Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The March Continues

The Montgomery bus boycott made the city a famous part of the civil rights movement.  Rosa Parks is often referred to as the First Lady of the  movement, and of course everyone knows how Martin Luther King continued his fight for the rights of the black people.

So of course, there are a few sights to see.  The Dexter Avenue Baptist church where MLK preached is one place on the list, as is the Rosa Parks Museum, where they have set up a recreation of the bus and Rosa's arrest.

But the key place to visit here is the Civil Rights Memorial Center.  Their slogan is ' The march continues' and that is a key part of the centre.  Although the memorial is confined to the years of 1954 to 1968, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, the centre doesn't just focus on what happened nearly sixty years ago, it reminds us that the fight for true equality carried on long past that and indeed, is still ongoing now.

The civil rights memorial itself is nice enough, but the real thing to do when you are here is to read the case studies.  They make it easy to do, with just a short outline of each story.  They make very uncomfortable reading.

The stories range from those of bombings, like that of a baptist church in 15 September 1963, which killed four schoolgirls from the youth choir, and arrests, through to those of horrendous individual murders and lynchings by the Klu Klax Klan and other white racists.

Most of these stories are shocking, with people being murdered simply because they were black, or were a white person who associated with black people, but perhaps one of the worst cases was that of Emmett Till, who died on 25 August 1955.

He was a young boy who had a stutter and had been taught to whistle when he got stuck.  Eight days after moving to Mississippi from the less racist north, Emmett went to buy sweets and never returned. It appears he may have whistled 'at' a white woman when he was stammering.  Her husband and some friends beat him to death and left his body in a river.  When he was found, they only way he could be recognised was by his ring.  His mother refused a closed casket for the burial; the sight of his body caused an outcry amongst the black community and apparently was on the mind of Rosa Parks when she refused to give up her seat.

But the really terrible thing is that these horrible acts weren't confined to the sixties.  The case that sparked the creation of the memorial was that of nineteen year old black boy, Michael Donald, who was walking to a store in Mobile Alabama when he was attacked by two members of the KKK, was brutally beaten and had his throat cut before they strung him up in a tree.  It was 1981.  It was at least, the first time that the United Klans of America was held responsible in law for such a murder, with the ruling in 1987 granting $7 million to his mother, putting them out of business and forcing them to turn over their HQ building to meet the payment.

Then there was nineteen year old Amy Robinson, killed in Fort Worth, Texas,   by Robert Neville and Michael Hall as part of a wager to see how many people they each could kill, the only criterion being that the victims be non white.  This was 15 February 1998.

And in the same year in Denver, after shooting Oumar Dia, nineteen year old Nathan Thill said "In a war, everyone wearing an enemy uniform is an enemy and should be taken out." Oumar's 'uniform' was the colour of his skin.

We all know that there are still cases of extreme racism in the USA, the UK and elsewhere.  Thankfully these days it is better than it was, and most people will not tolerate the kind of racial abuse and violence that is described above.  But that doesn't mean that racism doesn't exist.

I used to work in Human Resources, and I saw some cases where people would be openly racist.  In fact this was as - if not more - likely to be someone from one ethnic group or one ancestral country being racist about someone from another group or country as it was to be from a white person.

But I also saw plenty of examples of people who were inadvertently treating people differently.  Not necessarily in ways that actually made any difference to them, but just in assumptions that they made, or lack of consideration that someone might have different beliefs or needs.

But still I was shocked when we came to the States and in these southern cities some of the people we spoke to would openly say things like 'London is a great city, but how can you stand to live there with all those black people; it's like being in Arabia'.

We would always say that we never found it a problem and that in fact we much preferred living in a diverse society, but there was obviously no way we were going to change their opinion in an exchange in a shop, so we didn't prolong those conversations.  But it is clear that racism is still very much in evidence here, although from what we heard, the focus seems to have shifted to be more against Muslims these days.

Civil Rights have improved drastically, but there is a long way to go yet before we can really say that people are not treated differently, or given less opportunity because of their origins, their gender, their disability, or their sexuality.

