Six, Eight, Ten

Jeffrey here.  In two weeks of pedaling, we covered 635 miles from Indiana to Louisiana.  We added the five states (at left) to bring our Ride total to 37 (at right).

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I awoke this morning in a 19th century Airbnb house in Huntsville, Alabama.  Owner Jeanie helped with a special rate for the Ride. 

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At 6 AM on Thursdays, moviemaker David attends a Bible discussion session in Huntsville.  The group graciously allowed me to join them, listened to my explanation of how our country’s treatment of immigrants and refugees violates our moral principles, and assured me that sincere Christians must help the stranger and the oppressed.  In turn, I listened and learned.  Today’s topic was forgiveness.  L to R:  Tim, Reuben, Todd, Mark, Daniel, David.

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At 8 AM, David and I met in Huntsville with Caroline and Katherine.  They are starting a grassroots organization to help the 300+ immigration “detainees” (prisoners) in the Gadsden County Jail.  While they gather resources, they educate themselves and others about asylum seekers’ plight, and visit prisoners.  The visits are painful and sad.  I admire these fine women’s energy, conscience, and courage.

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At 10 AM, David and I met in Ardmore (the town split between Alabama and Tennessee) with Brother Brian, assistant pastor at a Baptist church.  His teachings about the Christian interpretation of scripture are fascinating.  Brother Brian affirmed that Christians must love the stranger.  We discussed how our country could be transformed if pastors woud lead their congregations to insist that the government that acts in our names, be kind to immigrants and refugees.  I respect Brother Brian’s intellect and heart.  We parted as friends.

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Our day’s meetings concluded, David chauffeured us back to Nashville, Tennessee.  I retrieved my electric car from friend Susan.  I transferred our gear from David’s car to mine.  Joey and I posed for David’s selfie.  We shook hands on a Ride well ended.  Cinematic David returned to Huntsville to begin editing his footage from our two weeks on the road.  I drove to Deena’s and her David’s house in Louisville, Kentucky, from which we left by bicycle on May 2.  Tomorrow morning, Joey and I begin the two-day drive from Louisville to our home in NYC.  Check back with us in a few days.

Living History, Feeling History

Jeffrey here.  Joey cedes the floor when things get most serious.

It was quite a day.

Joey and I left Meridian, Mississippi, in a car chauffeured by David.

Mississippi and Alabama are the poorest states in our country.  I expected to see houses like these more often than we have.  I suspect the worst poverty is off the main roads, were travelers like us are rare.

Our first major stop was in Selma, Alabama.  We ate lunch at Charlie’s Place.

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L to R:  Charlie, Jeffrey

Charlie told us some of Selma’s history.  Long ago, when it was a center for manufacturing and the cotton trade, it was the fourth richest city in the USA.  Charlie, a devout evangelical Christian, has some Jewish ancestry.  He said Jews were recruited to help develop the town after the Civil War, but they were not allowed to join local social clubs, so they formed their own associations and met in the building where Charlie operates his restaurant.  He spoke of the town’s remarkable eclectic architecture, its potential, its poverty.  Charlie says that asylum applicants deserve to be heard, and that he welcomes immigrants so long as they pull their own weight (as they will if we let them).  His delightful restaurant soon will close: not enough customers.  We wish him well on his next project.

After lunch, we went out to see a bit of Selma.  David videoed me biking over the notorious Edmund Pettus Bridge, where Alabama police attacked civil rights marchers in 1965.

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Linda Calvert . . .

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. . . spotted me, spotted the bike’s Ride for Human Rights sign, and told me that coming over the bridge on a nostalgic walk were Reverend Harold Middlebrook and Reverend Kenneth Calvert.

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Rev. Middlebrook (in blue, facing us) and Rev. Calvert (in black, facing and videoing Rev. Middlebrook) as they approached me down the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Rev. Middlebrook was a young colleague of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He was the coordinator for Selma at the time of the 1965 police attack on the bridge, and the subsequent march from Selma to Montgomery.

Living history.

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Rev. Harold Middlebrook, out of the sun a few minutes after we met near the bridge.

Rev. Middlebrook asked about the Ride.  I told him how asylum applicants are not provided with lawyers to help them present their cases.  I asked what he thinks about America’s current treatment of refugees and other immigrants.  Rev. Middlebrook responded with a story about Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s response to a woman who offered to help fund the transport of black Americans to Africa.  Rev. Abernathy replied that he would go to Africa (where he never had been) when America returned First Nations (American Indian) land to the First Nations, and if all other Americans returned to their ancestral places in Europe and elsewhere.

Rev. Middlebrook supports our cause with all his heart.  He shook my hand and thanked me for my work.  I told him I wished his knees were better so he could do the Ride and speak for our mutual cause, as he did, so much more eloquently than I can.

Rev. Calvert took my hand and called me his brother.  And so he is mine.  I was moved and happy to be so warmly and quickly accepted and included by these people I admire, despite that I’m a nobody with few accomplishments—this is not false modesty, I have done but little for a man so old—and a stranger in a strange land.

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Rev. Kenneth Calvert, out of the sun with Dr. Middlebrook, David, and me.

I spoke with Betty Middlebrook, who talked of the couple’s 1960s civil rights work despite the dangers and their fears.

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L to R:  Jeffrey, Betty Middlebrook

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Ms. Middlebrook and Ms. Calvert led David and me to the Slavery and Civil War Museum, presided over by another legend, Annie Pearl Avery, a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizer since age 16.

