The unremarkable tourist riverboat we were on had two main decks with different musicians and singers blaring away on each one, smiling cocktail waitresses bringing drinks with exotic names and a view of the Alabama river that was spectacular as we glided along for almost two hours on the second day of our Civil Rights self-guided tour. Willie’s daughter Leora and I opted for a booth on the lower deck while Pretty and Willie’s granddaughter Carmen climbed the steps to the upper level. We took the late afternoon cruise – we all needed a little rest and relaxation to try to add a little levity to a day filled with a roller coaster of emotions in Montgomery, Alabama.
Leora and I ordered drinks and loudly sang along with the partygoers on the lower deck. We cut up, as we like to say in the south. Pretty and Carmen stayed away from the liquor drinks (and us!), which may explain how they could climb the steps, but they said later the music upstairs was equally fine. I’m thinking they cut up, too, but probably a little more restrained.
Pretty, Leora, Camen and me
This past week Pretty and I had an extraordinary opportunity to make a pilgrimage with the daughter and granddaughter of Willie Meta Flora whose 45-year relationship with my mother was featured in my Mother’s Day post on the photo finish (May 11th). It is now six years since my mother Selma and their mother/grandmother Willie have been gone. We have visited them twice in their Texas home during that time period but keep in touch with them – guess where? – on social media and texting.
We had arranged to meet them at our favorite restaurant in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Chickin’ on the Bayou’s fried shrimp baskets are to die for, and Pretty always visits the little shop next door.
We really weren’t planning a stop in New Orleans this trip, but an inadvertent travel tip from one of Pretty’s “connections” sent us right into the middle of Bourbon Street that first afternoon. Carmen and I sampled beignets in a little bakery where we stopped, and I was delighted with the French pastries. Carmen, on the other hand, said she preferred the Texas version. Following this detour, Pretty drove us across the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway at sunset toward our stop for the night in Biloxi, Mississippi. The sunset was breathtaking as the majestic yellow ball disappeared into the water.
The stop in Biloxi was quite the adventure since only one room with two double beds was available at the motel…not exactly what any of us had pictured, but oh well, we were exhausted and the slumber party ended almost as quickly as it began. Turn out the lights, the party’s over.
The next day we packed the car and headed toward Alabama.
new Alabama Welcome Center has amazing sculptures
The heart of our civil rights tour began in Selma, Alabama that afternoon.
the Edmund Pettus Bridge where Selma march began
The highlight of the day for all of us was our visit to the Edmund Pettus Bridge where the first Selma march to Montgomery began on what is now known as Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. The name is attached to that day because of the brutality of the Alabama state troopers and local police in beating the marchers with billy clubs and using tear gas to disperse the crowd. More than fifty out of approximately 600 people assembled were hospitalized after that first attempt to march to Montgomery from Selma.
Two days later the leaders organized another attempt to cross the bridge and again were forced to retreat. Finally, a third attempt was begun on March 21st., and with the protection of federal troops, the marchers successfully completed the 54-mile walk to the state capitol in Montgomery on March 25, 1965. Let me repeat that: the march was 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery.
Why subject yourself to the hostility, hatred, brutality and pure misery of walking 54 miles along the Jefferson Davis Highway? Congressman John Lewis, one of those hospitalized on Bloody Sunday, had this to say in his book Across That Bridge:
During the Civil Rights Movement, our struggle was not about politics. It was about seeing a philosophy made manifest in our society that recognized the inextricable connection we have to each other. These ideals represent what is eternally real and they are still true today, though they have receded from the forefront of American imagination…
But we must accept one central truth as participants in a democracy: Freedom is not a state, it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society. The work of love, peace, and justice will always be necessary, until their realism and their imperative takes hold of our imagination, crowds out any dream of hatred or revenge, and fills up our existence with their power.”
memorial honoring Congressman Lewis far left
our little group reads about Selma March at Edmund Pettus Bridge
And then we rode in an air-conditioned car the 54 miles to Montgomery, checked into our nicely cooled motel rooms and broke the solemnity of the day with an evening of cards and leftover ribs from Hancock’s Barbecue, the little family-owned place in Selma with ribs as good as those she had in Texas, Leora said with surprise.
Thank goodness for that night of rest and laughter. The next day in Montgomery was a difficult one.