The memorial focuses on the African American history, but it acknowledges these other areas of discrimination too.  It has created an electronic Wall of Tolerance, which has names of people who are committed to justice, equality and human rights.  We both added our names to the wall, and would like to think that we can say that we live up to that commitment in our daily lives.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"The only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

The other significance of the 4 February in Montgomery was that it would have been Rosa Parks' 100th birthday, which made it an interesting day to be visiting the Civil Rights places here.

But first we need to set the scene of the poor state of civil rights in 1955 Montgomery, Alabama.  As I mentioned in the Martin Luther King posting, segregation was still very much a part of the life of an African American back then.  Workplaces, schools, shops, restaurants, bars, toilets - everything was segregated.

Black people were banned entirely from some places that white people went, and where they were allowed, they were segregated to particular areas, which you could be certain would be the most undesirable section.  People even had to use different water fountains.

And then there was segregation on the buses.  In 1955 the US Supreme Court and then the Interstate Commerce Commission had recently ruled bus segregation as unconstitutional and banned it on all buses travelling between states. But this did not apply to buses  that were purely within a state, as the US system of legislation allows individual States to set their own rules.

In Montgomery this meant that Jim Crow (a commonly used perjorative term for negro generally used to describe segregation legislation) rules of bus segregation were applied.  These stated that the front of the bus was reserved for white people, and blacks were never allowed to sit there.

Black people, who were by far the majority of the bus users, were expected to fill up the bus from the back and if only seats at the front remained, they had to stand rather than sit in them.  But if a white person got on, and there was no seat available at the front, then those people in the first black row were required to give up their seats and stand.  Generally black people followed the rules, but occasionally someone would refuse, and they would be arrested.

On 1 December 1955, a black woman named Rosa Parks got the bus home from her job as a seamstress, and was sat in the front row of the black section.  The bus was full,  so when some white people got on, the black people in the front were told to move. They all moved except for Rosa, who refused.  When she continued to refuse, the driver, James Blake, called the police and she was arrested.

Now when this story is told, it is often assumed that Rosa Parks was just a normal woman, tired after the end of her work day, who just decided there and then that she would not stand when asked.  But that is not the case.  In fact, when you look at the facts, it seems quite likely that this was a planned protest.
In 1955 Rosa Parks was 42 years old and, alongside her normal job, she worked as a secretary in the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and investigated cases for them.  She had recently been on a course for civil rights activists, learning about non violent protest.

And this was not her first brush with the driver, Blake.  Some drivers would make a black passenger pay at the front, then make them get off and reboard at the back door.  This had happened to  Rosa and the driver, Blake, had then driven off before she could reboard.  She had vowed never to use a bus that he was driving again.  And yet on this day she did.


In her own words, she said of the incident "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in." So when you look at all of this together, it does rather seem that Rosa, probably acting as part of a plan by  Edgar Nixon, President of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP, was looking for an opportunity to make her protest.  Mr Nixon wanted a test case to challenge the segregation legislation, and he needed a person of good character to be that test case.

Of course the fact that this may have been a planned protest does not make it any less valid.  It was not a manufactured situation - she was arrested for failing to comply with segregation laws.

This wasn't the first time someone had been arrested, but this time, the black community decided to do something about it.  Jo Ann Robinson, a member of the Women's Political Council (WPC) of Montgomery, put out a leaflet to all of the black community calling for them to boycott the buses on Monday 5 December, when Rosa's case was to be heard.


The trial went ahead, and she was found guilty, but appealed.  In the meantime, black people stayed off the buses.  And not just for the one day.  They cycled, hitchhiked, organised car pools, organised a car service for the price of the bus fare, used mules, walked long distances, and some were given lifts by their white employers, but they did not take the bus.
The newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), led by the new Baptist minister in town, one Dr Martin Luther King Junior, was demanding a compromise for the buses.  It did not ask for its preferred solution of a complete end to segregation, but instead sought a simple division of the bus, so that whilst a black person may still have to stand if their section was full, even if the white section was empty, they would never again have to give up their seat for a white person.
The state and bus company fought back of course.  They tried to make car pooling impossible by getting insurance companies to refuse to insure the vehicles, but the black community found a company prepared to help them - Lloyds of London.  They tried to ban the car service as an illegal taxi service, resulting in some people, including Martin Luther King being arrested and spending time in jail.  It just gave the boycott more attention.

