defend the Civil Rights.
In Jackson, the brand new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is master piece in all senses. It invites us to penetrate into different historical perspectives and timelines. We can observe the consequences of the lack of racial equality. Interactive, is divided into galleries that show the major events that have made the fight for justice gains body and grow. Essential is to take a guided tour to know many details of this timeline.
Suddenly you reach the Central Atrium. The space calls the public to sit down and think about everything they experienced. You will find yourself at the center of a roundabout, surrounded by the portraits of the heroes of the Civil Rights history. Most of them are ordinary people, like you and me. You start to listen to songs that refer to the movement. In the middle of the atrium is a flowing sculpture, which raises glances and thoughts up and beyond. Anyone that visits the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum will be a different person after leaving the museum.
Also in Jackson, Medgar Evers Home Museum the offers a reflection as deep as we experience in monumental museums. The place is the house where the activist and secretary of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) lived and was murdered. The visit is done by appointment and guided by a volunteer. The experience is powerful and has the authenticity of real life. Standing in the Medgar Evers living room, you will hear about his life. You will look through the window and imagine the moment the family man comes home and gets shot in the back. The shot ricochets and does a hole in the walls, reaching the refrigerator. The marks remain there, keeping the Medgar Evers’ history alive.
Restaurants in Jackson
Sugar Place for breakfast + Bully’s for lunch
In Memphis, while visiting the iconic National Civil Rights Museum you will already have valuable historical and emotional baggage. Knowledge makes you connect the dots, understand the facts, and relive the past. That’s exactly what I felt when I saw myself in front of the Hotel Lorraine, where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. The hotel facade is rigorously preserved, taking us instantly to the 1960s. On the balcony of the room, a wreath is an impressive vision, reminding the exact location of the murder. Inside, the building is now a modern museum. Several technologies are used to tell the story of Luther King and his struggles. The room where Dr. King had stayed was placed inside a glass cube, like a time capsule.
One of the beds is messed up, and a newspaper is over the other bed. The room service seems to have just arrived, with a full cup of coffee on the tray. The ashtray has dozen cigars stubs and a glass of water lies forever beside the TV.
Restaurants in Memphis
The Beauty Salon + The Gray Canary = top trend restaurants in Memphis
Did you hear? The music is louder now
The South of United States is pure music but now, as you enter Tennessee the song becomes part of the Civil Rights Trail history. In Tennessee we can visit Graceland, the Elvis Presley’s kingdom. Then we drive to Nashville, a city that is a collection of musical styles and beautiful stories.
Visit the Civil Rights Room at the Nashville Public Library, which holds a valuable archive of books and documents for research. Go to the Frist Art Museum to see the exhibition of photos of the pacifist protests and the great leaders of the movement, who printed the newspapers of the time. Nashville creates the perfect soundtrack for Civil Rights Trail. The City of Music includes Civil Rights themes in its main attractions. It’s like that in Historic RCA Studio B where Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and so many other singers recorded hundreds of hits. Through a guided tour you will see how the Civil Rights and the studio’s stories crossed the same rhythm during the 1950s and the 1960s.
And since you’re in Music City, you need to visit the Country Music’s epicenter, the Country Music Hall of Fame. It is the Nashville postcard. The project is outstanding. It is music turned into an architectural monument. Even visitors like me, who do not follow the history of country music, start to understand why this rhythm causes so much frenzy. See the shiny instruments, the artist’s costumes of all colors and styles, the gold and platinum albums, the memorabilia and personal objects from the most famous singers. At the end of the tour you have already become a fan. Don’t miss the Elvis Presley’s limousine and the Webb Pierce customized car. People queue to admire these vehicles.
I arrived in Atlanta, Dr. King’s City
I said goodbye to Tennessee, driving Hertz’s green Kia and listening to Elvis. The Civil Rights Trail guided me straight into a time in which the music, sung by the King of Rock’n Roll, pursued the hope for the racial equality. I arrived in capital of Georgia, Dr. King’s city. The Civil Rights Trail has put Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King Jr. on my way.
I left the car in the hotel and walked to, 40 minutes later, arrive in a National Park entirely dedicated to Dr. King. Right at the entrance to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, you’ll see the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Seems that at any moment it will leave the pedestal and walk on the ground, where are engraved people’s names and footsteps. These people, like Gandhi, practiced Satyagraha, the movement of nonviolent resistance. Inside the building, all kind of media = videos + images + audio + documents + speeches show the performance of Martin Luther King Jr.
