Final Leg of the Journey: Florida, Georgia, Carolinas, Virginia, Home
Our first stop on the way out of Florida. We knew that Jacksonville had plenty of Civil Rights history, but we basically did a drive-by shooting of the James Weldon Johnson Park. He was the author of Lift Every Voice and Sing. Below was the shot; I’m posting full size for ease of reading.
Limited Demographic Productions
Our next stop was Brunswick, Georgia. What do you think when you see this neighborhood below?
Nothing impressive, right? Quiet suburban neighborhood. On February 23, 2020, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan stalked Ahmaud Arbery as he went on a run through this neighborhood and killed him. We used Google maps to find the spot where he died near the street signs above. Our car is parked in front of it. We expected to find a small memorial as you see for fatal auto accidents, but all we saw was the withered flowers above. We left stones as is done in the Jewish tradition, which we had picked up in Selma. You can see them in the picture.
By 1964 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to visit Savannah, he called it the most desegregated city in the South. This was largely in part to the work of hundreds of teenagers and young adults who protested and boycotted during the Civil Rights Movement. Not only did the students boycott Broughton St. and hold sit-ins at local restaurants and department store lunch counters (Figure 1), but they also held wade-ins on the segregated beaches at Tybee Island, kneel-ins at white churches, ride-ins on buses, and stand-ins at movie theaters.[i] They fought for equality in all aspects of lif
Ravi gets wounded
Michael parked illegally in a loading zone, I ran across the intersection pictured below to the former Levy’s Department Store/current community college and snapped a picture of the plaque. Took less than five minutes.
We were very pleased with the comfort and performance of our new Rav4 plug-in hybrid on this trip, although I have to say it still floors me that I am driving a vehicle more expensive than the house I grew up in. Therefore, I am sad that Gorilla tape is currently holding its bumper together. The plaque about the slave auction is located in a small wedge of a park in a residential neighborhood with limited parking. As Michael tried to maneuver out of his spot, he caught the bumper on a very low flatbed trailer. We tried putting the notches and tabs back together, but a couple of hours later, as we were driving to Columbia, SC to spend the night, we heard scraping and weird wind noises. Pulled over to a truck stop/mini-mart, and saw the bumper had come apart, and rubber and fabric stuff was hanging down beneath the engine. We got some tape in the mini-mart and tried to pull out the stuff that was hanging down. A kind trucker with tools then helped us out.
Our last stop in Harrisonburg, VA
I actually have five book projects I’m juggling right now. But two of the top three include Tony’s memoir (see Part V: St. Petersburg/Tampa), and the one I’m working on with Lisa Schirch about Mennonite collaboration with Nazis during the Third Reich. I also thought the note on her dryer was funny.
Thus ended our 3 and 1/2 week saga.
A unifying theme of the trip was that in every southern city, young people organized and served as the nonviolent foot soldiers in voting rights movement and against segregation. If they were here today they would be part of the Movement for Black Lives. If young people in the Movement for Black Lives had been born in the 1950s and 60s, they would have been the ones on the stools at Woolworths, in the swimming pool in St. Augustine, with the freedom riders on the buses.
The question for us: are we going to be part of today’s Civil Rights Movement or let the smears of craven politicians and media pundits turn us around?
And finally, more than once I was sad that I couldn’t share these experiences with my father, who died on New Year’s weekend this year. He met Fannie Lou Hamer and participated in a voter registration drive in Mississippi in the 1960s. He was also my most loyal blog reader.
After Montgomery, we headed to Lake City, FL for some downtime with my college friends Paula and Mark, but we decided to do a quick stop in Albany (pronounced al-BAENY), GA on the way. Using a willingness to face mass arrest, the Albany Movement had the ambitious goal of desegregating the entire city using the strategy of mass arrests. Sheriff Pritchett just kept sending them to jails within a 200-mile radius of Albany. Dr. King considered Albany a failure, but within two years of these arrests, the town was desegregated. Cynthia, our guide at the museum, was surprised that anyone had thought it a failure.
