A tour of Alabama’s Civil Rights history

In the Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL. Each steel memorial lists names of people who were lynched, organized by state and county.

We were visiting Pat’s brother in Tennessee last week as part of a Habitat for Humanity project and decided to extend our trip to see some of the historic sites of the American Civil Rights movement in neighboring Alabama.

Our guide was a relatively new, interactive website, the Civil Rights Trail. If you go to that site — https://civilrightstrail.com— you can click on individual states and key Civil Rights

cities in the south.  

Because we were visiting in Knoxville, and our time was limited, we selected the closest and most-compelling sites just below the border in Alabama. We spent a day in Birmingham, traveled through Selma to Montgomery, and then spent two days in Montgomery before flying home via Atlanta (which has its own significant history from the Civil Rights period.)

Although Birmingham and Montgomery are about the same size, they are very different cities. Birmingham wasn’t founded until after the Civil War, and it became a powerhouse of railroading, mining and industry. It had a strong African-American middle class, and the downtown area still includes the parts of town where African Americans lived – separate and unequal – before the riots and bombings of the 1960’s.

The First Baptist Church in Montgomery, where Civil Rights Leader Ralph Abernathy was preacher.

Our first stop was the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which tells the story of the city and its residents’ long period of dealing with racial segregation. Directly across the street is the 16thStreet Baptist Church, where four little girls were killed in a 1963 bombing.

And just across 16thStreet is Kelly Ingram Park, where Police Commissioner Bull Connor use dogs and firehouses on protesters — and which now contains interpretive sites about the movement. Unfortunately, it was difficult to focus on the history here because of the number of folks who approached us soliciting money for gas, or food, or to help a charity.  We escaped to follow the path of the march from the church to the City Hall where Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the famous letter to the Birmingham jail.

Pat is about to walk across the Edmond Pettus Bridge, beginning spot for the march from Selma to Montgomery.

We drove on to Selma, about two hours away, and Pat walked across the Edmond Pettus Bridge, scene of the 1965 Bloody Sunday riots, where

marchers for voting rights began their four-day trek to the Capitol in Montgomery 50 miles away.  On the route to Montgomery we passed markers indicating the sights where marchers camped.

Montgomery houses the state capitol and an impressive array of government buildings. Much older than Birmingham, Montgomery was a major port during the slave trade, rivaling Charleston, S.C. as an importer of African slaves. The downtown area contains the sites of at least four slave markets from the period.

Montgomery is well-known as the home of Rosa Parks and the bus boycott which led to integration of Montgomery’s transit system. It was also a scene of the 1960’s freedom riders, who were attempting to integrate the interstate bus

The Dexter Street King Memorial Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor from 1954-60.

system. We visited the Dexter Street Baptist Church where Dr. King was pastor from 1954-1960, and a tour of the church includes the office where Dr. King helped plan the bus boycott. The Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s First Baptist Church is a short ride away.

But the amazing addition to Montgomery – at least for Pat and me – was the new Monument for Peace and Justice – the so-called “lynching museum,” a sobering reminder of the terror imposed on black people well into the 20thCentury.

The monument includes what are essentially tombstones – organized by county and state – representing the thousands who were lynched for crimes such as attempting to register to vote. Each county is invited to claim their monument in an attempt to keep the legacy of this terrible time alive

Jars containing earth from the site of lynchings throughout the south

throughout the south. One particularly sobering display includes jars of earth taken from each of lynching sites throughout the south.

The Legacy Museum, associated with the Peace and Justice Memorial, tells much of the history of slavery, of the many Supreme Court decisions that kept it in place, and of the various kinds of suffering imposed in the Jim Crow South. It is a project of the Equal Justice Initiative, founded by Bryan Stevenson, whose book,Just Mercy, tells his own story about becoming a lawyer dedicated to freeing many wrongly imprisoned men and women – still part of the continuing history of unequal treatment and discrimination.

This trip was a powerful sobering experience and a reminder that grave human injustice is a part of our history and continues today.




We found sunshine in Homer….

