Friday: From Selma to Montgomery

Selma hadn’t originally been on our itinerary. But we were so close. And the election was so near. And we were so close. We decided we couldn’t miss the chance to visit, where the march for voting rights began, less than a lifetime ago. It felt too important, and we were so close, to miss that chance. The road from Selma to Montgomery is mostly agricultural. A few cotton fields, some picked, some with cotton still on the stalks. We stopped halfway, in Lowndes, at the interpretative center there. Kenneth enthusiastically showed us the map, pointed out where we were (on the site of Tent City), why that was important, and invited us to watch Never Lose Sight of Freedom, one of the best videos I’ve ever watched. I wish that it was available on the internet, so everyone could watch it. Hearing interviews with the people in the marches, hearing them recollect what happened, hearing what they sacrificed – why would anyone not exercise their right to vote? Because when everyone votes, when everyone’s voice is heard, justice reigns.

So, if you’re in the US, and you’re reading this, and you haven’t already voted, please vote today. We are so close.

Vote!

Proudly sharing I voted, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma

Thursday: The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration

Sometimes you think you know about something, until you learn a little more, and it’s only then you realize how much more you have to learn.

I had first learned about the Peace and Justice Memorial in an Oprah magazine article earlier this year. My parents had taken a church sponsored trip to the African American museum in Washington, DC and had heard about it there. Months ago, we planned a trip. And last week, I found myself standing at the door of the museum on a cold, drizzly Thursday morning.

We entered the museum, passed through security, and then became immersed in videos and displays for almost four hours. A map showed the exponential increase of slaves in the south after the international slave trade was abolished in the US in 1808. Numbers of slaves were represented by tall red blocks on the map, state by state. As the years progressed through 1810, 1820, 1830, and onwards, the bars grew taller and taller, with Montgomery, AL being at the center of the trade. We heard stories from slaves being prepared for auction, stories of individuals searching for one last moment with their families. We read a giant timeline that covered the entire room, wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with important dates in the history of the US, how whites refused to concede control after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War. Instead of slavery, we had wide spread lynchings and mob violence. For another 100 years, African Americans were denied educational opportunities, the right to vote, and the law of the land was “separate but equal.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed

discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It prohibits unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.

Why isn’t justice mentioned there? Why doesn’t it mention that discrimination in the legal and criminal justice system should also be outlawed? At first I found that interesting. As I continued through the exhibits, I wondered if it was intentional. Or, if it had perhaps been an oversight, one that future administrations would use to their advantage to continue to enslave people of color, through mass incarceration. One in three black men will be incarcerated during their lifetime. One in seventeen white men will be incarcerated. Statistically that can’t be just. That’s a system with bias.

I read to the end of the detailed timeline and my first thought was, “Good god we are fucked. How does an entire people believe that it’s okay to 1-treat people as property, 2- beat said people, 3-deny those people basic civil rights, 4-beat those people more, and 5-institutionalize violence, all based on race?” It wasn’t the only time during our visit to Montgomery that I did not feel hopeful about the future of our society.

Even with two school groups bustling throughout the museum, the mood was reverent. There was a wall of signs from the Jim Crow era, highlighting “Whites” and “Colored.” A whole wall. It was there, in your face, a system that people in power once thought was okay. There were videos of personal stories of how lynchings affected the story teller’s family. Of family members that were lynched. Of how it was, or was not, spoken of in the family. Of relocation to a new location, out of the deep south. There was a display of large glass jars, the type you might see in an old fashioned apothecary, filled with dirt from sites of lynchings, with the lynched person’s name inscribed on the jar. There were videos of volunteers collecting the dirt samples. There were wall hangings of auction dockets of slaves, listing the names, ages, and traits of the people for sale. There were letters from prisoners. There were small cubicles, replicas of visiting booths in prisons, where you could lift the receiver and hear the words and see the video of people in prison. On the sides of the cubicles, there were the rules listed for prison visits.

  • No visits from nieces or nephews.
  • All visitors must be on a pre-submitted list, updated every six months.
  • No tinted or progressive lenses allowed.
  • No clothing of certain colors allowed (khaki, white, there were others that I couldn’t remember).
  • All visitors are subject to strip search.

