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.

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