Cynthia kind of interfered with our plans to do a quick look around and then travel on to Lake City, five hours away. However, since she was brand new at the job, and we were the only people in the museum we didn’t have the heart to tell her we didn’t need a guide. When the time got to about an hour later than we had planned to leave, we had to tell her we weren’t going to tour the church, but we did get a selfie with her.
Lake City Florida: Paul and Mark Moser
We arrived late afternoon at the Moser land. They hold about sixty acres jointly with Paula’s sisters, and it’s full of trails, trees, and gardens—what my friend Tony whom I visited on March 3-4 called Old Florida. I became friends with Paula and Mark when we went to Bogota, Colombia (gulp) 40 years ago for a semester to study Latin American History and Liberation Theology. I think when something transforms how you view the world, you are always attached to the people you were with at the time.
We went out for a 6:45 am walk the next morning with Paula and met up with two of her sisters. We stayed with Pam, the sister with the cane, when we drove from Bluffton to Miami on I-75 and caught the flight to Bogota.
After the intense learning experiences of the previous few days, hanging out with Mark and Paula in their hot tub, catching up on events of the past decade and just conversing with two interesting people was what we needed. I think they do retirement better than anyone I know. Paula has turned Michael on to a dizzying array of new games like Absurdle, Nurdle, etc., which he is enjoying. If we don’t see them for another 10 years, I know we will pick up right where we left off.
St. Petersburg and Tampa: Tony Treadway and Glenn Hasek
We spent a couple days in St. Petersburg where I reconnected with my friend Tony Treadway, whom I hadn’t seen for decades. He is working on a memoir and I’m helping him out with editing. Tony is spending his retirement playing in four, count ’em four, different bands. We also had dinner with my old college friend, Glenn Hasek, with whom I co-edited Bluffton’s college paper, The Witmarsum. He, his wife Miriam, and son Ben currently live outside Tampa in Odessa, FL, where he works from home, publishing Green Lodging News, a newsletter about environmentally sustainable practices in the hotel industry.
Did I remember to take selfies of either of these encounters? No, I did not, but Tony sent me the photo on the right after the fact. He sent me several and wrote
“The one with the tin foil – I put that on when the Tortugas perform the song ‘Alien Teenagers,’ and I tell the audience the foil prevents them from getting inside my head.”
Selfies aplenty occurred in Miami, where we visited Michael’s relatives and his daughter Beth. Interestingly. When I tried to find civil rights history that occurred in Miami, I found exactly nothing. Tony (see above) said that it’s the difference between Old Florida and southern Florida. Southern Florida was invented by PR firms, according to him.
Nohelia Jarquin is the daughter of the cousin of Michael’s first wife. He remains close to that side of the family, so “relatives” seems a good description for them. We had lunch with Nohelia, her husband Alejandro and their son Diego. Knowing how much Michael loved nacatamales, a Nicaraguan delicacy similar to, but more elaborate than tamales, she bought hime some frozen ones from a woman who made them, with instructions to boil them the next day.
These instructions left us with a conundrum: how were we going to boil them in a hotel room? After some thought, we bought an electric kettle at the St. Augustine Target, because we could use one at home, and used it to boil the nacatamales. They were superb.
Coral Gables: Beth Melissa, Eric and Eric’s Parents
We had a really good time in Coral Gables with Beth Melissa and her boyfriend Eric. Beth gave us a tour around the area, and Eric took us to his favorite Cuban restaurant, the Versailles. We also had dinner with Eric’s parents, Marta and Rubens Tabarley who were pretty much everything you would want in friends; I wish our conversation could have continued, but my back wouldn’t permit it. Marta is originally from Colombia and Rubens is from Argentina, but they have lived in Coral Gables for many years. Eric cooked us a traditional Asado. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten so much sausage before the skirt steak, but I did. If you are offered blood sausage, do not let the name keep you from eating it.
Of course, this event took place after weeks of my worrying that Michael and I would be presentable enough. Our lifestyle trends more casual than Beth’s does. If you zoom in on our picture with the you will notice that I got my nails done. Michael wore one of the new shirts he bought because Florida was warmer than he thought it would be.