There were more videos, some animated, some in person interviews, covering more history (like this one, from the EJI website). There was an exhibit about how children are more and more being tried as adults in the criminal justice system. There was a video of Anthony Ray Hinton, an innocent man who served almost 30 years on death row in Alabama. Tears ran down my face, knowing his story was not an exception, and also suspecting I don’t have the capacity for grace that he exhibited. I marvel at men like Mr. Hinton and Nelson Mandela, who have the capacity to forgive. The world is a better place because of them. There was a Civil Rights Wall of Fame, highlighting people who had made an impact in the advancement of civil rights. I wondered whose pictures in our lifetime would be added.

Photos weren’t allowed. I wish they were because it was a lot to take in at once. The EJI website is an amazing resource, and contains similar information as the museum. The museum, though, is an amazing experience. I know that many schools have field trips to Washington DC as part of their curriculum, learning about US history. I wish this site were also added as part of the curriculum. I can only imagine our society would be a better place if every citizen learned this history.

We boarded the shuttle to the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

It continued to be a gray, drizzly day. We walked to the entrance and passed through security once again. I get it. And it makes me sad/angry/ready to scream that we have security screening at memorials. We’re entering a sacred space. Why do people have so much hatred that they target people honoring the dead? I know why, and these were the thoughts I had as we entered, slowly walking up the gravel pathway towards the memorial.

It’s striking from afar. It’s more striking as I walked closer. I was among rows upon rows of rust-colored steel pillars, each with a county name and the names and dates of the lynchings that occurred there. Some columns had one name, others had a dozen. As I walked further into the memorial, the ground sloped downward, yet the pillars remained at the same height, hanging from the ceiling, until I was staring up at them, staring up at the memories of the lynched. The rain fell gently, and as the water ran down the steel pillars at the edge of the memorial, it appeared that tears, or perhaps droplets of blood, rolled down the pillars. Tears slowly ran down my face. How, as a society, were we capable of such violence? How, as a society, are we still capable of such violence, but instead of mobs carrying out the violence it’s officers of our justice system? Along the walls were placards with brief explanations of why the lynchings took place: he looked at a white lady, he voted, he was a successful farmer, she protested her husband’s lynching. I thought of the reasons African Americans were killed unnecessarily in the last few years: he was wearing a hoodie, he reached for his license, he was holding a cellphone that police thought was a gun, he was allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes, he was sitting in his apartment. The reasons today seem equally ridiculous as those from the past. Turning another corner, the ground slopes further downward, the pillars hang higher, and I saw these words etched on the wall:

Memorial words.jpg

For the hanged and beaten.

For the shot, drowned, and burned.

For the tortured, tormented, and terrorized.

For those abandoned by the rule of law.

We will remember.

With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice.

With courage because peace requires bravery.

With persistence because justice is a constant struggle.

With faith because we shall overcome.

I stared at the words and read them over and over. It was a message I needed to see.

 

Vote!

I voted today, on a Sunday, in the middle of the afternoon, at my local library. I brought my sample ballot with me, with choices circled. I signed in, we talked about the weather (it is cold today!), and the poll worker handed me a ballot. I carefully marked my choices, making sure I filled in the correct circles for each candidate: Quentin Miller for sheriff, David Wilson Brown for US House of Representatives, and no, no, no, no, no, no on the proposed NC constitutional amendments (among others). I wore my “I Voted Early” sticker proudly and struck up conversations with folks at the grocery and drug store, asking if they had voted or if they needed information about polling places (many were surprised the polls were open on Sunday). I signed up with several organizations to volunteer to drive people to the polls on election day. Wherever you are, please make plans to vote: absentee, early, on election day. Your voice matters!

Bear!

As I was bringing the garbage bin in from the curb, I noticed bear scat in my front yard, alarmingly near the side of my house. Yes, I knew it was bear scat because I was a Girl Scout at one point and had been fascinated by animal poop. Just to be sure, though, I Googled it when I came inside. Yes, definitely bear scat, and the bear had recently eaten lots of berries. It comforted me slightly to think that my bear visitor might be vegetarian.

I didn’t think much of it, except for the fact that the scat was fresh and very close to the house and a very large pile, which meant it probably came from a very large bear?