Ever the optimists with hopes of improved weather we braced ourselves, donned our rain gear and joined the Kenai Fjords boat excursion into the Kenai Fjords National Park. My friend and travel mate, is a collector of National Parks, having visited many of the parks in the lower 48 she was pleased to learn that she could add three more to her list from our Alaskan Adventure.

Aialik Glacier

Besides rain, very large waves and a few green fellow travelers we saw wildlife, sea otters, sea lions, cormorants, bald eagles and even a gray whale.  But the real prize was sailing very close to the face of the Aialik Glacier.  This is one of many glaciers in the park not to mention the many more sprinkled liberally throughout Alaska.  The sheer size and scale of this glacier was amazing but the sound of it calving into the water was even more so.  We could hear the sound a bit before we saw the ice crashes.

The sun does shine in Alaska, just not very often.  As we traveled from Seward to Homer the sun broke through with promise of a couple clear days ahead.

What to do when the sun shines in Alaska?…..have another Alaskan adventure to see what is around the next corner.  It was a sign that said “See Bears Today”.

Bears on the Beach

An hour flight across Cook Inlet on a six seat airplane and a pilot who looked all of 16 had us landing on the beach in Lake Clark NP inhabited mostly by bears.  From the air we saw bears in the water fishing prior to our beach landing. Another sandy take off and landing put us in clear sight of a bear lumbering down the beach toward us….. we waited…..after walking quite close to us, he must have thought better and skirted inland for several yards before joining the beach just beyond us.  We were told that these bears have plenty to eat on the island, are not hunted here and therefore do not feel threatened by humans.  We did take precautions to stay in groups of three or more because a group of three looks bigger than a bear.


In Homer a wonderful sunny warm day trip on the Danny J to Halibut Cove topped off our trip and my birthday.


End-Of-The-Road Adventures

A long day on the road from Denali to Seward yesterday, luckily the rain let up a bit and we were able to enjoy the beautiful Alaskan countryside.  We were treated by a black bear scooting across the street in front of our car. Where is my camera when I need it most?

The Seward hotel has the most interesting lobby where we are greeted by a menagerie of stuffed Alaska animals.  One of my favorites….

Bums Rush

Ten foot waves and the warning of seasickness scared us away from our Kenaii Fiords trip today.  We will try again tomorrow.

Alternatively we explored a bit more of Alaska.

The Sea Life Center of Seward was quite a find and proved to be a respite from the bad weather.  (up close and personal with a local puffin)

Up Close and Personal with a Puffin




Miller Landing is at the end of the road just outside Seward.  This multi-purpose business includes boat launch, fishing excursions, campground, boat repair, kayak rental and restaurant, all with a fish cleaning tables for locals to prepare their catch.  (Kayak rentals at the end-of-the-road)

Kayak rentals at the end-of-the-road.


A hike to Exit Glacier which comes off of the Harding Icefield was the highlight of our day.  As we hiked we noticed sign markers 1817-2010.  These indicated the year and location of the glacier and provided an idea of glacier movement as it has receded over time.


End-of-the-road next stop Harding Icefield

It was a treat to peek around every corner for a closer and better view of the vast blue and white ice.  The sun even tried to come out.



Backcountry Alaska

Georgeanne and I have spent the last two days exploring a very small portion of Alaska backcountry. Wow this state is vast!
We drove from Anchorage to Denali with a stop at Talkeetna, a small Alaska town. Not surprising, it was raining so we explored the town museum and had lunch at West Rib Cafe & Pub. We learned that Talkeetna is the place from which climbers embark who are trying to ascend Denali. They fly from the local grass air strip in town to basecamp in order to get aclaimaited for an average of 21 day trek to the top without oxygen. Not for the faint hearted and more than 40% of the attempts end in failure.

A long day touring Denali park and preserve was informative and delightful. We learned about the history of the six million acre park, the influence of mining and some lore about local pioneers. It was full of surprises the first one being that we didn’t see the tallest mountain in the US. The adventure of visiting Denali park was well worth the trip. On our soggy day tour, we traveled 92 miles to the end-of-the-road on a 12 hour bus excursion.
We traveled on the only road with park access with a local sponsored bus tour not private vehicle (which aren’t allowed past mile 15). Complimentary bus transportation is available from the visitor center. The take away was that this park is vast and remote. Every effort has been made to protect a complete ecosystem.  We saw, bear, caribou, mountain goat and moose. And we leave with a new sense of understanding of what a treasure our national parks are.