The ACCORD Civil Rights Museum is the type of repository most according to my taste, I’ve found. A small enterprise, run by enthusiastic volunteers with some surprisingly valuable historical artifacts. Our guide clearly regarded all of the objects with great affection, and spoke withpride about the dentists’s office, which houses the museum, having the first integrated waiting room in St. Augustine. (After our travels, I wondered whether it was the only one anywhere in the South during the 1960s.)
Dr. Robert Hayling, the only oral surgeon of any color for miles around, was one of the driving forces behind the St. Augustine Movement which influenced President Lyndon Johnson in his passage of the Civil Rights Act. Do you remember the film of a white man dumping acid in a swimming pool to get black people out of it? That was St. Augustine.
The following eyewitness account of a Klan meeting in St. Augustine describes the threat that forced Dr. Hayling to leave town. I am putting them in full size so that you can read them easily.
We could easily have spent a week in Montgomery, Alabama and the area around it, but we decided to focus on the Legacy Museum and the Memorial for Peace and Justice (aka “The Lynching Museum.”) Like others who have visited, we had trouble finding the words to describe the museum. The designers take you from the Middle Passage (and you feel like you’re underwater as you read about it) through the error of racial terrorism following Reconstruction. You continue to the present New Jim Crow in our prison system, where you can sit in a chair behind a glass panel and talk to real people about what brought them to prison, and what burdens they are bearing.
In the museum, we found the jar of soil that Rabbi Tom Guttherz and his community brought from the spot where John Henry James was lynched (see Part II) on a giant wall of jars, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures of that or anything else in the museum. And the gift shop didn’t have postcards that captured some of the amazing exhibits, so that was a bummer.
We were allowed, however, to take pictures in the memorial, which records all the lynchings that took place in southern counties.
That evening, we had dinner with the family of Jalil’s daughter, which provided a much-needed shift in mood and a good space to talk about our visit to the museum and news events. Antoinette, or “Toni,” is a fabulous cook, and we were way too full of food and fellowship by the time we left. We were a little distressed to learn that Antoinette and her daughter Amina were making $2.50 an hour working as servers.
The next day in Selma was quite different. The museums and historical markers were less sophisticated but more accessible. The Legacy Museum almost felt as though it came down from On High. You definitely saw the work of dedicated human volunteers keeping the witness of Bloody Sunday and the marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma alive.
After the park, we made our way across the bridge and explored the city of Selma.
We walked back over the bridge again and found a small, unassuming museum open across the street from the gift shop. Unlike the high-tech museums we had visited, we could take as many pictures as we wanted in this one.
Returning from Selma to Montgomery, we stopped at the Rosa Parks museum an hour before it closed. We could only take pictures of the sign out front and her statue in the foyer.
We finished our long day amongst the cloud of witnesses at Connie Bs, which had some darn good soul food. I just ordered sides.
From Clemson, we drove to Atlanta, where we stayed with our friend Billie and spent a couple of dinners visiting with her daughter Stephanie.
We did not see all the Civil Rights History-related sites in Atlanta; that would have taken a week. But we figured learning what it was like for Billie and Stephanie to be the only black family living in Skyline, Utah was living Civil Rights history. Also, waiting almost fifty years for their Black Panther son and brother, whose trial the FBI meddled with, to get out of prison counts, I think.
We confined our official civil rights touring to the Martin Luther King National Historic Park one afternoon. Ebenezer Baptist Church, his childhood home, MLK and Coretta Scott King’s tomb, and other significant landmarks all lie within the boundaries of this park.
We noticed that all the historic landmarks and the interpretive center were closed due to Covid, but for some reason, the gift shops at each place were open.
I found it hard to leave Billie, currently spitting Stage 4 cancer in the facewith great joie de vivre. Thinking about coming back in the summer.
We thought we were here for the friends but if you look past all the football paraphernalia stores, you see people working for civil rights and the restoration of history.
When we visited our friends Peter and Jane in Clemson, SC, we assumed the visit would be heavy on the friends part of the tour and light on the civil rights. But due to Peter’s career as a professional historian, we did find a civil rights—or maybe “human rights” is a better term—connection.