Today, a neighbor moved in across the street. I had intended to walk over and introduce myself. I was leaving the house this evening and noticed them sitting on their porch. I thought, “I’ll just check out the bear scat again and then amble over.” I looked at the scat and thought, “That is fresh. I wonder where that bear is.” I looked to my left, and there was the bear.

I hightailed it back onto my porch. My new neighbor was staring, probably wondering why I was running in my own front yard. I screamed, “Thar’s ah bear!” and then ran back into the house.

I stood for a moment, trying to catch my breath. I thought I was safe inside. The doors were deadbolted, right? Bears couldn’t pick locks, could they? Photos. Get photos.

I walked to the back door, and the bear was lumbering around, sniffing the ground, maybe eating acorns? Other food? Planning to pick my locks?

I took some photos and the bear lumbered away. I composed myself and walked across the street, introduced myself to my neighbor, starting with, “I normally don’t run screaming through my yard…”

The Breakfast Club, 30+ Years Later

I watched The Breakfast Club again tonight, the first time in almost 30 years. I remembered loving it as a teen; I remembered emulating Molly Ringwald and her love of vintage clothes; I remembered the funny parts of the movie and its signature song, “Don’t You Forget About Me.” I didn’t, however, remember how dark the movie was. I didn’t remember how they bullied each other; I didn’t remember the sexual harassment in the film. It was hard watching a favorite film through today’s perspective. It was hard being taken back to a time and place. It was startling to see what details of the film I remembered and which I completely blanked out.

After the film Molly Ringwald took questions from the audience. They ranged from the completely mundane to requesting career advice to her thoughts on the movie now (also reflected in this excellent piece in the New Yorker), to her next project (directing). I loved hearing her perspective on the movie, the experience of working with John Hughes, and why there shouldn’t be a remake. Asheville, you continue to delight me. Molly Ringwald at The Orange Peel.JPG

Getting Ready

Disaster preparedness is a funny thing. When we got news that Florence was predicted to hit the NC coast and then storm its way across the state, I went to the grocery store. I wandered up and down the aisles, thinking, “What would I want to eat in a storm?” And then had to amend that with, “…that doesn’t need to be cooked/warmed/refrigerated?” I bought some canned foods, some peanut butter, a few apples, and some snacks. Snacks feel like a treat. I don’t usually keep them in the house (popcorn, potato chips, candy) and I quickly realized why. I work from home. Every so often I’ll wander into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. And then I’ll see snacks in the cupboard and think, “Oh! Snacks!” and then I’m staring at an empty bag of potato chips. So, basically, each day of sunny, gorgeous weather requires another trip to the grocery store to replenish hurricane snacks already eaten.

Having lived in San Francisco for so long, it’s second nature to have flashlights/batteries/candles/waterproof matches within reach. So I feel good there. I bought some bottled water and placed it strategically around the house. I’ve charged all my electronics and unplugged anything that doesn’t need to be plugged in.

I’ve cleaned – washed all the sheets, towels, clothes. I’m not sure why I thought this was a good idea before a storm, but it’s almost like company’s coming. I’ve made extra pitchers of ice tea. I’ve taken out the trash and vacuumed the floors. “Gotta get ready for Florence! She may be here a couple of days!”

One of the nicest things, though, is how many friends who are not in the area have reached out. It feels funny to be talking about storm prep when it’s 75 degrees out and sunny, but I know the weather can change at any point. And it’s been lovely reconnecting with friends and catching up. So, thanks for that, Florence.

Joy

There’s a pottery place here in Asheville that I love, East Fork. Their pieces are elegant, beautiful, solid, graceful, a pleasure both to look at and to use.

And their email newsletters are a joy to read. They highlight a new product, sometimes an employee, and always end with a poem.

JOY  | by Carl Sandburg

Let a joy keep you.
Reach out your hands
And take it when it runs by,
As the Apache dancer
Clutches his woman.
I have seen them
Live long and laugh loud,
Sent on singing, singing,
Smashed to the heart
Under the ribs
With a terrible love.
Joy always,
Joy everywhere–
Let joy kill you!
Keep away from the little deaths.

One Year!

