Monday, April 30, 2018

Day 6: Montgomery to E-ville plus Observations

Day 6: Montgomery AL to E-Ville

THB top 10 on Racial Violence Book Of the Day:  Another Day in America, A Chronicle of 10 Short Lives, Gary Younge

Weather: Very pleasant on the way to Atlanta and perfect in E-ville, cool and not too much wind

Department of Corrections: The docent leader in Nashville is Brian, not Ryan

Up early, workout in the fitness center and rather than going to Café Louisa for day-old pastries we dine for free at the Hampton Inn; cereal, bananas, we share bacon and cream cheese on a toasted bagel. Hampton Inn was $250/night + $12 valet parking (not quite the $38/night for valet in Cincinnati and Nashville)
Our "space" for 12 houts
Off to Atlanta, easy sailing to the rental car return ($500 for the week which includes a $200 drop off fee), a huge back-up at TSA Pre line (enough that they take our entire line and route us to another fast flowing lane) and we are at the “international” terminal which is just another stop on the tram with flights arriving or leaving for overseas destinations. Our Delta flight is a continuation from Columbia.

Lunch at Ecco of Paninis, ice tea, potato chips, $47 (they auto-include a tip of 18%). It’s okay, nothing special except it is nice and quiet and out of the hubbub of the food court. Our seats on Delta are “comfort” and the two right next to the exit door and right behind the restroom. We do have a lot of leg room. Downside: the seats are pretty cold from being near the exit door.

Back in E-ville where the Uber driver informs us that the Bay Bridge is all backed up (no surprise, the Bridge is always backed up going to the East Bay) so he takes us over the San Mateo Bridge; traffic flows the whole way, THB is guessing it isn’t really any faster and Uber doesn’t care because they charge ahead of time and driver is free to take whatever route he/she so desires.

Okay, on to the meat of this post, the observations!


1.      The South: People seemed very friendly, nobody asked me about THB about his “Let America Vote” hat, hardly saw anyone smoking, most everybody called us Sir and Ma’am, the folks we ran into were either white or black (as best we could tell) and very few Asians, we couldn’t tell if there was anyone carrying a concealed weapon, we were able to have several frank conversations about race relations, in Montgomery the staffs and customers of restaurants and concert goers were definitely integrated.

2.      THB and DB really packed a lot into two weeks. Oh, wait, we were really only gone 6 days. The 21C visits were intense cram-sessions on contemporary art. We ate dinner one night starting at 8pm (Day 1), and two other nights we were out late (for us) at concerts (Days 3 and 4). The only down time was between symposium sessions and Day 5 when we intentionally kept time open to save lots of room for visits to the memorial and the museum. We had 12 hours of driving spread over the 6 days and listened to podcasts (several Desert Island Disks, Ezra Klein interviewing Cory Booker, several Freakonomics, maybe a This American Life). How crammed was it? THB didn’t read more than a page of two of the book started on the plane to Cincinnati, no TV, no ballgames. Art and Social Justice every day, all day.

Kimberly Frost, photographer, Thea Duskin, tattoo artist (one of the THB's faithful followers found the attribution!)

3.      The National Memorial of Peace and Justice: Okay, THB gets the Justice part of it, not so sure about the Peace portion. There’s a lot in the press about the Memorial. For the most part it is pretty typical stuff: the Memorial is in your face on the total extent of lynching; THB thinks EJI would say they have barely scraped the surface given the trauma rippling through 150 years of racial disparity and the outright hatred, intimidation, the enforcement of economic advantage and the total demeaning by one group of people with a different skin color than the ones being demeaned. There’s a whole ‘nother story of wealthy whites manipulating poor whites to do this work for them, not emphasized at the Memorial or the Legacy Museum.

