New book: Tour of U.S. civil rights trail

NEW YORK – If you drive six miles southwest of Anniston, Ala., you’ll pass the spot where a bus was bombed in 1961 and the passengers – civil rights activists known as Freedom Riders – were beaten by a mob. There’s no marker there, but it’s one of 400 pla

Many of the sites included in the book are well-known – like the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, now the National Civil Rights Museum. But Charles E. Cobb Jr., who wrote On the Road to Freedom, says he also wanted to include littleknown places – like the road near Anniston – ”for the person who has a real interest in the civil rights movement and is not necessarily your ordinary tourist.”

While On the Road to Freedom is a travel guide, organized by destination, with street addresses for historic sites, it is also full of stories. Some are known to every schoolchild – like Rosa Parks’ refusal to give her seat on the bus to a white passenger – but others will be new to many readers, like a 1944 incident in which a black woman named Irene Morgan was jailed for refusing to yield her seat on a Greyhound bus headed from Virginia to Maryland.

The conflict led the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down segregated seating on interstate travel. ”I wanted to write a book people could actually use, and a travel book seemed to be the way to do it,” said Cobb, who was a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the Mississippi Delta in the 1960s. ‘But while this is a travel book, I also consciously wrote it as a story …

I was trying to put things into the mix of the historical discussion, both in terms of place and in terms of people – especially women – who simply are virtually unknown.” Cobb also notes that many familiar places have layers of connections to Black history. ”The U.S. Capitol and the White House were both built by slave labor,” Cobb said in an interview. ”It gets to the founding contradictions of our country – all those eloquent expressions of freedom in the Declaration of Independence.

On the other hand, you have slavery.” He added that Parks was the first woman to lie in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol after her death in 2005; and that opera star Marian Anderson gave a concert in 1939 at the Lincoln Memorial because the Daughters of the American Revolution would not allow black perfomers in a Washington auditorium they owned.

Cobb is on a nationwide tour to promote the book; details at or . In addition to a chapter on Washington, Cobb has sections on Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. In an epilogue, he mentions the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., along with protests and historic sites in Tallahassee and Jacksonville, Fla. Cobb’s recommendations for attractions that can help engage older children and teenagers on the subject of civil rights include the Nashville Public Library’s Civil Rights Room, ”one of the few places where you can see actual films of nonviolent workshops”; and the Cleveland Avenue Time Machine at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala., where you get on a bus that takes you back in time to the start of Jim Crow. Here are a few other sites mentioned in ”On the Road to Freedom.”

MARYLAND: The Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial at City Dock, Annapolis, was the arrival point for Roots author Haley’s enslaved African ancestor. The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore features a replica of a slave ship.

NORTH CAROLINA: The Woolworth’s where the famed Greensboro sit-in took place no longer exists, but the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University campus has a statue of the four student protesters. Four seats from the original Woolworth’s can be seen at the Greensboro Historical Museum. Part of the Woolworth’s counter is on display at the Smithsonian in Washington.

SOUTH CAROLINA: The first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in 1861. Important places in Charleston include the Old Slave Mart; Liberty Square, with its fountain memorializing an early civil rights activist, Septima Clark; and the home of Denmark Vesey, who planned an aborted slave insurrection in 1822.

GEORGIA: Mulberry Grove Plantation, near Savannah, is where Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which made it easy to produce clean cotton but created a need for slave labor to pick cotton. In Atlanta, at the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center, you’ll find a mural and tiles depicting civil rights events. Also in Atlanta, the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site and Preservation District includes his birthplace, church and gravesite.

ALABAMA: A national historic trail on U.S. Highway 80 marks the route of a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Marchers were beaten by state troopers on their first attempt to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge out of Selma, but they completed the 54-mile trek on a second march.

Today you can visit the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma and a memorial beneath the bridge. Montgomery sites include the Civil Rights Memorial Center and the Rosa Parks Museum. In Birmingham, a civil rights district includes the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four little girls were killed in a bombing; Kelly Ingram Park, where protesters gathered, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

MISSISSIPPI: Cobb notes that there is no marker at the spot in Philadelphia, Miss., where the bodies of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were found in 1964, other than a ”No Trespassing” sign on Highway 21 south near the Neshoba County Fairgrounds.

But Cobb provides details that allow visitors to retrace the path of the three young civil rights activists. In Jackson, Miss., the house where Medgar Evers lived, and in front of which he was assassinated, is a museum. (AP)

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