Spring Civil Rights Anniversaries Will Be Epic

By on 12 January, 2015 in Lynne Schneider with 0 Comments

This year, Montgomery’s past becomes a present-day chance for enrichment, culturally and economically. The city celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Selma marches that led to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

This spring, Montgomery is the place to be.

In March, tourists will revisit all three of the 1965 marches from Bloody Sunday (March 7, 1965) to Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech at the capitol (March 25, 1965), a collective effort that King described as “a shining moment in the conscience of man.”

Tourists can expect welcoming weather: Daytime temperatures will average a little above 70 degrees, lows around 50 at night. But that climate will be more than the outdoors “real-feel” — the River Region will open its arms to what many expect to be legions of “heritage tourists.”

Our city, the world's heritage.

Our city, the world’s heritage.

Heritage tourism is the grown-up (voluntary) version of the school field trip. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it is travel “to experience the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past.” And Heritage tourism means money.

A 2009 study for the U.S. Department of Commerce showed that “78 percent of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural and/or heritage activities” and these curious tourists tend to stay longer and spend more – almost 17 percent more, on average – than other vacationers.

Greg Richards wrote an article for Annals of Tourism Research exploring the positive elements of these journeys of discovery. For destination sites, he cites positive economic and social impacts that include support for culture and preservation, renewed tourism, and increased harmony and understanding among people.

Heritage tourism is an identity quest. People seek to know themselves personally. They look for their cultural legacy in buildings, their ancestry in archives, their homeland in the curve of the river, their stories in paving stones.

This spring, Montgomery’s heritage tourists will walk across the bridge in Selma, along the highway to Montgomery, on Dexter Avenue, and up the capitol steps. They will touch these symbols of the real American Dream, what Lincoln called the “unfinished work” that so many “nobly advanced.” Civil Rights-related sites represent a mix of blood, tears and work. The historical irony of that mix escapes no one — places where people bought and sold other people as slaves are the same places others later worked, walked, spoke and bled for freedom, for equality of voice and vote, for self-determination and dignity.

Too often, however, the beneficiaries of such identity quests are not the groups who represent, or who paid the price for, that heritage. Tension can build over who profits, culturally and financially, from heritage tourism.

Nonetheless, the buzz continues to grow. Selma opened in theaters across the county to rave reviews. On the January 8 Fresh Air show on NPR, host Terry Gross interviewed the film’s director, Ava DuVernay. Hollywood speaks in a global voice. Our city is the geographic center of a great many hot issues this spring, and people from everywhere will flock to that center.

We are that center. On South Jackson Street, where I work, we will celebrate Alabama State University’s contribution to the history of Civil Rights, but we will also discuss the New Civil Rights Movement. And all of Montgomery will see (and, I expect, discuss) who profits – culturally and economically – from the identity quest that we so warmly welcome. This spring, I look forward to sharing some highlights of that talk and that walk here on Midtown Montgomery Living.

Dr. Lynne D. Schneider, Assistant Professor of English at Alabama State University, moved to sunny Montgomery from the frigid north (Upstate New York), delighted to discover that she had accidentally packed her windshield scraper. She taught at SUNY Delhi, Broome Community College and Binghamton University. She worked for her local newspaper, earned her doctorate at Binghamton, and was Art Editor for BU’s Harpur Palate literary journal. Schneider won a poetry residency at The Saltonstall Foundation in Ithaca, New York, and her poetry has appeared in The Patterson Review and other journals. She also published “Stuffed Suits and Hogwild Desire,” a chapter in Kermit Culture, the first scholarly study of Jim Henson’s Muppets.

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