From the port where enslaved Africans entered America to the home where Medgar Evers was murdered, a new guidebook helps readers explore for themselves the history, the landmarks and the watershed moments of the Black American struggle for equality and justice.
In “Moon U.S. Civil Rights Trail: A Traveler’s Guide to the People, Places and Events that Made the Movement,” author Deborah D. Douglas explores destinations like Selma, Alabama, and Memphis, Tennessee — with historical background, itineraries and maps to help the traveler trace the steps of the heroes of the civil rights movement — and understand the agonies that befell them and the triumphs they achieved.
“Exploring the civil rights trail is a way of linking our lived experience to a time when Black Americans became united, committed and stronger,” Douglas says in the book’s preface.
Its release comes as the U.S. undergoes a reckoning on racial injustice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd last May in Minneapolis.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Douglas said when the opportunity to travel the trail presented itself, she took it.
The U.S. Civil Rights Trail is a collection of churches, schools, museums and other landmarks in the South where activists challenged segregation in the 1950s and 1960s to advance social justice, according to its website. The trail, announced in 2018, encompasses more than 100 surviving landmarks where major events of the civil rights movement occurred across 15 states.
Douglas’ book primarily details sites in the South — North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“The trail is vast,” Douglas said. “It goes as far east as Wilmington, Delaware to as far west as Kansas and south into Louisiana and Florida.”
“We are literally surrounded by greatness and don’t even know it,” she continued. “So many of the places I visited in writing this book are part of the daily fabric of our lives, but we miss opportunities to engage with them from the viewpoint of greatness they represent.”
She said her book, released in January, is not only a “basic guidebook … it’s also a history book, a civics book, a road map for activism and engagement with the Democratic experience.”
There are snippets of information on some of the people who made the movement in each city she touches. In Charleston, South Carolina, for example, Douglas mentions Denmark Vesey, who bought his freedom using Charleston lottery winnings and in 1816 helped found Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal, the church where nine Black parishioners were shot and killed by a white supremacist nearly 200 years later. And in Atlanta, she highlights the Rev. Martin Luther King and U.S. Rep. John Lewis.
Douglas said the trail helps people to understand what “righteous people” are fighting for.
“When essential workers invoked living wage issues as a result of the pandemic, it goes back to the same issues that Dr. King was focusing on back in the day,” she said. “We are very much implicated in the things now that were happening 50, 60 years ago,” she said.
Douglas said she hopes readers will embrace the guidebook by incorporating some of the itineraries created for each city and physically visit the historic sites listed – like the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Historic District. She hopes they’ll also get to know the voices, the stories and the culture that shape and celebrate the Black American experience in each city.
The book includes restaurant suggestions and music playlists that include modern classics like Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam,” which bewails the racially motivated killings of Emmett Till — a Black teenager lynched by a white mob in 1955 — and civil rights activist Medgar Evers, slain in the driveway of his Jackson home.
An award-winning journalist, Douglas also has served as the Eugene S. Pulliam distinguished visiting professor of journalism at DePauw University. She was managing editor of MLK50: Justice Trough Journalism and is currently a senior leader of The OpEd Project, a global initiative to amplify underrepresented voices.
“I tell you when to go, where to shop, where to hang out and, especially, where to eat,” she said, laughing, referring to her guidebook. “In the later chapters, I built timelines to tell you about the civil rights movement into 2020. It’s a book about the past, but it’s also all about now.”
Kabria Baumgartner, an associate professor of American studies and English at the University of New Hampshire, said the book is very timely.
“Amid the wave of Black Lives Matter protests, more people seem to be visiting historic areas and sites that chronicle the history of racial justice movements in the United States,” she said in an emailed statement. “Once the pandemic subsides, we’ll need to deal with our collective trauma in order to heal from it. In some ways, the U.S. Civil Rights Trail can help guide us, literally and figuratively, and push us along. ”