And alongside all of this, the legal action continued.  They did not in fact pursue Rosa Parks' case, as that would have been through the Alabama courts and so doomed to failure.  Instead, they took out a civil case in the federal courts, where they could hope for a better outcome.

The Browder v Gayle case was decided on 13 June 1956, when the federal courts ruled the segregation on Alabama buses as unconstitutional.  The State appealed, but on 17 December 1956, the Supreme Court upheld the decision, and three days later, ordered the desegregation of Alabama buses.

The boycott ended on the same day.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Car parks and Confederacies

From Atlanta we took the bus on to Montgomery, Alabama.  This is not one of the best mega bus stops we have encountered, as it is just in the car park of a retail park out on the outskirts of town.  This wouldn't have been so bad were it not for the fact that our outward bus was at 1am, so we had to loiter in the car park waiting for it.

We were getting there early, so we had planned to wait in the 24 hour McDonalds across the street, but when we arrived, it was only the drive through that was open all the time, the indoor area closed down.

We found a waffle house not far away, where we narrowly avoided picking up a homeless guy.  But we still had to get to the stop in time and then find ourselves waiting there when it was nearly an hour late.  I wouldn't have liked to have been standing there on my own.

But anyway, we survived the bus stop, so let me tell you more about Montgomery.  We only had the one day in the city, so we got in early as here was plenty to keep us busy, with the State Capitol Building, the Confederacy White House, the Old Alabama buildings, the Rosa Parks  Museum and the Civil Rights Memorial.

But even at that time we were surprised to see how few people there were about.  We probably saw less than ten people on the street all day, and this is the state capital. It really was like one of those films where some disaster has happened and you were in a coma and missed it, and now you wake up and wonder where everyone is!
Our first stop in the ghost town was the State Capitol Building.  Although this is a working office, visitors can just come in and walk around. It is worth a look as a couple of the rooms have been restored to how they would originally have been when the building was built in 1850, and there are some impressive sweeping spiral staircases and a big painted rotunda with a stained glass domed skylight.  

Or you can do what Nic did and just take a photo of the somewhat unfortunate name of the State Treasurer, Young Boozer!  Seriously, that was his name.

But the interesting thing about this place is that it was here, in the old Senate Chamber, that the Confederate States of America were signed into being in 1861.  And it so happened that we were here on 4 February, the exact date of the anniversary of the signing 152 years ago.

The initial Confederate States were Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and South Carolina, and they were later joined by Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina.  Factions from the states of Missouri and Kentucky made it up to thirteen. They were led by Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Now while this was an interesting period historically, it was not, of course, the most glorious moment for the southern states.  The creation of the southern Confederacy as a breakaway from the Union was in large part a response to Abraham Lincoln's desire to abolish slavery. 

Many states had already ended slavery, with the first being Pennsylvania, which passed the 'Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery, back in 1780, which freed all future children of slaves.  Other northern states gradually followed, but the cotton industries of the south were huge users of slave labour, so these states were not going to give in lightly.

The country was plunged into the 1861-5 civil war, which obviously the Confederacy lost.  Lincoln himself, though he could see that victory was inevitable, never actually saw the end of the war, as he was shot by John Wiilkes Booth on 14 April 1865 and died the next day.
However his aim to end slavery did not die.  On  1 January 1863, Lincoln signed the 'Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the Confederate States, and on 31 January  1865 that Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which when it was ratified on 6 December that year, finally abolished slavery entirely.

Of course the fact that slavery was abolished was far from the end of the story.  Many slaves were forced to continue labouring for their previous owners simply because they had no alternative way to support themselves.  And the treatment of black people in the southern states in particular has remained shockingly bad until well into the second half of the 1900s.  More of that in another posting.

Another part of the historical part of our day was a visit to the museum buildings of 'Old Alabama Town'.  This has a number of residential and business buildings that are kitted out to show you how they would have been back then.

We also visited the First White House of the Confederacy, the home of Jefferson Davis during his time in Montgomery as President of the Confederate States.  The family was not here long, as the seat of Government soon moved to Richmond Virginia.  But this 1835 house was an interesting bit of history, with lots of artifacts from the time, including confederate currency and the confederate flags.