THB has visited a number of famous memorials (e.g., Maya Lin’s on the movement for Civil Rights) and has thought about what makes a memorial more or less successful, more powerful, more like strong art. It’s a juxtaposition of the concept (as opposed to just putting up a plaque and you read the story) of how to represent the group being memorialized and the “construction” as art. So, for example, does the concept of the rusting boxes as representing lynchings around the country over a long period of time succeed? Does it make you think about the number of people who were beaten and lynched? Does it honor them? Did the duplication of the boxes and displaying them as if they were coffins evoke a sense of “something is yet to come” in terms of coming to grips with the past?

There’s no doubt about that. The Memorial is conceptually powerful and extremely well-constructed. THB and DB were primed, having seen a number of videos families coming to grips with an ancestor (or more than one!) being lynched and how traumatic and cathartic the concept of memorializing their dead relatives was for them personally. We didn’t have to use our imagination to understand the potency of the story finally being told.

And the construction: the memorial is very large, the uneven levels of the bottom of the boxes in relationship to the visitors is very unusual and helpful to keeping the visitor alert to what’s going on, the “yard” of extra boxes gives a much different view (the context shifts from the standing “bodies” of the dead to a context of which of the counties have not yet claimed their boxes). Being in the shade/covered as you tour the hanging boxes is critical given the local weather. It’s possible the fountain is also a device for cooling visitors.

In this case, after reflection, what was noticeable to THB was that some elements of the Memorial actually detracted from the concept, being too obvious or “preachy”…for example, THB would have eliminated the sculptures on the outskirts of the Memorial of figures at the beginning and end, got rid of the glass vitrine of dirt collected from lynching sites, and even considering eliminating the fountain covering one entire wall. On other hand, THB loved the small signs stating the “reasons” for an individual’s lynching, right up to the 1940s and exercising their right to vote. Aside: Let America Vote exists because the white power structure is still trying to “lynch” blacks in the South who try to get out the vote, except this time the Republican power structure is doing it “legitimately” through creating voter ID hurdles and extreme gerrymandering…it sure looks like one’s skin color dictates who is doing the exclusion and who is the excluded.

Also, the Raise Up piece by Hank Willis Thomas seems very much to the concept of the dead finally coming back now that they have been acknowledged. Fits well with the theme of the boxes representing coffins.

It’s noteworthy that there is no mention of the architects of the Memorial. That’s because it appears EJI did the design pretty much in-house, using an architecture firm in a supporting role.  That’s a major accomplishment for a law firm.

Here's a link to the Equal Justice Initiative site, worth a visit.

4.      The Legacy Museum: the first impression is that there were lots of people inside. The tickets were timed, and it is easy to spend an hour or more wandering the various exhibits, so it can get congested (especially towards the front of the museum). Everything is self-initiated, there are no “guides” discussing the exhibits. Of course, it is also very depressing, what was done to blacks to keep them downtrodden, seen as property rather than as humans with equal rights. And, for THB, on overload after the memorial, the butt brush factor and density of material dampened the emotional impact of the museum. It would be better to see the museum when the crowds are gone (actually, true for just about any museum). And, the museum is covering a much larger theme than the Memorial, so far more exhibits (in a much smaller space) makes sense.

5.    The EJI meta-message: The impact of slavery is still being felt today. The Legacy Museum is a testimony to the continuum of what hatred and greed will do, especially when propagated under the guise of racism. The symposium sessions were all about the “this happened” and now we are all paying a price to correct the injustices of the past.

So, here’s the connection to the “Peace” in the National Memorial of Peace and Justice. You can’t correct the past with more hatred. You have to find ways to change behaviors that don’t include mass incarceration (creates more problems down the line), disenfranchisement doesn’t work, shooting innocent people doesn’t work. Civil rights are for everyone, not just the lucky ones born with the right skin color of parents who are well off enough to break the cycle of poverty. How to get there? It better be through peaceful means or you won’t ever get there.

That’s what THB thinks the EJI meta-message is: hope and love and determination are needed to correct injustice. Oh, and full participation of all of us in recognizing the problem and contributing to the solution. THB goes "preachy" too. 