Thelma and Louise are on the road again

Wow, this has been a year for travel.  A trip to France, England, Knoxville, Tennessee and Cuba all in one year. David and I are taking the advice of our financial adviser to travel while we are still healthy.   And …as a friend says “tell the kids, the last check is going to bounce”

So having never been to Alaska, I am embarking on an Alaska adventure with my longest and dearest friend Georgeanne Brown.  Georgeanne has been celebrating

Georgeanne in the Grand Canyon

her 80thbirthday for two years and as the January date actually comes closer, we decided that one more road trip was in our future. This is my “on the road” friend who loves to drive and with whom I have taken many trips.  We met in 1978 when we had both moved to the northwest and ended up teaching at the same school in Everett.  Through her divorce, our swinging single years and my having a child at 38 we have been each other’s rock.  Oh the stories I could tell…..

With many road trips in our past we move through the next 10 days with a sense of adventure in our hearts and knowing that the creaky joints and aches and pains of aging will visit us along the way.

We will begin in Anchorage for one night, pick up a rental car and head to Denali for two days. Following that, we have plans to drive down to Seward and the Kenaii peninsula where we will take an excursion into the Kenaii fiords.  We have hopes of getting close to some glaciers, if they haven’t all melted.  Then on to Homer for a couple more days to soak up the local Alaskan culture.  Back to Anchorage for a short tour before heading home.

Georgeanne is a birder so I presume I will be learning the names of certain terns, gulls etc.  We will take our walking sticks for some light hiking.


But most of all we know we will enjoy; nature rain or shine, each other’s company, and the opportunity to be able to take this one more trip.




Taking the family to France: Pat’s top five tips

Collioure and its harbor from the hills above the city.

Pat and I have wanted for quite a while to take our adult kids and granddaughter on a trip somewhere exotic.

For many years, Pat and her brother and sister and our families got together for a week each summer, and our kids – who are more or less only children — have very good memories of being with their cousins. This practice has fallen off a little now that the cousins are all grown and several have families of their own. It is difficult now to find a town with zoning laws liberal enough to accommodate our entire group.

Market day in Collioure: Sunday and Wednesday

And, of course, most people of our generation have memories – good and bad – of road trips with our parents when we were growing up.

So, in this milieu, we had been talking about getting our small family group together. (Two adult children, their partners and our granddaughter) The planning took more than a year.

We started out narrowing the choice of locations. France emerged in part because we wanted a place that was interesting enough that the kids would want to go. It was a draw because Kara’s boyfriend, Georges, is fluent in French, and Charlie likes to practice his.

Another priority was to find a place near the water. Charlie’s girlfriend, Genevieve, is highly motivated by Mediterranean beaches, and Amelia also is a beach fan.

I like places with a little history and culture, and Pat enjoys small towns and local markets.

Our group at dinner

So the product of this search was a house in Collioure, in the French region of Languedoc-Roussillon, just north of the Spanish border and the city of Barcelona.

Collioure is beautiful and meets all the criteria: It is on the beach, has a history that dates to the Greeks, Romans and Visigoths, with an interesting 14thCentury castle, a couple of art galleries, a great farmers’ market, and lots of seafood restaurants. But it is a little out of the way, and the logistics were complicated.

Georges, Kara and Amelia came via Geneva and a few days’ drive while stopping off in the chateau area of France. They are flying out of Barcelona.

Charlie and Genevieve flew non-stop to Barcelona from New York. Easy.

Pat and I were in London for a couple of days to visit family and then flew to Carcassonne, which is about two hours away. (Ryanair is cheap, but we paid a little extra for a ticket that allows you to pick your seat and carry a bag.)

Getting ready for dinner. The view is from our deck.