The confederate flag was apparently the source of some controversy and disagreement.  Initially, the desire was to not completely abandon the Stars and Stripes, so they designed something similar, but with a circle of stars in the blue corner box (seven to start with, increasing to thirteen as their numbers grew), and just three red and white bars instead of the normal stripes.


This design was popular, but its similarity to the Stars and Stripes caused confusion on the battlefield, so a new design was needed.

This time they used a white background with a red box towards the top left corner, which had on it a blue diagonal cross with the white stars on it.  However this design was also short lived as, as well as complaints about it getting dirty, when the wind was down and the flag drooped, it could easily be mistaken for a white flag of surrender.

The final official version was the same as the second, but with a big red bar down the right hand side.  But even then, they adopted a different battle flag, which was simply the corner box element covering the whole flag.

Now of course, you would expect that the flag, along with the Confederacy itself, is consigned to history.  But take a look at the state flags of some of the old confederate states and you can certainly see some aspects of the confederate flags there even now.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The home of Coca-Cola

As well as the more serious things to see, Atlanta is also the birthplace of The Real Thing, so it didn't seem right to be there without visiting the World of Coca-Cola.

Pharmacist John Pemberton invented the Coca-Cola syrup back in 1886, selling it in the nearby Jacobs Pharmacy, mixed with carbonated water, for five cents a glass.  The name was the work of his partner Frank Robinson.  John didn't keep the business that long though, and by 1891 it primarily was in the hands of businessman Asa Candler.

Candler made Coca-Cola a hit by giving branded goods to the pharmacists that carried his soda fountains, and by giving out free tasting coupons. By 1895, the drink was selling so well, he had syrup manufacturing plants in Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago.

But while he may have been good at selling the drink, he wasn't too clever when it came to packaging it.  Someone else suggested putting it in bottles, but he ignored the idea, and in 1899 he sold the rights to bottle and sell Coca-Cola to  some lawyers from Chatanooga for just one dollar.

Now more easily available in its bottles, Coca-Cola was doing well in the States, but when Robert Woodruff took the helm in 1923, he took it global.  He linked the brand with the Olympic Games, starting a tradition that continues today, and when the USA entered World War II, he declared that every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents, no matter where he is or how much it costs to send it there.  I'm not sure how often by we're supposed to get that Coca-Cola, or whether they all did, but it was a good bit of marketing.
By the 1960's there were bottling plants in many different countries.  And by this time it wasn't just Coca-Cola.  In the 1950s they introduced Fanta and then in the 1960s, Sprite was the first of a few new drinks to come in.

In the 1980s there were two more changes; the first, Diet Coke, proved almost as popular as Coca-Cola itself, but the other, New Coke, was not so well received.  People didn't like this new improved taste and they got their way - it reverted to the classic recipe after just a couple of months.
In time, bottling plants popped up across the globe, and more drinks were introduced.  They now have over 500 brands of drink being sold around the world, including iced teas and even a soup in Japan.  And that number doesn't take into account diet variations and the different flavours available within each brand.

In the World of Coca-Cola, there is a Taste it room, where you can taste all of the brands grouped by the continent they are sold in.  We tried a tiny bit of them all.  Most were OK, some weren't OK, and some were good, but there was one that was really horrible.

I won't tell you what it was called, as I don't want to spoil the surprise in case you go, but I will say it was from Italy.  After disliking it so much ourselves, we stood and watched others try it and almost everyone had the same reaction.

There was also an area where you can try the multitude of variations of the big Coca-Cola brands, Coke, Fanta and Sprite.  These include not only things like the cherry and vanilla flavours that we are familiar with, but also raspberry, orange and many other options.  Personally, I still like plain and simple Coke.

But it isn't all just about trying the drinks here.  There is a lot of memorabilia and old merchandising on display, you can have your photo taken with the Coke polar bear, and you can see the bottling process at work.  They also let you in to see the very secure vault where the secret recipe for coke is safely locked away.

This is never going to be the most intellectual of museums, or the most varied, but it was all a bit of fun, and the tasting of the different drinks sold on the different continents was interesting.  And I rather liked the huge decorated coke bottles that are dotted around the place.

You can certainly drink your fill of Coke and other products while you are there if you wish, and at the end you get a little bottle of Coca-Cola to take away too.