It all began when Peter (or Jane—I forget)said that the university had probably built its football stadium over the graves of enslaved people.
Next day, we accompanied Peter to the Clemson Campus to check out what was going on there. Peter was the perfect tour guide to explain, in the era of Black Lives Matter, how the school was navigating between its Board and its faculty what to do with buildings named for enslavers and racists.
When Peter suggested we tour the home of virulently pro-slavery John C. Calhoun, my first reaction was I didn’t want to be one of those people who toured plantation homes. But Peter encouraged me, saying the exhibits inside were not that kind of Old South nostalgia. We were both surprised, however, by how not-that- kind-of-nostalgia they were. Peter hadn’t been on campus for a while so the narrative of enslaved people who had lived on the plantation/campus was new to him.
At the end of our Clemson campus/plantation/forced labor camp tour, we paused to reflect on what we had learned next to a building name for Strom Thurmond. Some people think he had a conversion experience later in life. Others beg to disagree.
Another important thing I learned that day: my ankle, broken at the end of June, could now walk more than four miles.
The museum doesn’t allow you to take any pictures, and it didn’t sell any postcards of the pictures I wanted to take, most significantly the wall with the names of all those who died participating in the struggle for civil rights. For those who are interested in going to the museum–the film that they show you at the beginning of the self-guided tour pretty much tells you everything you will see in the museum.
Have you ever heard of the Greensboro Massacre? It sounded familiar to me; my thoughts went to something labor-related. Michael and I were both shocked to learn it happened in 1979 when I was a senior in high school. It started out as a “Death to the Klan” rally sponsored by the Communist party in a low-income housing development. The Klan had been trying to divide workers along racial lines that the communists had been trying to organize in the textile factories. Well, the Klan and the Nazis showed up and killed five of the rally participants—with the collusion of the Greensboro police, as it turns it out. When the police finally turned up, they arrested the rally participants. As part of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 2004-2006, the city agreed to erect a memorial to those slain at the housing development, but so far, just this plaque marks the event—Marker J-28 in the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program.
We had dinner that night with friends of Michael, who had decided they preferred North Carolina weather to Rochester weather.
On our way to Chapel Hill the next day we stopped to see a friend who used to live in Canandaigua and who also does not miss the snow.
In Chapel Hill, we discovered some significant human rights events. Heard of the freedom riders who de-segregated the buses in the South? What dates come to mind? Well, these folks were doing it in 1947 and were put on chain gangs for their resistance. Respect to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the brave citizens of Chapel Hill.
Chapel Hill had its own sit-ins, but high schoolers set off the movement here in 1960 instead of college students.
We spent the night in Hickory, NC with Michael’s friends Kathleen and Kevin, who showed us lovely hospitality, and of course, I forgot to take a selfie of us. I also didn’t find much in the way of sites in Hickory that marked the Civil Rights movement. But I did find a thesis on the desegregation of Hickory High School.
On our way to Clemson the next day, we decided it was time for us to participate in another southern tradition. Verdict: my waffle and Michael’s burger were tasty.
Plaque on the armory where John Brown made his last stand. Storer College was established for Black students in the 19th century.
The next day, February 19, we stopped in Maryland to see the Catoctin furnace, where excavators had recently uncovered the graveyard of enslaved people who worked in the furnace.
After Catoctin Furnace, we spent the remainder of the day in Harpers Ferry with our friend Jane from DC and visited the site where John Brown tried to start the war to end slavery. I was surprised that the armory where Brown made his last stand was so small.Of all the arsenals in states where the war was fought, John Brown’s Fort, as people came to call it, was the only one to survive the Civil War. When it fell into disrepair, Alumni from Storer College, a school for black students, restored it.
Plaque on the armory where John Brown made his last stand. Storer College was established for Black students in the 19th century.
I should mention that Harpers Ferry itself is what people call “charming,” all cobblestones and scenery. Jane enjoys visiting there because it’s along the Potomac River and full of hiking trails. Most of the town is National Park Area.
