Day 3 – Wed 7/13 – Nashville

Nashville: Country Music Hall of Fame, amazingly interesting. I had no idea that Bob Dylan played with Johnny Cash. And the Grand Ole Opry, which is a complex with hotel and resort, and mall with expensive restaurants. I ate in a cheap burrito place, better than Chipotle. In the seat next to me was an interesting couple from near San Simeon in California, big country music fans, found it kind of funny that country music wasn’t big in Brooklyn.

Grand Ole Opry

Day 4 – Thurs 7/14 – Guns Old and New

Another Civil War battlefield, Shiloh, scene of Ulysses Grant’s first victory over the Confederacy. Very good movie at visitor center, but I got lost several times driving around the battle field.

Seems that Grant really got lucky on this one. He was completely unprepared and defeated on the first day, but by great fortune reinforcements arrived just in time for victory on the second day.

Lunch at a roadside BBQ joint with very friendly people. Grandma was playing with her two year old grand-daughter, who she said had never seen a stranger before, but was very happy to sit in my lap. Once grandma was gone the waitress her niece came over to talk. She is going to the University of Memphis in the fall, and dreams of becoming an English teacher in a foreign land – she desperately wants to escape this “hellhole of a county”. We talk about FAFSAs and saving money with used and rented textbooks, she seems to have a definite plan.

Then into Jackson to a shooting range. Got to find some America. Automatic weaponry. And Jesus- Range USA of Jackson is a family owned small business built and operated on Christian values and faith. Firing an AR-15 is really easy compared to a Lee-Enfield .303. Also fired a Glock19, nothing to compare it to since this was the first time I have fired a handgun.

209 miles for the day.

My first time shooting an AR-15
My first time shooting an AR-15

Day 7 – Sun 7/17 – Civil Rights in Selma, AL

307 mile drive to Selma, where for a change from motels I am staying at the haunted St. James Hotel for $79. Except that they didn’t have my reservation, saying that the Internet site link to their booking system had not been working for years. Fortunately they did have a room, Very nice room, but the hotel is quaint, and the wifi connection is so bad that I have to write this post using my cell phone as a hotspot.

Brown Chapel AME Church where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King Jr. met to organize the march on Montgomery.IMG_20160717_160308

The First Baptist Church where the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee met.IMG_20160717_154400

And the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge that the marchers tried to cross on Bloody Sunday.IMG_20160717_162109Amelia Boynton beaten unconscious

Day 8 – Mon 7/18 – Civil Rights in Montgomery, AL

51 miles, less than an hour by car instead of 5 days by foot to Montgomery. Civil Rights Memorial Center opposite the Southern Poverty Law Center remembers those slain during the civil rights struggle, very moving.

MLK’s Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church. Wanda was an energetic and friendly tour guide.

And the Alabama Capitol Steps where the Selma-Montgomery march ended. MLK apparently was not allowed to speak from the steps, so they loaded a lectern from the church onto a truck, and he gave his speech from there.

Also the First White House of the Confederacy – very briefly here before Virginia seceded and the Confederate capital moved to Richmond.

Get some miles on by driving 149 miles to a motel in Atlanta. Stopped for lunch.

Long drive tomorrow.

Day 10 – Wed 7/20 – The Confederacy Surrenders

Appomattox Court House, the final surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Lee was attempting to retreat from Richmond to regroup with forces from the Carolinas, but was pressed hard by Grant and eventually surrounded with no source of supply. Minor resistance continued, but this is generally considered the end of the Confederacy. The Civil War cost some 620,000 lives.

Then 421 miles to Home Sweet Home.

Home at last

It’s been a long fun ride. 2,839 miles, 60 gallons of gas. But did I find America?

I feel I did. The America I found talking to so many friendly people is full of people who are striving to be something more. From the teenager at Shiloh who had dreams of becoming an English teacher in a foreign land, to the musicians and producers in Nashville and Memphis, to Elvis, who given outlandish wealth first saw to the comfort of his parents, the best of America is about striving for something better.

But I also found evidence still of America’s original sin. The news was full of the events of police killings and revenge killings. And when a performer at the Grand Ole Oprey sang Over the Rainbow to express her sadness, she got heckled from the audience “that had better be about Texas!”

Every establishment I went into seemed to be either all white or all black. Different music, different churches, different restaurants, two races still segregated.

I think there is still hope, there is much to be said for the best of what makes America. But at some point we must acknowledge that black lives matter.