Day Two, early Sunday morning in Alabama: we arrived at our first stop in the heart of Birmingham, a few hours before most of the city would wake up, some fifty years after our country began to wake up.
The four-acre Kelly Ingram Park is an idyllic public gathering spot, a touch of verdant life in a graying downtown, and a momentous landmark of tumultuous times. In the 1960s the stone walkways beneath our feet once hosted impassioned demonstrations against oppression, segregation, and various acts of racism both institutional and internal. Today various signs and statues around the park serve as reminders of what it was like to walk in their footsteps and stand where they took a stand.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
This year’s trip began as a simple idea: visit ostensibly scenic New Orleans. Indianapolis to New Orleans is a fourteen-hour drive. Between our workplace demands and other assorted personal needs, we negotiated a narrow seven-day time frame to travel there and back again. We researched numerous possible routes, cities, and towns to visit along the way in Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. We came up with a long, deep list of potential stops, but tried to leave room for improvisation…
At 9 a.m. the streets of downtown Birmingham were empty. A few locals took turns coming and going to Ingram Park, relaxing at the benches or meeting old friends and neighbors in the center and hanging out for a spell. We outsider hicks stuck out so much that pretending we blended in was pointless, but we tried our best not to be egregiously intrusive. We wasted a couple bucks parking in an empty parking garage bordering the park’s east side, just in case some bustling crowds shuffled in later. Crowding never became a problem.
All four corners have unique entrances, but the northeast corner sports the prettiest flower arrangements. At right is one of several signs posted around the park that display quotes from various sources relevant to the civil rights movement.
Thirty years before the demonstrations, the park was named after Oswald Kelly Ingram, a white fireman billed in history books as the first U.S. Navy sailor killed in World War I. A boulder commemorates his service to his country.
The other side of the boulder salutes a Navy Destroyer that was named after him and commissioned on and off between 1918 and 1946, including combat service during WWII. Curiously, the plaque disagrees with Wikipedia over the Oswald Ingram‘s designation number.
Most visitors aren’t here in remembrance of the sailor. They’re here because civil rights.
The squirrels are here for the dining options, but they’re not exactly Ingram Park’s most engaging feature.
Several of you might be able to hum along with this one.
My personal favorite of the bunch.
Bordering the park to the west is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which covers the era and topics in greater depth. Unfortunately they open late on Sundays, so we missed that opportunity.
We found one last plaque from a most unexpected source, a thought expressed by a well-regarded writer with oppression experience of a different nature.
This entry is part one of a three-part miniseries-within-a-series sharing the sights and solemnity of Kelly Ingram Park. These contemplative signs along the walks were only the beginning.
To be continued.
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading.]