Okay, sorry, I had to start that way. That’s what my English teacher said immediately after handing us copies of a chapter from a book that she would not tell us the name of. She didn’t even tell us the name of the author! No idea why, but I’m hoping she’ll tell us more next class period. “Do not look up this book!” she said. “Don’t even try to find it on Google!” Why? No idea. However, I shall continue on with my post about this most mysterious chapter anyhow. And so.
The chapter, “I Had a Dream,” starts off with the author arriving in Montgomery, Alabama. He says that he sees a sign as he enters Montgomery, which, having lived here for half my life, surprised me as I have never seen it. Then again, this book was written in the 1990’s, and I didn’t move to Montgomery until 2005. The first place he visits is the Capitol building on Goat Hill (a name which has always cracked me up) and he joins a school tour of homeschoolers (woot woot!) who are touring the Capitol building. Did you know I’ve never toured the Capitol? That’s rather sad… Anyways. He makes an interesting observation that the tour guide is black, but all the governors and all of the tour group are white. I’m only about three pages in, and already I can tell it’s going to be an interesting perspective on race in the South. He also mentions quite a lot about the Civil War and the Confederacy (something I’ve always known was in Alabama, and have tried assiduously to avoid) and the Civil Rights movement (something I’m the tiniest bit more interested in), and I was immediately interested to hear what he had to say. I may not like all the violence associated with Alabama in general and Montgomery in particular, but I’m curious to know what other people think about it. The homeschoolers he spoke to (actually the homeschool parents) seemed to be skimming over the issues of slavery and what the Civil War was actually fought over, but later on in the chapter he brings up things other people say pointing to an idea that no one really knows what the Civil War was fought over, or at least, everyone disagrees for the most part.
After his brief stint admiring the fact that monuments recognizing white people adjoin equally large (or small) monuments recognizing black people all over Montgomery, he takes a trip to Selma. Here I learned something new: the Selma to Montgomery march was not completely peaceful. Police were actually very cruel to the marchers at the Selma bridge, and undoubtedly killed quite a few of them, though the author never explicitly said so. Somehow I had always been under the impression that the march was, if not entirely peaceful, more peaceful than his and others’ descriptions of “Bloody Sunday”. The author visited a school here (I suppose his book is about his travels to see what school-children learn about the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement) to see and hear what they were learning and what they thought about the Civil War and Civil Rights. He made some visits to the local memorials and museums also, and spoke to residents of Selma, the curators (I believe?) of the museums, and even the mayor of Selma, who had been mayor on Bloody Sunday. The people he spoke to – the mayor, the people at the museums, and the teachers and school-children – all seemed nice enough until he brought up race and the Civil War and Civil Rights. Then they all seemed to be somewhat racist against whatever race it was they were not. Perhaps “somewhat racist” is too mild a term, but I am not entirely sure what the correct one would be. Perhaps if you read that chapter, you could tell me. Of course, I have no idea how you’d find the chapter, seeing as how I have no idea what the book is called…
The author’s final visit was to Greenville, Alabama, where he visited a school that was integrated, but where the students segregated themselves by force of habit and not by conscious decision or by enforced rules. At that school, the teacher didn’t even teach the Civil War, because at that time Alabama didn’t require history teachers to teach American history before 1877. Makes it quite simple to skip over the nasty parts, wouldn’t you agree?
I have no idea what the author (whatever his name may be) got or hoped to get out of his visit, as I have no way of reading the rest of the book, but I can tell that this chapter is a good preview of what I and my Honors English class will be doing the rest of the year. I still don’t like what happened during the Civil War, and some parts of the Civil Rights movement are still too sad and bloody for me to enjoy, but reading this chapter has made me quite curious to go and explore the monuments, memorials, and museums in both Montgomery and Selma. It rather irks me that I’ve lived in Montgomery half my life, and I had never heard of a big black wall covered in names from the Selma-Montgomery march that apparently resides somewhere in downtown Montgomery. Sheltered, much? I hope you find my explorations of memorials as exciting as I hope I will. And in the meantime, don’t research this book. My English teacher will be very upset if you do.
Read on, dear fellows, read on! (Just… not this book, okay? 🙂