When we were on our way to catch our flight to Birmingham, Alabama, Gweneth and I got chatting with two local women on their way back. Them: Why would you want to go there? Us: For sightseeing. Them: Really? Us: Well, we heard it has the best civil rights museum in the country. Them: (Nervous laugh) I guess that’d be right.
But it turned out that the only day we were in Birmingham was Monday, when the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is closed. So we wandered through the park opposite the church where four girls attending Sunday School were killed by a KKK bomb in 1963. As we walked into the park, a guy walked up to us with a big smile, and said “hi, I’m Andrew”. My first thought was that he’d be asking for money, then I kicked myself of being prejudiced, and got chatting. He took a couple of minutes telling us about the park, and asked us for money. Embarassed about what people who looked like me once did to people who looked like him, I gave him $5, the smallest note in my wallet, and walked away feeling foolish.
In place of an African-American history museum, we drove north to Memphis, where we spent time at the house of the man who bridged white and black music. Elvis’s Gracelands has all the taste and charm that you’d expect if you told a 22 year old to decorate a house with money no object. The surprising thing is that by the standards of today’s rich, the house isn’t all that big. The tour itselfÂ is entertaining, especially the way they manage to avoid mentioning awkward details like Priscilla’s birthdate or their subsequent break-up.