The Alabama River was a picture of calm and serenity that stood in sharp contrast to our day filled with turbulence and uneasiness. The colorful cocktails, merriment of the partygoers on our riverboat cruise and the blaring upbeat music of the band on the boat lifted my spirits and those of my sister Leora who had been with me on what I called Pretty’s Civil Rights tour. Pretty missed her calling – she should have been a tour guide.
The boat ride was the perfect end to an intense three days of fun, sharing family stories of our mothers who had an unbreakable bond that was the original reason for our connection and, of course, our trip that none of us would ever forget.
Too much commotion to talk, but not too much to reflect on the journey, as the riverboat glided slowly through the water.
my sister Leora on our riverboat cruise in Montgomery, Alabama…
thinking her own thoughts
We squeezed in under the wire for the last tour of the day for the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church following our visit to The Legacy Museum. The church was rich in history but was usually identified by its connection to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was its pastor from 1954 – 1960. Dr. King was recognized as one of the co-founders of the Civil Rights Movement during his tenure at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The meeting to launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott was held in the basement of the church on December 2, 1956.
What an incredible experience we all had with our tour guide Wanda – her joy in sharing the history of the church was infectious…her storytelling made the history come alive. She provided opportunities for our personal interactions within the sacred surroundings. Two moments from the church basement tour stood out to me as I settled into my thoughts on the riverboat ride late in the afternoon.
The original lectern Dr. King used in his meetings was still standing in the basement of the church. Wanda allowed each of our small group of six (another married couple from Kansas had joined us) to stand behind that lectern and repeat his words: “How long? Not long.” I put both my hands on the lectern as I repeated the short phrases, how long? not long. I felt a crack in the veil of shame for an entire race that I had worn since The Legacy Museum visit earlier that day. If Dr. King could say “not long,” then surely time was meaningless; redemption was still possible for all who repented. How long? Not long.
I wanted to add “too long.”
As the basement tour came to an end, Wanda asked us all to feel the Dexter Avenue love by forming a circle, holding hands and encouraging a volunteer from the group to lead us in prayer. That someone turned out to be our Carmen, Leora’s daughter and Willie’s granddaughter, who spontaneously led us in a very powerful spiritual moment of love and affirmation of goodness that moved me to tears. Carmen’s prayer was my second memory maker of the church basement tour.
I was still lost in the day when our cocktail waitress asked if we wanted to start a tab at the bar on the riverboat. Sure, I said, as the lady with the band began to sing along with her husband who was the lead singer and guitarist. Leora and I both knew all the words to Polk Salad Annie so we joined in with the rest of the riverboat guests – making a joyful noise with exuberance.
We reluctantly said farewell to the Alabama River when we docked two hours later and had only one minor mishap that occurred when we made it back to our car. No keys. Someone was supposed to be taking care of the keys Pretty dropped on our table while she and Carmen climbed to the upper deck. Luckily, the responsible person had knocked them under the table in her slightly inebriated state, and there they remained for Pretty to retrieve with minimal delays. Too much Polk Salad Annie.
As The Red Man was fond of saying, all good things must come to an end, and the next day Pretty drove us back to Louisiana where Leora’s son and niece met Leora and Carmen to take them home to Texas. Many tears were shed that afternoon…we vowed to do better about keeping in touch in person…texting wasn’t good enough. Life is too short, we said as we hugged and cried.
And to add one of Pretty’s favorite quotes, life is also too messy. We have been home for one week and yet another white celebrity exposes her prejudice toward people of color in the headlines this morning. I challenge her to go to Selma and Montgomery and Birmingham to witness a sinister part of our American history that continues to plague our culture today. I challenge every citizen to make that tour in Alabama and then believe with me in Dr.King’s hope for all people everywhere:
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Thank you for making this journey with us.