I have a love-hate relationship with Montgomery and with all of the deep south. Kathy and I love the warm hospitality here. Everyone is polite, friendly and helpful. I love being called ma’am and asked how ya’ll doing. Its wonderful to see black folks everywhere …being greeted with love, holding conversations in stores and while walking, feeling connected and a sense of belonging. I love the moss covered trees, the slower pace and the architecture. Not a day has gone by when we haven’t said “I LOVE MONTGOMERY!”
And yet…we are squarely in Trump-Pence country, confederate flags fly unabashedly, the streets, monuments and buildings are frequently named for the racist heroes of “Dixie”. There are reasons black folks left the south in droves during the great migration. My own father left the south ahead of a lynch mob and never returned.
Still, Montgomery is the birthplace of the civil rights movement. Black folks are working everywhere; holding office and I believe for the most part it’s a great city to be in. This is not the south of my father but there is still much that needs changing .
While BOLT has been here, enjoying the beauty and hospitality of Montgomery, we also have had some great opportunities to explore, witness and to serve. We visited the offices of the Equal Justice Initiative where the dark legacy of terror and lynching is being documented. I was deeply moved by their ongoing project of soil collection from the over 4000 lynching sites.
We attended a vigil for the pending execution of Thomas Arthur where we read the over 200 names of people put to death by the state in the last 40 years.
There are only 5 clinics in the state where women can safely exercise their right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. We visited one of those clinics and were honored to serve as escorts. We were called sodomites, murderers and hell bound sinners. The protester’s words had little effect on me but I can only imagine the lasting harm done to the young women, seeking services, on a difficult and painful day.
So, yes, southern hospitality is real. So are bigotry , injustice, sexism, racism and homophobia. I don’t think I need to remind you that these things are not limited to the south. Being here, after a year in Asia, has reinforced for me the realities of being black, woman and lesbian in the United States of America. My sense of purpose and hope have been increased , as well as my deep and abiding love for my people. Benice Johnson Reagon says it best “We who believe in freedom can not rest!”.