News

Book Showcases Little-Known US Civil Rights Landmarks - 2004-02-11

Multimedia

Audio

The United States is dotted with memorials to wars fought on our soil, as well as landmarks from the Westward Migration, the Great Depression, and women's fight for voting rights. Much harder to find are remnants of the epic civil rights movement of the mid-20th Century. But Jim Carrier has uncovered a number of them. As the United States marks African-American History Month, VOA's Ted Landphair talked with this author of "A Traveler's Guide to the Civil Rights Movement".

Journalist Jim Carrier went to work at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, after writing about hate crimes like the dragging death of a black man in Jasper, Texas in 1998. Montgomery, which during America's Civil War was the early capital of the slaveholding southern Confederacy, invented the civil rights movement.

Today, says Mr. Carrier, it seems to have disowned it. "Montgomery has the bookends of the movement. It had the 1955 bus boycott, and then 10 years later had what was really the climax of the civil rights movement in 1965, the voting rights march from Selma [Alabama] to Montgomery. I wandered around, looking for these sites, where Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Junior] preached, and Rosa Parks got on the bus. There weren't many signs. There was no museum, no brochure.

"The South is still dominated by the Confederate soldier. Fifty years after the Civil War, there were a thousand major memorials to the Civil War rebels and [what southerners call] the 'Lost Cause' erected throughout the Confederate states.

"By my count there are probably 100 rather modest memorials and signs to civil rights. These individual stories that I include in my book are as heroic as any in the American lexicon. And yet, you wouldn't know it if you were to drive through the South," he says.

The Southland, says Jim Carrier, doesn't quite know what to do with its memories of the civil rights struggle. "You have the white community that has, for a couple hundred years, supported a set of heroes who really end up on the wrong side of this. What do you do with that when the moral ground shifts? Fifty years may be almost too soon for them to embrace that. We find this right in Montgomery, where we're approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the bus boycott. You find members of the white community who say, 'Please don't use the word celebrate' because, to them, it involves some sort of joy or embrace of this history.

"I must say that shame isn't exclusive to the white community. There are people in the black community who don't want to talk about slavery, who purposely did not tell their children about the civil rights movement because they wanted to hand them more or less a blank slate of an integrated America. There's also, frankly, a bit of an internecine war going on over who owns this history. Some people are embittered and may die with the stories," he says.

In Washington, there's one place you can see a remnant of the civil rights movement, and that's at the Museum of American History, the Smithsonian museum, where there's the lunch counter from the [1960] sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina. "I actually think that Washington has done a poor job of talking about this history. A visitor can learn more about the Holocaust in Washington, DC, than he can the civil rights movement at the moment," says Mr. Carrier.

"You know, I take a very eclectic view of this, and a long view. For example, I would send visitors to the relatively new memorial to black Union soldiers because 200,000 black soldiers fought for the Union, and it's not a story that very many people would know. I would also send them to Antietam [battlefield in Maryland]. The victory at Antietam gave [President Abraham] Lincoln the backbone to issue the Emancipation Proclamation [declaring southern slaves free]."

When asked if he is creating demand for the sites with his book, Mr.; Carrier says "no, I met a demand that was there. You find in some of the most remote places - Money, Mississippi, where [a 14-year-old black boy,] Emmett Till was killed in 1955; and Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were killed in 1964, busloads find their way down these old roads to mark the spot. People are making pilgrimages to these spots from Africa. The [Martin Luther] King Center in Atlanta gets a million visitors a year."

Jim Carrier says the bus on which Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to yield her seat to a white man in 1955 rusted in a field outside Montgomery for 30 years. In 2001, the owner auctioned off the bus online. The Henry Ford Museum in Michigan bought it for $430,000, spent another $300,000 thousand fixing it up, and put it on display to large, appreciative crowds.

The mayor of Montgomery, realizing he had lost probably the most important icon of the movement, has now found two old, 1955 buses in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is converting them into a single bus so that tourists can get sort of a Rosa Parks moment.

Discussing his favorite sites, Mr. Carrier says, "there's an old tennis court. Grass is growing up in it, and a rusting old net, in Wilmington, North Carolina, where a private physician, an African-American, taught Wilma Rudolph to play tennis. And she broke the color line at the U.S. Open [tournament]."

I think the most haunted site is the old store where Emmett Till went in and said something to the white clerk in Money, Mississippi. These places really do have that sense of isolation and fear to this day.

Now I find it odd that we still isolate, somehow, black history from the rest of history. If you look at a number of states, say, South Carolina. South Carolina history would be a very thin volume if it weren't for the story of the African-Americans. I would like to see us integrate our history, because we are all in this together.

Jim Carrier is the author of A Traveler's Guide to the Civil Rights Movement. It's published by Harcourt Books.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs