A tale of two cities | Opinion | journal-republican.com

2022-06-15 23:30:36 By : Mr. Allen Du

A few clouds with an isolated thunderstorm possible after midnight. Low 74F. Winds SW at 15 to 25 mph. Chance of rain 30%..

A few clouds with an isolated thunderstorm possible after midnight. Low 74F. Winds SW at 15 to 25 mph. Chance of rain 30%.

We’re driving north on Interstate 57, on our way home after a wonderful weekend in Birmingham, Alabama.

I was at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference, and Michael went along for the ride. We listened to our colleagues share wisdom about writing, politics, projects.

Many of our group are award winners, including a Pulitzer Prize winner and a finalist.

It was great being among such talented writers.

On Friday we took a field trip to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where we walked through the sobering exhibits and learned some history.

The museum is across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church where four little girls died in a white supremacist terrorist bombing in 1963. Inside the museum is a model mayor’s office with a picture window that frames the actual church.

We saw several other models, like life sized dioramas, of the jail cell where Dr. Martin Luther King wrote his amazing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

We saw comparisons of the classrooms of white and black schoolchildren from the 1950s. The white classroom was much like I remember from the 1960s in Illinois, with linoleum topped desks that opened with a ledge inside for pencils, space for our books and papers, a few books on top of the desks. A movie projector sat on a cart with metal spools, ready to show a film.

The black classroom was stark with wooden chairs with a half desktop, nothing more than a surface for writing, no books or film projector. We saw life sized busses, one with a statue of Rosa Parks sitting in front of the sign marking where white people should sit. The sign warned, “please do not move board,” as if they already knew how ridiculous that false border was.

Another bus was just a burned-out shell, an exhibit of the Freedom Riders’ bus that was firebombed.

We saw two drinking fountains side by side, the more modern one that cools the water marked, “white,” The older, porcelain one with rust stains marked “colored.”

We saw photographs of heroes and martyrs, watched testimony on period tube televisions of the victims of malicious violence. The exhibits were difficult to get through. Later, I was telling Michael what I learned (and I admit, I looked up more details about the bombing of the Freedom Riders and was sickened by the details: after they threw the bomb into the bus, they HELD THE DOORS SHUT in an attempt to kill the people inside. Luckily, they were able to escape anyway.) and my husband said, “we should know these details, but I guess we don’t.” It’s hard to look at, but we do need to know.

But back in the museum I witnessed one small, delightful drama. In one gallery was a wall filled with old Sunday School class photos.

I was reading a card on a wall, when one of my colleagues ran up to one of the photos crying, “it’s here!” and she proceeded to jump up and down.

We were all befuddled until she explained to us that it was her own childhood church, and we took turns squinting at the photo to find her six-year-old face in the group. She had heard from a friend that the photo was there, but she had not seen it yet until our field trip.

I found out later that she and her husband live in Florida. They have a permaculture garden. She explained that their yard is all sand, so they have to make their own soil to grow anything.

I told them about the new hügelkultur bed I am building. I piled a rotting trunk and some sticks on top of cardboard, then layered grass and finally compost. I will let it rot a bit and then I will plant some bulbs in the fall. My new friends were very curious about our chickens. They would like to get some, but they also have a pond in their yard, and gators in the pond. I told them that coyotes and foxes get our flock sometimes. Predators are everywhere.

On the way out of town we stopped at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. (It’s free seven days a week!) where Michael had visited while I was in the conference.

He took me through the rose garden and through a bamboo forest to the Japanese Gardens where we walked over wooden bridges and stone bridges. Huge koi and turtles (mostly red eared sliders, but also one giant snapping turtle!) swam up to the surface to eat the food people were throwing over the railing of the bridge.

On the way out we saw the most elegant stone pond with water lilies and dragon flies. People were sunning on the lawn.

A nice scene to carry home.

Walk in History; Work for Peace; Blessed Be

Mary Lucille Hays teaches writing at UIUC and Zhejiang University in Haining, China. You can see pictures about this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of the Journal Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856.