6.  The 21C Museums: So much quality displayed in different style spaces. THB has already said it: these exhibits are near the top of the contemporary art world, competing with the top museums in the world (though on a much smaller scale and what seems a much smaller budget).

Day 5: Montgomery AL

Day 5: Montgomery AL

THB top 20 Book of the Day: Ghettoside, A True Story of Murder in America, Jill Leovy. A very good explanation of why minorities have such a tough relationship with local police

Weather: Gorgeous in early morning, then toasty as the day warmed up into the low 80s

D'Road Cafe


Crazy eggs (note ketchup, mustard and mayo on top) and an arepa

Breakfast at D’Road Cafe, Sarah’s tip. Must be a good one because when we arrive a little after 8am, Sarah is eating at a table with two other friends. She’s thrilled we showed up and brought out Janet, a Venezuelan, to meet us. Hugs all around.

And, the food is pretty good! THB has “crazy” eggs (over easy on top of spinach and a bit of cheese and very thin slices of ham) and DB has eggs and brisket and black beans, accompanied by small thin rolls (arepas) and coffee with hot milk (no decaf, of course). We chat up the waiter, he’s from Montgomery and used to work for D’Road before moving and becoming a waiter at an Italian chain restaurant in Birmingham. Janet had called him to work this weekend so he is living with his mom for a few days while helping out (remember that private event at lunch yesterday?).

The "sweet" spot for a photo op; mother and daughter

Now for the big event: we visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, aka the Lynching Memorial, a very short walk from downtown (actually, so short it is in downtown). It’s big and powerful. with hanging, rusting steel rectangular boxes for almost every county where a lynching (or many lynchings) occurred. And a “yard” of duplicate boxes for the counties to reclaim and build their own memorial. Means that if you visit years from now and the duplicate is still there in the yard that the county did not claim it. Many of these boxes are from counties in the South. Over/under on the number claimed by 2023?

Sculpture by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, concrete

Life-size, fierce, the first up-close thing a visitor sees

On the wall opposite the sculpture are a series of "stories" of the beginning of the slave trade

The view as you turn towards the memorial after reading the stories
Examples of the hanging boxes. Needless to say, this strongly evokes the sense of walking among  hanging bodies

Each box has the county at the top and the names and dates of the lynched

There is a catchall box for states with a few lynchings (e.g., two in California, one in Minnesota, etc.)

Note the floor has dropped under the boxes, forcing the visitor to note even more the "hangings" and the bottoms of the boxes are also etched with the name of the county

More pics as we walk the circumference:

The view from one inside corner across the inner courtyard looking outward

"Reasons"...posted on an interior wall in no relationship to the boxes nearby, and very potent as we walk underneath the boxes

The last wall was a huge cascading fountain (soft sounds)

In the museum are jars and jars filled with dirt (by relatives of the lynched) from the lynching sites.

From the inside looking out

From the outside looking up

The "dupe" boxes, now looking just like coffins from a mass execution or natural disaster

For the most part in alphabetical order by state with some Southern states having many many boxes (i.e., counties in which one or more lynchings took place)

The only box with any adornment added by a visitor

A few states are represented entirely by just one box:

At the very end a box for multiple states

Another small sculpture as you on your way to the exit; it is by Dana King, a Bay Area artist (and ex-TV newscaster)  

By Hank Willis Thomas, "Raise Up"

THB and DB saw a knock-off of this work in the 21C Nashville. DB remembers the piece and believes it is by the same guy and Brian, the docent at 21C confirmed

The Nashville 21C version

Poem read by Elizabeth Alexander at the Opening Ceremony

Restrooms discreetly tucked away in a far corner of the memorial

It’s a short walk back to the hotel, a few minutes to help digest the memorial, and then on to the Legacy Museum, located directly behind the Hampton Inn. 