In the other side of the block I visited the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. and his father were preachers. I walked through the gardens of The King Center, where the King’s tombs – Martin and Coretta – float over the water. One of his famous quotes were engraved there:
“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
In Alabama, in the final part of the Trail
After taking an epic journey through the roads of Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia, I entered Alabama. Now I just needed to reach the crucial spots that defined the Civil Rights Movement in the 20th century. Alabama’s breathtaking stories that happened during the 1960s shocked the world. They served as a lever to change the status quo of an era in which prejudice and disrespect for human beings became a standard of that society.
I went to Anniston to hear and see the story of the Freedom Riders, who had a strategy to board interstate buses as a form of racial segregation protest. The route from Atlanta to Anniston was a historical one for the Freedom Riders Movement. One time, upon arriving in Anniston, the Freedom Riders were met by an angry mob who broke the bus windows, cut the tires, and set the vehicle on fire. Even threatened, the Freedom Riders did not give up and continued, without violence, to fight for freedom and equal rights.
In the heart of Alabama, I kept getting surprised. At this point in the mileage, I had already known that would be the best trip I had ever done. The Civil Rights Trail is a transformative experience for those who embrace it.
In Montgomery, facing the bigotry
To understand what Montgomery means for the Civil Rights Movement, you must look to the past. Montgomery became the capital of the slave trade and celebrated this practice. Local families turned rich by the trade of human beings. On the other side, African families were separated since each relative was usually bought by a different landlord.
In the United States, as in Brazil, slavery was a profitable endeavor, reason why so many people supported this practice. In addition to this, all kinds of rhetoric were created to sustain that African people and African-Americans belonged to an inferior race, therefore justifying that they should be forever slaves.
All this I learned in the Legacy Museum
Of all the museums I visited in the Civil Rights Trail, the most impressive is the Legacy Museum. Before entering I stopped and observed the rustic building, whitewashed. The Legacy Museum is in the same location of an old warehouse where the slave auctions took place in Montgomery. It is not allowed to record, take pictures or videos inside. As the messages were so strong, I did some notes about the most relevant information, including slave’s testimony. I watch projections showing slaves talking about their lives, loves and fears. It was so painful, like receive a punch in the stomach – or heart.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a sacred space
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a strong monument. It is the first memorial of the United States to remember and honor the slaves and all those who have been killed or aterrorized in racial lynching.
My first impression was that I was entering a sacred space. At every step, while listening to my own movement in that silent field I felt the connection with memorials dedicated to the holocaust and genocides. But it was at the pavilion that I felt the force of that monument. Covered with rust, each block of iron represented a city or county of the United States. Below the location were names of the people who were killed for being black. As you keep going, you start to go down through a ramp. The slope of the floor brings the perception that the iron blocks began to levitate above our heads in a dubious sense of redemption to the skies but also in a terrifying sight of hanging bodies.
Even surrounded by a large number of people, silence dominate. We were there living together, an instant and collective mourning, while watching tears in the face of some.
After Montgomery there was no other way, but to go to the city of Selma to cross the bridge that changed the history of Civil Rights in the United States. Selma Bridge was calling me.
On my way to Selma
The road that connect Montgomery to Selma is a National Historic Trail. I was reaching the end of my journey. All the history I had discovered would culminate there. When I saw the bridge faraway, I had goosebumps. I slowed down as I drove over the bridge and, from the windows of the Selma Interpretive Center, I prepared to walk through it.
It was just another day for the locals, but for me was The Day. The Edmund Pettus Bridge, its official name, was the first dot I saw in the map when I planned to make this trip. Of all the stories about the Civil Rights Movement in the world, Selma’s is the most inspiring.
Honoring the Civil Rights Movement
Above this bridge crossed the stories of Emmett Till, Rosa Parks, Medgars Evers, Storkely Carmichael, Martin Luther King Jr and many others who have written and will continue to write the history of Civil Rights.
I stopped in the middle of the bridge and when I tried to record every detail of that moment, I remembered the visit to The King Center – The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. The day was cold, and a drizzle reminded me of autumn’s arrival. I sat on one of the park benches, facing the eternal fire of the monument. I read the phrase inscribed on the floor:
The dream lives – The legacy continues.
Everything I had just seen had a universal importance. The struggle for Civil Rights takes place every day in every corner of the world. Every day the history still being written. However, in the South of the United States is it told and displayed with unique details. Some are beautiful and others are cruel, but this is a story that the world needs to know and share. There is no better reason to board the Civil Rights Trail.