The result has been a really great week. There were several trips to the beach and local farmer’s markets, significant time by the pool, extra trips to the wine store, a couple of hikes, great group meals. All of this has produced Patty Moriarty’s top five rules for traveling with your family:

1) Consider individual interests and choose a place that has a little something for everyone: beaches, hikes, restaurants, galleries, etc.

2) Together time isn’t always the answer.  Don’t plan to spend every minute together or plan too many activities for the whole group. Encourage the kids to get away by themselves without you — even if they talk about you when you aren’t there.

3) Plan transportation options ahead of time. Is there easy access to nearby shopping and town? If cars are necessary, have enough cars to allow for independent excursions.

Pat, Georges and Kara at the beach.

4) Consider the size of the house and the layout.   People may have a variety of sleep schedules especially if they are jet-lagged.  Enough bedrooms so everyone can be alone if they need to.  Don’t make anyone sleep on the couch in the living room. It is always nice to have a game room or swimming pool.

5) Come together at the end of the day for a group meal.   Make use of culinary talents of the group by sharing the cooking and shopping duties.

I don’t guarantee that following these rules will ensure a successful family trip. Maybe you have family members who are incompatible after a few days. But we offer them in case they can be of help.

For us, there are preliminary discussions of another family trip. And, by coincidence, we are scheduled to share a house together in Tennessee next month to celebrate Pat’s brother’s 70thbirthday. So far, no one has backed out.

Genevieve and Charlie at dinner.

Amelia with the harbor in the background.


Walking the South Downs Way, when we could find it.

Walking near Alfriston in Sussex, Southeast England

There is a great walking tradition in England that dates to the Romantic period but which really got its start when people moved en masse to big, crowded cities like Liverpool and Manchester during the industrial period. In the 20thCentury, before and after World War II, Parliament passed laws protecting public rights of way across private lands to ensure access to the countryside.

This House, on the Main street in Alfriston, dates to the 14th Century.

A few years years ago, Pat went on a series of walks through the English Cotswolds with women from her book group. She has been wanting to do that again, so as part of a more extensive trip this summer, we included a few days in Sussex, in southeast England to walk in the South Downs National Park.

Our home base in Sussex was a beautiful old town, Alfriston, which dates to the 14thCentury. There is an old priory, church and several houses and pubs, all with some part of their buildings that began in the 14thCentury.  Alfriston is a classic English village. It is one-street deep, and there has been a local conflict about whether to allow a stop light in town.   The traffic police are losing the battle, and traffic seems to back up daily at one pinch point where the road is only one-and-a-half cars wide.

Walking through wheat fields to Berwick.

We only had two days for long walks, and the first day took us to the nearby town of Berwick, which has its own 12thCentury church. The Berwick church – St. Michael’s and All Angels — was kind of adopted by the Virginia Woolf-Bloomsbury group, which maintained a home nearby, and the church is richly illustrated inside with post-impressionist-like murals by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, Woolf’s sister.

We walked from Alfriston to Berwick, trying to walk along the South Downs Way, which is marked (occasionally) on 4-by-4 posts with little arrows. The English may be devoted to protecting the public rights of way and all that, but the signage could use some improvement. We were able to find our way to Berwick, along to so-called “Vanguard

Decorations on the walls of the church in Berwick.

Way,” and then ended up bumming a ride part-way home.

On the second day, we walked again along the South Downs Way – when we found it – along the southeast coast, with its massive and abrupt chalk cliffs. (The natives say they are whiter than the white cliffs of Dover.) After a good few hours of walking, from Eastborne, via Beachy Head to Birling Gap, we had been advised to end our walk at the Tiger Inn. Pretty tired by then, we headed up a path in hopes of a refreshing pint, we walked and up, and up and up for at least a

On the South Downs Way near Beachy Head.

mile before finally reaching the Tiger in the little town of East Dean. All told, this was probably only seven miles or so, or 15,000 steps on Pat’s Fitbit, but it certainly was sufficient. This place is hilly.

We go on from here to meet the family in Southern France, in the little town of Collioure, just north of the Spanish border on the Mediterranean.

Whiter than Dover?