They do not allow pics inside the museum, so there is nothing here to help break up the blog text. The museum is dense with material (and people): the history of slavery and the slave trade (especially locally, where the EJI's headquarters are co-located with the slave warehouses), lots of interactive slides (where we learn that there were two lynchings in California, both in Kern County), about 100 jars of dirt collected from the sites of lynchings, several videos (some shown at the symposium), and personalized videos by current inmates of their treatment by the Alabama prison system (you lift up a phone and the video starts with the inmate talking to you).

A pic of a postcard of the jars of dirt collected by relatives from lynching sites 

Everything is self-initiated, there are no “guides” discussing the exhibits. For THB, on overload after the memorial, the butt brush factor and density of material dampened the emotional impact of the museum. 

A chain that believes in leaving no wall space uncovered (with kitsch); DB gets an fresh shucked oyster on the way to our table

Even for THB it is a lot of "grits" (aka, polenta)

For lunch, we decide on something easy: Winztler’s Oyster house across the street from the hotel. Shrimp and grits for THB, shrimp salad for DB, two Arnold Palmers, $44.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh, time to rest up a bit, get some more blogging done for THB, and stay out of the hot sun for a while. Around 3 we go across the street to the Kress building to see the show in the gallery in the lobby. Nothing can top the level of the 21C museums; this show is a mix of media and artists that DB recognizes.

Theme of the show

Sydney A. Foster

Outside art by Bill Traylor, rediscovered after many years of obscurity

Painted 1939 - 42

Thornton Dial Sr, from 2002; thick application

Our just opened coffee stop of yesterday, today they have a paper sign

And pastries!! We have an early dinner, so skip tasting

More rest, then off in the car (really, our first car tourist driving of the trip) to tour the upscale neighbor near where we’re having dinner, at Vintage Year. For a mile or two to the north and east, we drive through nice neighborhoods. 

One self-proclaimed “Gorgeous” house on a corner was for sale: $540K for almost 5K square feet on a large lot. You can live large if you wanna sell off that over-priced dump you’re living in now. However, you’ll really be in a small enclave; the rest of the area around Montgomery is not that nice, and summer can be brutally hot and humid.

It's a choice: dine outside in pleasant high 70s temps and the street noise or in the a/c mid 60s with plenty of noise. We dine or is full of small insignificant choices

The food at Vintage Year is very good (sorry, no pics, THB is pic'd out): we each have the house salad and DB has crab cakes and Brussel sprout appetizers for her main course and THB has perfectly grilled red grouper on a Cajun seafood stew with a scoop of dirty rice; with a glass of wine, a drink and a local brewski. The service is erratic (e.g., the salads arrive before the drinks, the promised hot bread comes well after several unprompted promises that it is on the way). Total with tip: $131.

Another life choice: chocolate turns out to be a winner

Dessert is a shared scoop of chocolate gelato at Café Louisa, a few doors down from the restaurant. Turns out Louisa sources the gelato from New York. Nice and dense in flavor and color, $4.

A guy in the Hampton Inn elevator; he has come back to see his favorite AA team, the Montgomery Biscuits

At 8:53, loud booms outside the hotel. Turns out to be fireworks night at the Montgomery Biscuits (AA) ballpark, two blocks away. We've got great seats for the show, lasts around 10 minutes.  We noticed a number of fans are staying at the Hampton Inn, traveling to see a minor league game. Just think if THB wanted to set a goal of seeing a game at every minor league park. Those twins would be teenagers by the time they saw him during the summer. Oh, wait, maybe the twins can come along!!

Shots from around town:

Better pic of pizza dinner spot from last night

Another building dedicated to Rosa Parks
One of two universities in downtown Montgomery
Based on the number of buildings, the state of Alabama is the #1 employer in town; this is one of the smaller buildings, others are huge with adjacent multi-level parking garages 

Jefferson Davis on the state capitol steps

A giant statue on the side of the capitol in honor of those who fought in the Civil War

Part of the large statue 

Note the state flag on this honorarium to the parking lot where blacks organized rides during the Montgomery bus boycott (which went on for over a year)