Last month, two friends and I took a road trip to Montgomery, Alabama.
Our intent was not simply to eat, drink, and be merry, though we did manage to fit those things in as well. Our main purpose was to fill in some gaps in our knowledge of American history. We’d centered this particular trip around hitting some of the historical stops along the Civil Rights Trail.
I’ve always enjoyed seeing locations I’d previously only read about in books. Inevitably, I come away with lessons that only experience can bring. It’s why I so often read where I travel and travel where I’ve read. The realtime learning cycle makes eureka moments nearly inevitable.
On this trip, my keenest realization came not from anything I read in the museums or saw at the memorials. It arose from a deep sense of place.
The evening we arrived in Montgomery, we walked down to the waterfront. On our way back up Commerce Street, I had the first inkling of what was to become my major takeaway.
You don’t need a tour guide to tell you that the city of Montgomery had originally been centered around a single focal point.
As it appears today, the intersection presents as a wide, innocuous traffic circle with a fountain in the center. The night we first approached, it was relatively free of traffic. Quiet and peaceful.
Historically, Market Square was home to Montgomery’s thriving slave market.
This was once the nexus of the city, and when standing in its center, you’re afforded a clear line of sight down Commerce Street to the waterfront, where still rest the crumbling foundations of city’s enormous cotton slide. Pivoting only slightly grants a view up Dexter Avenue to the state Capitol Building at the top of a hill, looming over all.
Standing there in Market Square, I felt the wheel of history slowly swing around us. Laws and regulations handed down from the capitol, goods and slaves streaming up from the waterfront, cotton flowing down the slide.
Though America’s chattel slavery system has been dismantled, Montgomery’s original design still clearly reflects its legacy.
These things weren’t done in a corner, in Montgomery and beyond. The slavery system wasn’t a footnote. It was a focal point.
I know I promised you a summer blog series, and here we are at the end of August. It’s not that I forgot. It’s just that my summer took some unexpected turns and disrupted my best-laid plans.
You know how life does.
But look! We’re all still here, and I’m just as happy with the prospect of a fall series as a summer one. My current schedule is much more coherent than my summer one was, and I look forward to leveraging that cohesiveness for our mutual advantage.
Catch you on the flippity flip!