Below are some plaques at the site. It’s good to keep in mind that John Brown thought he was on a mission from God to free enslaved people because he understood the miseries under which they were living. The young people with him were in their late teens and early twenties—university students who thoroughly believed in this mission.
The Kennedy House
Four miles away from Harpers Ferry, the Kennedy House is preserved as the site from which Brown and his comrades left early in the morning to launch their raid on the armory.
Reflections? I still believe in the power of nonviolence. And obviously, the Underground Railroad was largely a nonviolent enterprise.But given that the life of an average enslaved person, once he began working in the sugarcane fields, was seven years, the mass rapes of slave women, the torture of enslaved people with impunity. I do not condemn John Brown. The fault of the Civil War lies with people who did not care enough about the lives of enslaved people from 1619 onwards.
On our way to Greensboro the next day, we decided to stop in Charlottesville, VA, because a high school friend of Michael’s is the rabbi of the synagogue there. But before our meeting, we stopped to see the place where Heather Heyer was murdered by a white supremacist who drove into a crowd of people who had come out to protest the 2017 “Unite the Right” Rally.
James Alex Fields, Jr. injured 35 other people in addition to killing Heyer. Fields, 20, had previously expressed neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs, driving from Ohio to attend the rally.In 2019, state court convicted him for the first-degree murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, eight counts of malicious wounding, and hit and run, sentencing him to life in prison plus an additional 419 years. Fields also pled guilty to 29 of 30 federal hate crime charges to avoid the death penalty, resulting in another life sentence in June 2019.
Rabbi Tom Gutherz had more than 15 minutes of fame after the “Unite the Right” Rally in 2017. All the major news organizations wanted to know how his congregation had fared when Nazis surrounded their synagogue. His congregation decided the only irreplaceable items in the temple were sacred items they had adopted from a Jewish community destroyed in the Holocaust. So they removed these from safekeeping, but besides that precaution, they were in the streets with those standing against the rightwingers invading the town. Tom is also active in interfaith activity with area clergy. You can read some of his thoughts here.
A couple of years ago, after noticing we had a critical mass of friends who had moved to the south, Michael and I talked about taking a long vacation. We would visit historic Civil Rights locations while visiting these friends. This year, we decided to make that vision real. Since our self-imposed itinerary has taken up most of our time, I haven’t had much time to post. But as we travel I am going to try to share pictures.
On the evening of the 18th, we stayed with Michael’s friend from Habonim summer camp, Sarah Organic. Michael and Sarah have known each other since he was 15 and she was 13. I forgot to get selfies, but Sarah was gracious enough to send me these pictures.
Our time in Yardley, PA was mostly a friend visit, but we talked a lot about civil rights, and she took us on a drive to see some Underground Railroad locations.
The week that the Belarusian government intercepted a RyanAir flight and arrested Roman Protasevich, western governments and media expressed outrage. News outlets described him variously as a journalist, blogger, activist, and leader of the opposition to authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
They did not describe him as a fascist and fighter in the Ukrainian Azov Battalion. Prominent human rights groups accused this militia of war crimes while it fought Russian separatists in Ukraine. They flaunt their Nazi sympathies, using the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich as one of their original logos. Currently, they have tilted it to the right. Photos of their soldiers show them sporting Nazi tattoos. The U.S. blocked aid to the Azov battalion in 2018 because of its white supremacist ideology.
Protasevich claimed that he was covering the war in Ukraine as a journalist. However, photos in several online publications show him in uniform and armed with an automatic weapon. An issue of the Azov recruiting magazine appears to have his image on the cover.
Western media also praised presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and her party as “pro-democracy” activists in their bid to overturn Lukashenko. As they have with Protasevich, they built up a heroic narrative for her: an ordinary housewife married to a dissident whom Lukashenko imprisoned for his criticism of the government. They did not mention that one of her proxy speakers, Nikolai Solyanik, praised Hitler during a rally on behalf of Tikhanovskaya in Grodno and said Belarusians needed a leader like him. The opposition movement Tikhanovskaya leads expelled him, but only after outrage on social media; Tikhanovskaya chalked the episode up to his “extreme psychological conditions.” Other members of the opposition have expressed sympathy for Ukrainian Nazi collaborators in WWII.
