If I can be personal for a moment….
My cousin asked me to come to Memphis for Thanksgiving break. (So prayerfully I will still have enough monetary resources to return to Chicago for Christmas break.) And I made three stops, one in Anniston, Alabama to buy some Burger King, once in Birmingham to fill up my tank and once more because I needed the breather; U.S. Highway 78 as droning on a bit more than I had liked. I’d like to discuss the Anniston stop and the other random stop I made on Highway 78.
I have etched in my mind the image of the Greyhound bus with flames and smoke pouring from it as one of the buses that had been bombed and set fire during the Freedom Rides of 1961. It has become one of those iconic black and white pictures that people from my Generation Y and forward will always associate with Civil Rights. I remember driving on an unfamiliar interstate with the thought in my head from my parents as to just how safe I need to be by exiting the interstate. This wasn’t a familiar stop and I wasn’t familiar with town or barely which way to turn. My worries were assuaged when I did see other black people in the Burger King, but I couldn’t help but wonder and imagine what must it have felt like to have been black living in the very same town some 46 years ago. Could one really imagine the fear and anxiety that blacks of the small rural mountain towns of Alabama must have felt? The feeling of disconnect, the feelings of isolation?
As I continued my 6 hour road trip, the shortest way to Memphis was to take U.S. Highway 78 from Interstate 20 in Birmingham directly to Memphis. Again, feelings of anxiety crept into body. This was unfamiliar highway, I didn’t know what speed traps or even other road blocks may lay on the road ahead. I was unsure of just how well traveled the road was nor what towns I should or should not stop in for a breather. I was somewhere between Jasper, Ala. and the Alabama-Mississppi state line and I remember driving on a road not quite as well traveled as the interstate and for the first time I really realized that to be black living in the South in the pre-modern civil rights era was truly an experience of isolation.
I felt isolated driving on this highway because it was a new four-lane plus controlled exit highway expected to be the new I-22 corridor, but the gas stations and hotels had yet to be built; Jasper, Ala., Tupelo and Holly Springs, Mississippi were the biggest towns on the highway. If I was in trouble, I would have had to venture into one of the smaller towns, nervously to seek refuge. I wasn’t able to articulate this isolation until I pulled into the gas station to buy an energy drink, some bubble gum and some form of sugary snack and I almost ran over a toddler who was of Asian descent because the mother was too busy watching the three other kids and routing around in the trunk.
All I could say in my mind is “Wow, we’ve come a long way here in the South.”
I could feel the blog wheels turning, but this blog solidified itself in my soul when I walked inside and was forced to stand in line because of an older black couple, who were taking their sweet time musing over shot glass trinkets (they probably irritated me because they resembled my own parents), and my eyes fell upon the normal Confederate flag bumper stickers.
Usually when I see the Confederate flag, I try and push the issue of slavery out of my mind as the forefront of the issue, and simply argue on the basis that the Confederate States of America, allbeit and entity unto themselves from 1861 to 1864, was nonetheless consisted of those who were guilty of treason and sedition, punishable by death under the Constitution. So what I see when I see a Rebel flag raised, is just that: REBELlion. The flag represents those who wanted to break away from the [dis]Union of the [still Yet to be]United States and form their own (wait for it, here it comes) primarily over the issue of slavery. So I my insult was further compounded when one of the Rebel flag bumper stickers read “It’s about Heritage and not Hate.”
So, just like myself I naturally mused in my own head “Then what the hell kinda heritage are you really supporting?”
In this same land where my fathers and mothers died as well, (but not consumed by the pride of the pilgrims who landed in Plymouth, Mass.) when I drove through the state of Alabama, I just couldn’t help but wonder just how far have we really come? That same feeling of isolation that I felt while driving in 2007 down the highway must have only paled in comparison to that of blacks in the time frame where were second-class citizens behind those of European descent. Truth be told, I’m pretty sure that the worldview of many of those living in the smaller and more rural towns that aren’t close to the major cities of Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile often times feel isolated and cut off. To be more specific contained–as if their status of isolation was purposely intended by the powers that be.
Well, to the one or two of you that daily stop by my blog, I hope this random musing of uppity Negro philosophy, which really was a ramble and had no specific point, has opened up your eyes on some level.
Keep it uppity, JLL