Today marks one year since I signed the papers and moved into my new home in Asheville. Home, not house. From the moment I moved in, this felt like home, like where I was supposed to be. I’m not sure how many hours I’ve spent on the front porch swing, listening to rain storms, watching lightning, reading the mail, chatting with neighbors, or simply being. I’ve explored a few mountain trails and made a few acquaintances who are now friends. I’ve eaten more fried chicken than I probably should have, and enjoyed the vinegary tang of NC barbecue once again. I’ve listened to some great local musicians and marched in protests. I’ve explored farmer’s markets and discovered the store I visit most is the local Ace Hardware, where the woman working the register greets me with puns on my purchases. I’ve hosted friends from CA, from NY, from GA, from FL, from other parts of NC, and have visited the Biltmore House so often that I can almost recite the audio tour verbatim. And I wouldn’t have changed a moment.

The Joy of Light

We stepped out of the car and I was overwhelmed by how noisy the night was. Armies of crickets, millions of them, participated in a call and response across the mountains, resulting in a continuous cacophony of chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, deafening in the otherwise quiet night.

We set up chairs and looked upwards. The sky was relatively clear, save for the thousands (millions?) of stars, the Milky Way visible, a cloudy arc above us. We waited, and chatted, and watched, our necks craned backward. We saw an airplane, blinking lights traveling quickly across the sky, but not quick enough to be a shooting star.

I remembered the last time I saw a meteor shower. I was eight years old and it was summer. A hot, humid summer at the beach at Ocean Isle, NC. Our family was on vacation and the kids were laying on top of the wooden pergola over the walkway to the beach. We laid there, staring into the night sky, watching stars zip and zoom and sputter and fizzle and fall to the earth. I remember thinking there would be no more stars in the sky after the night was done. They would all burn out. I was excited and fearful that I was bearing witness to the last night of stars.

I wondered if tonight would be like that. After about a half an hour of staring at the majestic, beautiful sky, full of stars, but void of shooting stars, I was okay with the knowledge that it would not be like that. We saw the Big Dipper. And the North Star, twinkling brightly. And Mars. Which really did hint red. And then,

Swoooooooooosssssssshhhhhhhhhhhh!

Across the sky, it burned a thick path, scorching the width of the sky. It was magical. We waited patiently and many minutes later another shooting star followed in its path. We waited patiently, hoping for a storm of shooting stars.

Our hopes were tempered by the fact that we were an hour drive from home, and had to wake up early for work the next day. After many minutes of not seeing any more shooting stars, but still dazed by the beauty of the night sky, we reluctantly packed up and drove the slow and winding road of the Parkway back towards Asheville.

A day later, I close my eyes and see the shooting stars across the sky, mesmerized by their light, their power, and their intensity. The same way that I’m mesmerized by fireflies, with their soft pulsing glow, never quite where you expect them to be. There’s something about seeing a surprising burst of light in the night that brings joy to my soul. And makes me believe that life, indeed, is magical.

Celebrating the Fourth on the Third

The kids said, “Let’s go this way!” as we snuck around the end of the fence through the ground cover, down the hill, to the golf course. We positioned our blanket on the edge of the course so that we wouldn’t be in the path of the night sprinklers that tapped an arc of water this way, then that. We settled in, watching the fireflies light up the golf course. And then, the fireworks began.

It was spectacular to actually see the fireworks. For years, I’ve walked down to the Bay, or to a friend’s rooftop, or boarded a boat, to see the fireworks in San Francisco. Each year I had high hopes that *this* would be the year that it was clear. And each year the fog never failed to roll in, making the spectacular fireworks show more of a muted colored cloud cover. Still lovely. But not the display I was hoping for.

This year was different. We watched as fireworks shot into the air, whizzing then bursting, sparkles fluttering down to earth. The boom echoed against the mountains, a cacophony of timpani filling the valley. And it was hot. The humid hot of the south in the summer. The hot that makes you sweat just enough so that when a gentle breeze blows you think, “Ahhhh, that feels divine.”

We oohed and aahed and commented on the beautiful designs. We clapped and woo-hooed when they were done. We sat quietly, secretly hoping for one more round. The fireflies appeared again, twinkling in the night, offering their own encore.