And we must not forget Alexander Navalny. No one deserves to have their government poison them, and he has shown great courage in returning to Russia, knowing of his probable imprisonment and worse. However, he has also referred to Chechens as cockroaches, wants to ban Muslims from the Caucasus and Central Asia (many of whom are Russian citizens) from entering ethnic Russian areas, and deport all immigrants. Navalny supported a 2013 campaign, “Stop Feeding the Caucasus,” which pledged to halt government subsidies to the poorer and less developed non-ethnic Russian republics in the North Caucasus.
“I consider Navalny the most dangerous man in Russia,” Engelina Tareyeva — a member of the Yabloko party that expelled Navalny in 2007 — wrote of him. “You don’t have to be a genius to understand that the most horrific thing that could happen in our country would be the nationalists coming to power.”
In February 2021, Amnesty International withdrew its designation of Navalny as a “prisoner of conscience.”
As we mature, we learn to hold multiple realities in tension. Our parents may commit crimes, love their children unconditionally, and care about cruelty to animals. Our friends might be generous, fountains of wit and emotional wrecks. A government may care about providing food, shelter, and education to its citizens but repress minorities. Another government may talk of democratic freedoms for its citizens but only grant them to certain sectors of society and actively work to suppress them in other countries.
Our media need to grow up. Journalists can be fascists. People resisting authoritarian governments can also be fascists or willing to work with fascists. And just because people oppose authoritarian regimes does not mean they are pro-Democracy.
How the ADL Director Emeritus foments antisemitism
The earliest references to Jews having murdered Christian children appear in Greek sources from the first century. However, the Blood Libel myth metastasized into its ugliest form during the Middle Ages in Europe. The libel usually portrayed Jews using the blood of Christian children in Passover matzoh or crucifying children to re-enact Jesus’s death by torture.
Norwich, England, 1144 was the first documented incident of a blood libel accusation, and it set a pattern for the centuries of slander that followed. The body of 12-year-old William of Norwich was found in the woods. An anti-Semitic monk, Thomas of Monmouth, wrote a screed blaming Jews for his death. He further claimed that every year an international council of Jews chose a country where they would kill a child during Easter because of a Jewish prophecy saying that doing so would ensure the restoration of Jews to the Holy Land. Monmouth’s entirely invented story resulted in massacres of Jewish communities in London and York. During the following centuries, when a murdered European child turned up, Jews became a convenient scapegoat (and murderers went unpunished). Thousands of Jews died because of this pernicious lie.
Even in recent times, the myth has persisted in Syria (2003), Russia (2005), Poland (according to a survey of the belief among Christians done in the 2000s), Saudi Arabia (2012), Lebanon (2014), Jordan (2014), and Italy (2020).
Blood Libel, by definition, is false. No one ever produced evidence that the thousands of lynched and massacred European Jews murdered a Christian child, crucified a Christian child, and used their blood in matzoh. I won’t even go into Jewish dietary regulations because that would afford the accusation too much credit.
On May 21st, 2020, the Israeli newspaper of record, Ha’aretz, published pictures of children killed in yet another Gaza war that traces back to provocations against Palestinians by Israeli police and right-wing extremists in Jerusalem. On May 22nd, the New York Times published these pictures.
Abe Foxman, Director Emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote on Twitter,
I am cancelling my subscription to NYTimes. I grew up in America on the NYT- I delivered the NYT to my classmates- I learned civics- democracy and all the news”fit to print” for 65 years but no more. Today’s blood libel of Israel and the Jewish people on the front page is enough.
Mr. Foxman, these children were not a falsehood. When Israeli bombs fell on their homes, their suffering and their deaths happened. Before that, they were real human beings, loved by their families, as, I assume, you love your own children and grandchildren.
Billions of people in this world have not learned the history of European anti-Semitism. However, they know their own histories of brutal colonization by European empires, which considered the lives of their peoples and the lives of their children disposable. Some people in these countries will hear you dismiss the deaths of Palestinian children as anti-Semitic slander and will draw certain conclusions. You have made the world less safe for Jews.
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