Civil Rights Tour, Part 1

The tombs of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King, Atlanta, Georgia

I’m home after a one of the most stimulating trips I’ve ever been on, happy to sleep in my own bed, doing some regular exercise and slowly processing all that I learned over the last week in the deep south. I’m afraid it will take some time though because the intensity of this journey has left me speechless at times.  The growing crisis in Japan grabs my attention and I often find myself caught between two worlds.  It is hard to know where to begin and it is difficult to explain to anyone asking, how powerful the experience was.  Already my mind is forgetting odd snippets of what was so fresh and clear just a week ago.  Is it aging or is it that I have consumed so much information in the past 10 days that the files are full?  Sounds like it might be both.  But here is a bit of a start.

As we arrived in Atlanta on Friday, March 4th, I couldn’t help but hearing Ray Charles’ soulful renditions of Georgia and America in my mind. The trees were beginning their spring transformation with cherry blossoms, forsythia and red bud starting to bloom.  It is a gracious and friendly city with most people smiling and saying hello as we passed them on the street.  We stopped and chatted with a welcoming black man for ten minutes or so, exchanging notes on where we were from, the weather and how he managed the unusual amount of snow (8”) this winter that stopped the city in its tracks.

The next morning before meeting the group, we walked through Centennial Olympic Park and visited the aquarium just a few blocks away.  We had the place to ourselves for about an hour. Then it seemed that every family in the world arrived with kids of all ages to view and learn about life below the surface of the ocean.  We especially enjoyed the Beluga Whales, Whale Sharks and an amazing array of lacy jelly fish slowly thrusting their way through warm blue water.  The sea otters were a joy; their habitat furnished with all sorts of wonderful toys for them to play with akin to the big basket of toys that Bill and I keep in our living room for our cats and dogs.

At our first meeting as a group, we found 42 other participants as eager as we were to get started.  We came together from Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC, Michigan, California, Wyoming, Georgia, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts,Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio.  Some had been on this trip before.  Some are/had been Peace Corp volunteers, educators, journalists, writers, doctors, attorneys, students, film makers, artists, an Episcopalian Priest and several involved in theatre arts.  Gentle giant Julian Bond, and his gracious wife Pam Horowitz, were our leaders, along with UVA facilitators Joan Gore and Cynthia Smith.  I came away believing that all citizens of this country should make this trip. I’d do it again in a heart beat and hopefully I will.

The trip is not for those faint of heart or who need a spa vacation.  The days were long, the subject for me, emotional and intense. We were constantly on the move, sometimes getting on the bus at 8:30 AM and not returning to our hotel rooms until 9:30 or 10 at night.  No time for even one line on the blog.  But it was glorious and in the end left me feeling filled with a deep knowing that we can get through the challenges that lie before us when it comes to civil and human rights.

We met civil rights icons and those who were foot soldiers during the early days of the movement and who continue to tell their stories and fight for justice.  They are truly an inspiration and filled with a courage that is awesome. I kept asking myself along the way whether I could stand up and do the things they had to do to win their freedom. Or would I falter when the heat was turned up.  There is no way to know unless I found myself in the situations that these people faced.

In later posts I will fill you in on more details of the trip and some of the stories I heard. Stay tuned!

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