6BCB3F43-D206-4A74-A96C-01D6C3FBD85FMs. Avery is a ferocious advocate for civil and human rights.  She told us her view of American history and observed that despite good laws (which are not a given), people with money and power will find ways to subvert them, whether to enslave or exploit African-Americans, or to oppress the foreign-born.  Protecting human rights is a constant battle.  Ms. Avery remains in the thick of it.

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Ms. Avery and Rev. Middlebrook.  Their personalities filled the room.

David and I drove over the bridge and on to Montgomery, Alabama, to see the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

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Robert, a security guard, welcomed me and humored me by scanning my left leg.  My post-bicycle-crash titanium rod set off the metal detector.  Robert used to live in Mississippi.  After a pause, he said things are better in Montgomery.

I found the monument moving and disturbing.  It reminds visitors of the approximately 4,000 known, and vastly more unknown, victims of lynching.

Feeling history.

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A few days ago, I pedaled through Chickasaw County, Mississippi, and the friendly town of Vardaman, the “Sweet Potato Capital of the World”.  Here is the Memorial’s list of known Chickasaw County lynching victims; perhaps Malcolm Wright was killed in 1949 by people still living in Vardaman.

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These photos don’t convey the size or impact of the site.

One of the captions echoed an idea that has appeared in these pages on past Rides: that the abuse of America’s slaves and former slaves has parallels in today’s mistreatment of asylum applicants and other immigrants.

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I underscore “traumatized refugees” in red.

I asked docent William Black whether he thought the jailing and abuse of asylum applicants, and their expulsion to countries where some have been murdered, is a form of lynching.

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William, who has Moroccan ancestry and hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said yes.  If we return people to places of persecution, torture and death, we lynch them as surely as if we violently put our own hands on them.  William came to the Memorial hoping to awaken Americans to our history and our responsibility.  If he succeeds, maybe then we will have the just and generous country to which we aspire.

William said that a few days ago, there was a lynching in Oklahoma.  Americans are not yet who we ought to be.

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This Toni Morrison poem is on one of the Memorial’s walls.

We drove north to Birmingham . . .

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. . . to a downtown food court to dine on delicious vegetarian Ethiopian food prepared by Amene.  He was happy to hear about the Ride, happy that I’m friends with the Stevie Wonder of Ethiopia (Amene put on a music video in my honor), happy to talk about Ethiopia and human rights.  Amene invited me to return tomorrow for lunch as his guest, but my time in the South is ending and I have to move on.

Through brief torriential lightning storms, David drove us to Huntsvile . . .

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Huntsville is late former Nazi rocket scientist Verner von Braun country—and thus military and NASA country.

. . . where I wrote today’s post too rapidly to make it short, so I could rest a bit and process the day’s adventures before tomorrow’s early start.

We Cross a Double Line

Just after dawn, we explored some of old Greenville.  We particularly liked the abandoned railway station . . .

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“COLUMBUS & GREENVILLE RY CO.”

. . . and the pig-meat eatery next door.

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(How odd that barbeque joints display smiling pigs, and chicken joints show smiling chickens.)

Then, with cinematographer David driving behind us to fend off reckless motorists, we sped 15 miles to what the Algonquin Nation called the Father of Waters . . .

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. . . made our third bicycle trip over the Mississippi (the other two were at Prairie du Chien [2011] and at St. Louis [2016]) . . .

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. . . and we crossed the Arkansas line.

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Isn’t it ironic that this was the first street we saw in Arkansas.

You may recall our recent visits to the World Capitals of Sweet Potatoes and of Cotton. Little Eudora is a Capital too, albeit only in Arkansas.

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In 44 miles, still before breakfast, we doubled the number of today’s crossed lines!

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After 124 miles in California, we pedaled another 634 miles on this, the second leg of the 8th annual Ride for Human Rights.

We haven’t yet reached 1000 miles for this year’s Ride.  We’ll address that later.  We did achieve our geographical goal:  Indiana to Louisiana, via Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

In tropical heat, we loaded our gear into David’s car and drove south in Louisiana, then east to Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Meet Sally, owner of Main Street Market, where the Ride’s humans had a delicious lunch.

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L to R:  Sally, Jeffrey

Sally’s Episcopal niece taught refugees in Turkey, where she met a Syrian Muslim.  The couple married and now live in northern Mississippi.  Sally and her extended family saw how hard it is for even the fiance of a U.S. citizen to immigrate to our country.  Our new neighbor can’t visit his family in Syria due to the civil war, and his family can’t get exit visas from the Syrians nor visitor visas from other countries so they could visit him.  Foolish paperwork keeps them apart.  Sally was pleased that we could hear her story.  She emphatically supports the goals of Human Rights First.

A visit to Vicksburg’s Old Warren County Court House Museum reminded us of Mississippian William Faulkner’s remark:  “The past is not dead.  It’s not even past.”

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David at the Museum.

The exhibits at this wonderful museum emphasize the nobility of the “Confederate Cause”, the kindness of masters, the happiness of slaves, the evil done by Yankees.  They also show that Vicksburg survived a Syrian who had a sharp object.

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“Survived”?  We wax sarcastic about our current government’s refusal to admit more than a handful of refugees from Syria.

We understand people’s reluctance to indict their ancestors.  But no gloss can blind us to the South’s goal during the Civil War:  to preserve slavery.  If fewer of today’s Americans rationalized and justified the past dehumanization of our neighbors of recent African ancestry, perhaps politicians would not find so much support for the present dehumanization of our neighbors who were born abroad.

David and Jeffrey had a fine dinner in Meridian, Mississippi . . .

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. . . served by Dennis, a young man from Enterprise . . .

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. . . who sympathizes with refugees and now is a fan of the Ride.

The adventure continues tomorrow as we motor hundreds of miles east and north.  Eventually we will reunite Jeffrey with his electric car.